Omiya Bonsai Village: The Capital of Japanese Bonsai Culture
Most people have heard of Japanese bonsai trees and the special culture that surrounds them. But did you know that there's a place in Saitama Prefecture called Omiya Bonsai Village that is considered to be the capital of bonsai in Japan? If you're a fan of these cute miniature trees, add this place to your must-visit list!
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Just north of Tokyo in Saitama City, Saitama, lies a small neighborhood called Omiya, which is considered to be the center of bonsai culture in Japan (and the world, for that matter). The neighborhood hosted the first-ever World Bonsai Convention back in 1989, as well as the 8th edition of the Convention again in 2017 when more than 120,000 visitors from 40 different countries gathered to see the best bonsai in the world.
Even when there is no special event taking place, however, Omiya is a destination that any lover of bonsai or traditional Japanese culture will want to include on their itinerary when visiting Japan. With numerous bonsai nurseries, gardens, and even a Bonsai Art Museum, the Bonsai Village has some of the very best bonsai in the whole world.
This article will introduce this exceptional place and give recommendations of things to see and do while you are there.
About Omiya Bonsai Village
From the Edo period (1603 - 1868) until the Taisho period (1912 - 1926), many gardeners who tended to the gardens of samurai and feudal lords lived in the present-day districts of Bunkyo and Taito in Tokyo. Over time, many of these gardeners began to specialize in bonsai, creating many bonsai nurseries.
However, in 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake demolished much of Tokyo, disrupting the operations of these gardeners. After this, a group of bonsai gardeners decided that they would prefer to operate somewhere with more space, so rather than rebuild in Tokyo, they packed up and moved to the north of the city—to Saitama. This led to the creation of Saitama's Omiya Bonsai Village.
In more recent years, bonsai merchants in the village created the Omiya Bonsai Cooperative, as well as a Bonsai Art Museum in 2010, in an effort to spread bonsai culture to the rest of the world. These, along with regular bonsai-related events organized in the Omiya Bonsai Village have further established it as the center of bonsai culture in Japan and made it a must-visit destination for bonsai enthusiasts everywhere.
Things to See and Do in Omiya Bonsai Village
Omiya Bonsai Art Museum
The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum museum exhibits a stunning collection of various kinds of bonsai masterpieces, including bonsai trees, bonsai pots, bonsai stone displays, bonsai tables, bonsai-related paintings, and other historical artifacts. In the garden outside, the beautiful bonsai trees on display will definitely leave you a strong impression, as each pot expresses a different form of beauty. Even if you don't understand Japanese, a foreign language audio guide is available for 300 yen which offers detailed explanations to help you appreciate the art even more.
The Bonsai Art Museum can be reached by a quick 5-minute walk from JR Toro Station. In addition to the gorgeous bonsai on display, there is also a café inside on the second floor.
Omiya Bonsai Cooperative
A shop near a corner of the museum's parking lot is managed by all the neighborhood's bonsai merchants together. After seeing the outstanding pieces of the museum, why not get one of those small bonsai trees to decorate your garden or veranda?
There is also a company that has partnered with the cooperative and is now offering various bonsai experiences, including a class where you can make your very own bonsai to take home with you! If you want to get your hands dirty and have a really memorable time, this is a great chance to learn about bonsai gardening first-hand!
Other than the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, there are a total of six other bonsai gardens in the Omiya Bonsai Village that you can visit to see some true bonsai masterpieces. Each garden has a unique style that expresses the personality of the master gardener who is in charge.
The most visited of these gardens might be the Seikou-en. In addition to its refined and elegant bonsai garden that includes an exquisite Japanese juniper tree that is estimated to be 500 years old, you will find a shop where you can purchase your own gardening tools, along with classes for beginners in the art of bonsai. While Seikou-en might be the most popular, it is worth visiting all of the gardens to get a feel for the different possibilities that the world of bonsai has in store.
For more information about the six gardens, see the official webpage of Omiya Bonsai Village.
Bonsai Dai Festival
Taking place once a year from May 3rd to 5th during "Golden Week" (a week-long Japanese holiday), the Bonsai Dai Festival is the biggest event of Omiya Bonsai Village. You will find everything to satisfy your bonsai love: huge bonsai trees, small ones that you can easily take back home, scissors and tools for bonsai gardening, various bonsai exhibitions and competitions, and more. Before deciding when you want to attend, it's a good idea to check the schedule before going to make sure you won't miss any of the activities that you most want to participate in.
As the website is not regularly updated, see the Omiya Bonsai Official Facebook page for information (the page is active and regularly updated): https://www.facebook.com/OMIYABONSAI/
If you are looking for bonsai-related goods, the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum's shop will surely have something to fit your taste. One of the most popular items for sale is probably the "Bonsai da!!" soft drink, but they also sell many other interesting goods featuring bonsai trees such as t-shirts, towels, postcards, and even rice crackers.
Bonsai House of the Four Seasons
After spending the day walking around the Omiya Bonsai Village, stop into the Bonsai House of the Four Seasons, a rest area for visitors to the village. It is a beautifully-preserved traditional Japanese house that people can wander around and enjoy for free.
Even those who came to the Omiya Bonsai Village with little knowledge of Bonsai will leave this little pocket of Saitama with a newfound appreciation for the art of bonsai (and maybe even with a bonsai tree of their own).
*Please note that the Bonsai Art Museum and the bonsai gardens are all closed on Thursdays. The reason is actually related to the bonsai trees themselves, as the word for "Thursday" in Japanese (木曜日）contains the word "tree." It therefore makes sense that the trees get to have a break on tree day!
A Distinctively Japanese Tradition
Bonsai is an element of Japanese culture that's recognized throughout the world. Fully immerse yourself in that world in this very convenient spot just outside Tokyo!
For more information about visiting Saitama, check out the official Saitama Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/saitamajapan.en
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.