Try your hand at bonsai, Japanese calligraphy, and making food samples!

Have a try at “Bonsai”, a living art

Bonsai started to gain worldwide recognition about twenty years ago and has been particularly popular in the West for the past ten years. The international student who tried bonsai was Coty from New York. The instructor was Kunio Kobayashi of the Shunkaen BONSAI Museum, who gives lessons all around the world and has many foreign apprentices.

Bonsai is an art form involving live trees. That is why no two pieces are alike and it is necessary to utilize the shapes of the branches and the characteristics of the trees. Just as humans have faces, trees also have front sides that serve as faces. While picturing what the completed bonsai would look like, Coty immediately started to look at the Japanese white pine he had been handed in search of the front side.

Once the front side has been chosen, all of the branches are tied up with wire. This is to keep the branches bent and forming the desired shape. The main focus of the classes at the Shunkaen BONSAI Museum is on this tying of the branches to form the shapes of the trees. There are also those who take this skill back home with them to make olive tree bonsais.

Coty found it difficult at first, but gradually learned to tie the wires properly. The tree looked completely different when it was done. “It was interesting to see the tree transforming”, said Coty, as he discovered the appeal of bonsai.

After wiring, the next step is selecting a pot and potting the tree. Once a pot that suits the tree is selected it is filled with soil, moss is placed on the surface of the soil, and the bonsai is complete. “I was able to focus and do my best because the teacher was so kind and enthusiastic in teaching me. I can’t wait to tell my friends about my experience today” said Coty, who had a wonderful and fulfilling lesson.

Shunkaen BONSAI Museum

Address: 1-29-16 Nihori, Edogawa-ku Tokyo

Tel: 03-3670-8622 (Reservations are required for lessons. English spoken.)

Opening Hours: 10:00 to 17:00 (closed Mondays except national holidays)

Access: Koiwa Station on the JR Sobu Line or Mizue Station on the Toei Shinjuku Line –> Keiyoguchi Bus Stop on the No. 76 Keisei Bus –> Walk 3 mins.

Learn “shodo” (Japanese calligraphy) and write with a brush!

Writing with a brush and ink is a practice that spread mostly from East Asia. Ancient writings in Japan were also written with brushes. As with various forms of calligraphy around the world, calligraphy with brushes is now a form of art. The students who tried shodo are Yiher from Singapore and Ismael from the Netherlands. The instructor is Udoyoshi, who even does masthead work for media such as television and magazines. Shodo generally incorporates the proper stopping and bending of brush strokes, but Udoyoshi has his own method of calligraphy where the characters are written the way they are regularly written on notes every day.

First, the character to be written is selected. If you tell Udoyoshi what you like or give him a favorite name, he will propose a character for you. He can also show you examples of popular characters. Yiher chose the character for “love” and Ismael chose the character for “laughter”.

The lesson begins with a demonstration by the instructor. Both students cannot take their eyes off of the strokes of his brush. “Characters look so different from what you see on signs when they are written with brushes”, says Ismael, who is amazed at what he is seeing in front of him. Once the demonstration is over, it is time for the two students to give it a try. Lessons can be given not only orally, but with Udoyoshi holding the brush along with the student and showing them how to move it. After practicing repeatedly for thirty minutes students write their character on a postcard. The postcard can be taken home as a memento.

Yiher initially found it difficult to move the brush the way she wanted to but could not believe that it was her own work when it was complete. Ismael said that it was interesting how the kanji character for “laughter” seemed to represent hard laughing when the lines were thick and giggling when the lines were narrow. Writing characters with a brush instead of a pen or pencil was a valuable cultural experience for these two students.


Address: Stoke Mansion Yushima, 3-31-1 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-5817-8968 (Reservations are required for lessons. Foreign languages not spoken.)

Hours: Wednesdays & Thursdays – 15:00 to 21:00, 1st & 3rd Saturdays – 12:00 to 16:00

Access: 3 mins. by walk from Yushima Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line

Making Food Samples That Look Like the Real Thing

Visitors from abroad are surprised when they go to restaurants and see how realistic the food samples are. In order to make the menus easy to understand, many restaurants in Japan have food samples, which are colored and textured so skillfully that they can be mistaken for the real thing. The “Ganso Shokuhin Sampuru-ya” (Original Food Samples Shop) operated by Iwasaki Co., Ltd. offers lessons in creating food samples. We had Ismael, who said that he was shocked when he first saw a food sample, give it a try.

The types of sample differ according to the time of year. On this day, the menu was tempura and lettuce made with colored wax. Gasps of astonishment could be heard from among the participants as the instructor demonstrated his skills. Ismael said that he loved shrimp tempura and that he wanted to see if he could skillfully make one himself. He could hardly wait because the large movements required to make the lettuce looked very fun.

First up was the tempura. Tempura batter is made by dripping hot wax into warm water. The instructor told the students to drip the wax from higher up to make the tempura look more delicious and mouth-watering. With this technique, Ismael was able to make a delicious-looking shrimp tempura.

Next was the lettuce, which Ismael was really looking forward to. By letting the wax accumulate in the warm water and suddenly pulling it down, a sheet with the texture of a large lettuce leaf is formed. The key to making the lettuce leaf correctly is the right timing and force. A cheerful shout announces the completion of an impressive leaf of lettuce.

Ismael was very excited to finally be able to try out something he’d admired since he first came to Japan. He now sees that manufacturing in Japan is not all about technology and that there are still many fields where the goods are handmade. He bought some souvenirs at the goods corner on the first floor of the building to end a wonderful day discovering a whole new aspect of Japan.

Food sample souvenir

Kappabashi Showroom, “Ganso Shokuhin Sampuru-ya” (Original Food Samples Shop)

Address: 3-7-6 Nishiasakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 0120-17-1839 (Reservations are required for lessons. Calls cannot be made from overseas. Only Japanese spoken.)

Hours: 10:00 to 17:30 (closed on Mondays except national holidays)

Access: 5 mins. by walk from Asakusa Station on the Tsukuba Express