The Bonsai Reborn As An Entrancing, Underwater Chia Pet

The bonsai is known for containing a century-long stillness. But underwater, it’s a living, flowing creature.

A bonsai doesn’t just grow, it’s sculpted over decades. Shaping the tree is a work of patience–an art of restraint over time. And ultimately, it’s a worthwhile investment: It’s possible for bonsais to live for several hundred years. Many bonsais being groomed today will outlive all of us.


Water and Bonsai, by Azuma Makoto, reimagines the ancient tradition. It’s ostensibly an underwater bonsai in a tank, with leaves that flow in crystal-clear water. But at the same time, the bonsai is a complete illusion. Because in reality, this little, submerged tree is actually the deadwood of Sabina chinesis–a popular plant for bonsai–wrapped in java moss–a Southeast Asian moss known for its popularity in freshwater aquariums.

In other words, Water and Bonsai is the most elegant fish-tank fixture you’ve ever seen–one of those sparkly treasure chests with several magnitudes more elegance.

“My initial idea was to express traditional Japanese bonsai in a contemporary approach. As you may know, elaborate forms of bonsai can’t possibly be achieved overnight,” Makoto tells Co.Design. “Time is graven on bonsai, its scenery and mood–by placing those elements in water, I wanted to visualize its speed at an accelerated pace, and to create a new expression with plants.”

Makoto sums up the effect as “dynamism.” The bubbles and subtle current of the water give his bonsai constant movement–visual life–while java moss grows so quickly that the viewer can see the tree take shape day to day, rather than month by month or year by year. It’s sort of an immediate-gratification bonsai with all the austerity of the classic version, a piece of living art that keeps the viewer in the now rather than the past or future.

The sheer technical challenge involved will likely keep this project out of the hands of zealous aquarium aficionados–coaxing the java moss to grow on the wood was the most difficult part of the piece–and that’s really too bad. While most of us don’t have the patience for a classic bonsai, Makoto’s underwater version seems just right for a culture built on Keurig coffee, lava lamps, and on-demand movies. We like to enjoy our experiences now.

See more here.


[Hat tip: Notcot]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.