Seeking Perfection in the Art of Bonsai Growing

In his study, Yazdan Mansourian was able to associate bonsai growing with other Japanese conceptual frameworks; one of those is kodawari (pursuit of perfection). What makes them correlated?

Yazdan explains that bonsai growers keep working on a tree to make it beautiful and represent an ideal form of nature. However, they know that they will never reach perfection, but they keep going anyway, similar to the concept of kodawari, the relentless pursuit of perfection.

Bonsai growing is a never-ending pursuit of perfection.

Nick: So this idea of this commitment to this practice of bonsai and to the point where it prevents people from travelling reminds me of another Japanese concept. And you state that bonsai growing is an excellent example of kodawari. 

So would you like to touch on what kodawari is and why you associate it to bonsai?

Yazdan: Yes. So this is another story about the concept of ikigai, kodawari, ibasho, and all of these Japanese conceptual frameworks I'm using in my research. 

You know, when I was interviewing bonsai growers, most of them told me “We wake up in the morning, and the first thing we do in the morning is just taking care of our bonsai.” And when they told me, when they shared that story with me, then suddenly I remembered that I had already read it somewhere. 

There was a Japanese term for that. And I couldn't remember. Because during the past five years, I have been exploring Leisure Studies literature. So I was thinking, what is that Japanese term? 

Then I remember it was a paper, that paper is here at the moment. The paper is “Theorizing Leisure's Roles in the Pursuit of Ikigai (Life Worthiness): A Mixed-Methods Approach” written by Dr Shintaro Kono and his colleagues, publishing leisure science. 

And that was another turning point. And I said, wow, that's ikigai. So that's exactly what I need. Then I just searched about ikigai, and then I found your website. I was listening to the episodes. And in one of the episodes, Dr Shintaro Kono was talking and I said, wow, that's Shintaro Kono. 

So all these dots just connected to each other. And then I started reading about ikigai. And I just ordered a number of books like this one by Ken Mogi, and many other books and articles that I'm exploring. 

And then what I did in a very short and simple way. If I want to explain it, what I did was I mapped my empirical data into these conceptual frameworks of ikigai and its related terms. Because as you know, there are a number of concepts all relevant like ikigai, hatarakigai, asobigai – that all the episodes you had about all these concepts and kodawari. 

So answering your question, I still remember your question. I didn't forget that – that was an introduction. So kodawari is just pursuing perfection, realising you never get it so you keep going. But you know, there is no perfect, final ultimate point, but you keep going.

So for bonsai it is exactly what they do. So they keep working on a tree to make it as beautiful as possible to represent an ideal form of nature, but they know they will never reach that. But it doesn’t stop them from continuing. 

And interestingly enough, kodawari and wabi-sabi are two sides of the same coin. Because in wabi-sabi, you accept the imperfection, incomplex, and you know that everything is ephemeral and you accept it – you seek beauty in that context. 

But on the other hand, in kodawari, you do your best to make it as perfect as possible. So having both of them makes it like a paradox. But these two sides can coexist peacefully together.

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