Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment

Bonsai is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Contrary to popular thought, Bonsai is not kept miniature by any kind of genetic manipulation; in fact, it is cultivated using a combination of art and science.

Despite its attribution as a Japanese art form, Bonsai originated in China about 2000 years ago. In China, the tradition of Bonsai remains under the title of pun-sai. Pun-sai began as the practice of single species tree cultivation in pots. Over the last thousand or so years, Japan has, however, contributed greatly to the refinement of the art of Bonsai, which is why it is often credited with its inception. It is not even exclusive to these two countries; Vietnam maintains a similar tradition by the name of hòn non bộ.

Bonsai is a combination of the words “bons,” meaning shallow pan, and “sai” meaning plant. Bonsai can be translated as “tray planting.”

Bonsai is cultivated and miniaturized by pruning new growth and roots as well as by wiring the branches for shape. It is also kept small by frequent repotting; a tree in a pot will grow much slower than in the ground.

It is a quiet art, and a slow one as well. Bonsai is cultivated and admired contemplatively, for both the artist and viewer.

Want to see the photos of the Dickinson bonsai project? Click here!

Image by: Twicepix


Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment

“Ikebana” is from the Japanese ikeru (生ける?, “keep alive, arrange flowers, living”) and hana (?, “flower”). Possible translations include “giving life to flowers” and “arranging flowers”.[1]


More than simply putting flowers in a container, ikebana is a disciplined art form in which nature and humanity are brought together. Contrary to the idea of floral arrangement as a collection of particolored or multicolored arrangement of blooms, ikebana often emphasizes other areas of the plant, such as its stems and leaves, and draws emphasis toward shapelineform. Though ikebana is a creative expression, it has certain rules governing its form. The artist’s intention behind each arrangement is shown through a piece’s color combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the usually implied meaning of the arrangement.

Another aspect present in ikebana is its employment of minimalism. That is, an arrangement may consist of only a minimal number of blooms interspersed among stalks and leaves. The structure of a Japanese flower arrangement is based on a scalene triangle delineated by three main points, usually twigs, considered in some schools to symbolize heavenearth, and man and in others sunmoon, and earth. The container is a key element of the composition, and various styles of pottery may be used in their construction.

Spiritual aspects

The spiritual aspect of ikebana is considered very important to its practitioners. Silence is a must during practices of ikebana. It is a time to appreciate things in nature that people often overlook because of their busy lives. One becomes more patient and tolerant of differences, not only in nature, but also in general. Ikebana can inspire one to identify with beauty in all art forms. This is also the time when one feels closeness to nature which provides relaxation for the mind, body, and soul.

Photo by: dalbera

Seismic Japan

Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment

Seismic Japan is a summer study group examining the history, culture and science of earthquakes in Japan. This course is intended to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the science and culture of earthquake in Japan, one of the most earthquake prone countries in the world. Through lectures, class discussions, field-trips, student exchanges, meetings with scientists, students will come to appreciate the complex history of human interaction with the destructive forces of the earth in Japan. We hope this will encourage interdisciplinary interaction and allow students outside the department to experience Japan. In the long term, we hope this will make Japan more visible on campus, especially in the sciences. We will have field trips to various sites to observe the geology and the devastating impacts of seismicity, do labs to understand the science behind earthquakes, read fiction that was inspired by earthquakes and more.

Seismic Japan is overseen by Professors Alex Bates and Peter Sak

Alex Bates is an assistant professor at Dickinson College specializing in modern Japanese literature and film. He graduated with his BA from Brigham Young University and has a PhD from the University of Michigan. Professor Bates is currently revising a book manuscript focused on how authors and filmmakers represented the 1923 earthquake that destroyed Tokyo.

Alex Bates


Peter Sak received a  BA in Geology from Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA) where he conducted research in southern Ontario and the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan.  After graduating, he worked for the USGS (Water Resources Division) and as a consulting geologist in Seattle, WA before completing his graduate studies at Penn State University.  His PhD research focused on the tectonic and landscape evolution of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.  Currently Sak is an associate professor and chair of the Earth Sciences Department at Dickinson College.  He has diverse research interests spanning from low temperature aqueous geochemistry, to classical structural geology, to landscape evolution. Recently, Sak sailed as a sedimentologist on IODP expedition 334 (offshore of Costa Rica) where he quantified rates of subduction erosion inboard of the sub ducting Cocos Ridge. He is a past councilor of the Council for Undergraduate Research Geoscience Division and a member of the U.S. Advisory Committee for Ocean Drilling. He has active research projects in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Costa Rica, and Guadeloupe.


Seismic Japan Lecture February 27th

Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment

Andy Moore gave a private colloquium on the 26th of February to a group of professors involved in our new Seismic Japan program. On Wednesday February 27 at 4:30 in Denny 317, he gave a public lecture on the same topic. He discussed Japan’s history with earthquakes and tsunamis as well as their resilience to natural disasters.

Members of the colloquium are currently reading selections from Gregory Clancey’s Earthquake Nation.earthquake nation

Featured Image: 2011 Japan earthquake aftermath.


If you missed the lecture, here’s what happened:

The lecture centered on tsunami preparedness and how the enormous preparations still allowed the deaths that occurred. The lecture did so by examining such cities as Arahama, Taro, and Sendai. One of his major points was that the coastline was actually quite prepared for a natural disaster, but perhaps the wrong one. He spoke extensively on Japan’s preparation for a tsunami similar to that of 1960 despite the widely known fact that much larger tsunamis had hit Japan in the past. Why didn’t they prepare for the largest tsunami they knew was possible? Smaller topics discussed were sea walls and their effectiveness, coastal forest barriers, and cultural faith in engineering.

Andy Moore is a sedimentologist currently teaching at Earlham College in Indiana. He obtained his undergraduate degree in geology from Carlton College where he filled his distribution requirements primarily with courses pertaining to Japanese culture. He obtained his masters degree and PhD from the University of Washington, where he worked with geologist and tsunami expert Brian Atwater. After years of sedimentology and tsunami research, he turned his focus to cultural perceptions of natural disasters and now wishes to understand the human side of disaster readiness.

At the colloquium: topics discussed included Japanese tsunami history, geological causes of the 2011 tsunami, engineering preparations, and extra-cultural analogues (like the Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina). A handful of professors, all experts in their fields, discussed these topics over dinner. The preparatory readings were Gregory Clancey’s “Earthquake Nation” and a chapter about the Korean panic from Dickinson Professor Alex Bates’ book in progress.

Post Image: Gregory Clancey, Earthquake Nation, cover.

Photo Credit: Aurora Wetherill

Want more information on our Seismic Japan program? Visit our Seismic Japan page!