Literally, Bonseki means “tray rocks.” Bonseki are miniature pictures of the natural world made from nothing more than white sand and small rocks on a black tray.

The art of Bonseki is said to have developed in the 7th century with the Emperor Tenmu who would use a tray and sand to create images of the world around him. It may be that Bonseki was invented as a way of creating images or temporary blueprints of gardens that were being planned. Very temporary – the sand and rocks are not fixed to the tray can can be easily erased.

This is not a flaw in the art but part of its charm. Sitting over the tray and moving grains of sand with a feather is a contemplative act. As one school of Bonseki says “The importance of Bonseki is the peaceful feeling and satisfaction you derive from creating a Bonseki scene and not the result of the work.”

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