盆栽鉢 - Bonsai literally means “planted in container”, which clearly indicates the importance and inseparability of pottery and Bonsai.
Similar to paintings, the pot ‘frames’ the tree; it should complement and enhance its appearance and create a sense of harmony, but never detract attention from the tree itself. It seems the pottery aspect to Bonsai has been undervalued by most Bonsai enthusiasts in the Western world, possibly because prices of high quality Bonsai pots are high. Also, finding a Bonsai pot that truly fits a given tree is very hard.
History of Bonsai pots
The craft of making pottery intended for Bonsai trees originates from China, possibly dating back to the Song dynasty (11th century). The potting techniques spread to Japan centuries later but even until today, the most well known and expensive Bonsai trees are held in antique Chinese containers. Click here for a general introduction to Pot selection.
Materials used for Bonsai pots
The clay used to make pots can be terracotta, stoneware or porcelain. Terracotta pots are fired to temperatures of around 1000 degrees Celsius which results in pots that stay porous and absorb water. Stoneware (also called bisque) is heated at around 1200 degrees Celsius, making it harder than terracotta and unable to absorb water (it still breathes but is frost resistant). Finally, porcelain can be heated up to 1400 degrees Celsius which results in very hard but fragile pots (quite rarely used for Bonsai however).
During the process of firing stoneware or porcelain pots, a glazing can be created by adding either metal or wooden fragments. Iron for example creates dark brown colors, while copper creates green colors.