Patiently nurturing a bonsai and watching it come to resemble a venerable old tree is what bonsai growers love best.
Most bonsai hobbyists will be content simply to raise such a tree, but bonsai's greatest satisfaction actually lies one step beyond: in displaying the tree indoors to be viewed and appreciated.
Bonsai are trees were originally found in the wild and cultivated in compact form for indoor display. However, only when a tree is complete, combined with a suitable container, displayed in the tokonoma (alcove) at the right time of year and viewed by others does it truly become a bonsai.
Needless to say, merely putting a bonsai in the tokonoma does not make a display. The host (sekishu) arranges the bonsai in the style of a majestic landscape painting. This is achieved with the aid of props such as accent plantings, suiseki viewing stones, scrolls and tiny models or ornaments known as tenpai.
These props possess specific meanings in terms of such variables as season, climate, location and time of day, and positioned effectively bring a vivid clarity to the envisaged landscape. Too overtly representative and they will look childish, but anything too abstract is also to be avoided. The sekishu's vision of a landscape is one thing, but the choice of a single prop of this sort can speak volumes about his or her aesthetic sensibilities.