What do bonsais teach us about our perceptions of other cultures?
As perfect as that association chain may seem, it is also indicative of the gross misunderstanding to which Westerners often fall prey when they imagine “their” Japan.
In fact, the bonsai parable may be seen as a perfect illustration of the misunderstandings that take hold when Westerners seek to interpret Japanese moves in more real-life areas such as trade policy.
After all, a bonsai tree’s existence has been anything but tranquil when it finally catches its potential purchaser’s eye. Its life has spent in an atmosphere of discipline and clipping — even to the point of domination and subjugation.
If anything, a bonsai tree should really be thought of as a symbol less of beauty and peace than of born slavery. All of which goes to show how far the world still has to go before we all know the proper cultural and historical context of what we otherwise tend to “imagine” so firmly with our global eye.
March 23, 2002