The Renaissance for Bonsai

March 27, 2017

Jun Llaga from the Philippines is the headliner for the national convention of the South African Bonsai Association in 2017. The convention takes place from 16 to 19 September 2017 in Port Elizabeth. Willem Pretorius interviewed Mr. Llaga to find out more about his passion for bonsai



  It’s great to have you as a demonstrator at our national convention this year. Will this be your first visit to Africa?


Yes. I am proud and happy that my first visit in Africa would be as a bonsai demonstrator.


2)    You seem to have bridged the cultural divide in bonsai between different countries and your work is appreciated in different parts. What do you think about the different approaches to bonsai and is there one you prefer?


I am grateful that my works are recognized by bonsai enthusiasts from different nationalities. That signals the connectivity between cultures. I would say that aggressive bonsai clubs, activities, shows, and social media are the instruments in the resurgence of bonsai interests worldwide. I regard this era as the period of renaissance for bonsai. Many bonsai styles, philosophies, approaches, methods, and patterns are out in the market and thus, increasing awareness and recognition. However, I consider the surge as a result of bonsai diversity – the exposure to traditional, naturalist approaches, the cultural influences, the environmental effects and the artistic capacity of bonsai artists. That and all is called Bonsai Diversity.


The approaches to bonsai creation are diverse depending on PACE.


•    Preferences. There is a design preference in bonsai, the traditionalist, and naturalist or something in between.


•    Artistic Capacity. Bonsai should be evocative and poetic just like any other art form. It should have rhythm and flow. It should not be rigid and not linear. 


•    Environment. Understand the composition of the tree in the region. Study the natural conditions of the region.


I follow PACE when I make my bonsai. And then, I inject my own personal mantra which is to recreate uniqueness while applying the naturalistic approach, mixing with cultural and personal influences.



I design bonsai based on the combination of all of these types, leaning towards the natural composition, combined with movements. I regard my work as an art form with rhythm and flow. All elements are non-linear and do not follow one rigid design. I opt for a flexible, innovative look, crafted according to the style of available material.


3)    Looking at the trees and innovative displays in your country, what is the main features that makes it different from other parts of the world?


The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,000 islands and sandwiched by the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. It is a country frequently experiencing intense tropical depressions and typhoons. Ironically, it is also known for its white beaches and long coastal areas. Its mountain ranges are diverse and deep. These unique landscape features create the most vivid and inspiring scenery where I get motivation for my creations.


The trees, found in the rocky cliff formations along the coastline, with its deformed and rugged features, stunted by a continuous barrage of winds and seasonal typhoons, are perfect to be depicted in the bonsai work. It leaves a mental imprint which I want to share. It inspires me to visually recreate the scene on a smaller scale. It moves me to gather my wire, trim my material, get my best pot and put myself to work.


4)    How would you describe your bonsai philosophy?


No two trees are the same. And therefore, I would rather have ten bonsai each with unique character, than to have a thousand bonsai that look the same.


5)    What is your favorite bonsai quote?


“The object is to not to make the tree to look like bonsai, but to make bonsai to look like a tree.” – John Naka


6)     Do you have any specific species and style that you prefer?


I do a workshops on different species, but I am always challenged to recreate a new fluid naturalistic form for every Casuarina E. and Phempis acidula.


7)      What would your advice be to a beginner in bonsai?


Do not be overwhelmed with the output but be overwhelmed with the process. Learn the basics, and free your mind.