Takanori Aiba: Innovations in Ancient Japanese Bonsai Art

Takanori Aiba Creates Miniature Worlds with Big Imagination

Japanese artist Takanori Aiba brings innovation to the ancient art of Bonsai. Working in collaboration with civil engineer and model-maker Kazuya Murakami, Aiba designs replicas of tree houses and fantasy worlds of intricate detail and character that include dwellings, amusement parks and corporate mascots. Bonsai trees provide the foundation for Aiba’s small-scale dioramas that snake their way up and out over the growth of the tree. Aida’s vision of harmony and balance between nature and humans is realized in the 3-dimensional models executed by Murakami.

According to his website, Takanori Aiba was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1953 and studied traditional Japanese textiles at Tokyo Zokei University. Immediately following school, Aiba worked for a decade as a maze illustrator for the fashion magazine, POPYE. In 1981, using his experience as a maze illustrator, Aiba started his own firm, Graphics and Designing Inc. and worked as an art director designing concepts for architectural spaces. Several of Aiba’s designs earned international praise and awards including the 1995 New York ADC Award for “Shinyokohama Chinese Noodle Museum” and in 2002 he received the Hong Kong Design Award for “Ninja Akasaka”, a ninja-themed restaurant design.

Aiba’s fascination with small-scale design stems from childhood when, according to an interview with the online arts e-zine, Don’t Panic, he entertained himself with bonsai trees and railway models. “…I loved anything miniature and intricate…my imagination was weaving tiny stories, and make-believe worlds around the objects; these early experiences expanded what I am capable of as an artist.” It was during this time that Aiba discovered his muse for his bonsai creations. “At this point my imagination developed what I like to call my “Lilluput eyes’, relating to the island in Swifts’ Gullivers Travels.”

It wasn’t until 2003, when Aiba met Kazuya Murakami, that he was able to see his bonsai tree house visions come to life. “I design the concept of the pieces through extensive drawings to capture their three dimensionality. Then I have intense discussions about the direction of the work with Kazuya Murakami my technician who goes on to make them.”

Murakami works with basic tools including glue and an X-Acto knife. Murakami’s art form includes experimentation with numerous forms of non-perishable materials such as wood, plaster, resin, clay and plastic. The finished models take a few months to over a year to complete.

Aiba’s earlier bonsai tree house designs included in the Bonsai Series are reminiscent of traditional bonsai, with the prevailing signature of the tree dictating the movement in the art work which can be seen in the sculptures,Bonsai-A and Bonsai-B.

Bonsai-A, at almost 16 inches tall, features an umbrella-shaped canopy of foliage sheltering a base of dwellings. Several scattered structures are strategically hidden inside the foliage and illuminated by strings of led lights created to resemble hanging lanterns.

Bonsai-B hints at Aiba’s inclination towards more emphasis on the trees supportive role and the emphasis on the structural details of the 19 inch sculpture. The castle-like creation is directly incorporated into the tree’s root structure with branches and foliage cascading down one side to create an asymmetrical masterpiece balanced by the visual weight of the structure.

Later works such as Hawaiian Pineapple Resort, and Ice Cream Packages Tower clearly express Aida’s innovative statement of redefining the aesthetic principle of simplicity in bonsai, by incorporating a commercial element that attempts to recreate the idea of simpler times. The spotlight on human activity repackaged to coalesce with nature akin to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Finally emerging as a world-class artist and bonsai innovator, Aida is receiving recognition for his unique bonsai designs. In 2011, Aiba received the Hong Kong Design Award for his bonsai tree house titled, Bonsai-B”. His latest exhibition in 2010, Adventures of the Eyes, showcased several works representing his inhabited bonsai tree house designs, lighthouse-themed designs and entertainment-themed sculptures. When asked about future artistic endeavors, Aibo tells dontpaniconline.com, “My ultimate goal would be to build a theme park like Walt Disney did!”

Written By: Donald Alvord at Bonsai Tree Gardener