A single manicured tree

By Tokyo’s standards, this residential yard is large. I love simplicity of the garden, viewed from the street: a long hedge, a bamboo fence, an orange tree in the background, and another heavily pruned tree that is dormant in the winter (maybe a cherry tree).

The star of the public face of the garden is the elaborate pine tree pruned into four rings.

I wonder if every few years, the gardener adds an additional ring. The design is at once simple and the result of regular care over years of growth. Like the finest traditional Japanese garden, this single tree combines nature and artifice, and conveys a relationship between people and other life forms. I like the generosity of the owner who shares this tree equally with passers-by and the residence’s inhabitants and guests.

The tree is, I think, called ゴヨウマツ or Japanese white pine in English (Pinus parviflora), a common bonsai and garden tree.


  1. I can’t see the tree well enough in the picture to tell you if that’s what it is. If it is a Japanese white pine the name is, as you say, 五葉松 (romaji de: go you matsu, or five needle pine).

    1. Thank you, Janet. Do you have much experience with this plant in miniature? I love its whimsy and perfect proportion for this residence and street.

      1. Yes indeed I do. See for example the 4th photo here: http://artofbonsai.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=62&t=1157

        The goyo matsu is a very common subject for bonsai – the very best ones are collected in the wild, but many fine trees have also been field grown in Japan (there are people who specialize in growing “pre-bonsai”, which can take as much as fifty years, depending on the type of tree).

        The various five-needle pine species are high mountain trees. They have shortish needles and typically show a lot of dead wood (esp the sub-alpine species). Here in the western US we have several 5-needle species, including the western white pine, the whitebark pine, and the limber pine.

        In bonsai styling, the 5-needle pine is given more softness than the black pine. The Japanese refer to the 5-needle as more “feminine”, and the black pine as “masculine”.

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