Bonsai imperium : plant capitalism in the U.S. and Japan, 1853-1924
Author(s)Katz, Sarah R
Plant capitalism in the U.S. and Japan, 1853-1924
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Architecture.
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This thesis traces the formation of the international market for Japanese bonsai during the late 19th and early 20th centuries against the emergence of the United States and Japan as industrial, imperial nations and argues that bonsai represented an intermediary figure that supported a process of mutual imperial legitimation between the two countries. It examines the major mechanisms through which bonsai was created, marketed, and distributed-the commercial nursery, the catalog, the auction, and the exhibition-as well as American responses to bonsai. The formation of the bonsai market can be read within transnational consumer, aesthetic, and scientific discourses of cultural exchange. In the U.S., a split antiquarian and popular market for bonsai developed as part of the broader taste for Japanese goods as popularized at the World's Fairs of 1876, 1893, and 1904. In Japan, the newly established commercial nursery system and manufacturing and cultural policies of the new Meiji government, intended to establish Japan as a modern nation-state, supported the supply and formation of U.S. bonsai markets. To argue for bonsai's imbrication within a "botanic imperium," this thesis examines the relationship of bonsai to changing understandings of Japanese landscapes in both countries, and maps the relationship of the botany, geography, and agricultural science to shifts in horticultural practices and landscape aesthetics, as well as their literal and rhetorical deployment by Japan's Sapporo Agricultural College on Hokkaido Island and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry. During this period, bonsai represented a global commodity that mediated and transformed a range of values (historical, cultural, political, and financial). Drawing upon Benedict Anderson's discussion of "print capitalism," this thesis suggests that bonsai can be understood as a form of "plant capitalism" that materialized the challenge, for the U.S., of how to at once appreciate yet contain Japan and, for Japan, of how to reconcile its isolated past with its ambitious intended commercial future. Allowing for bonsai's simultaneous existence as both an authentic expression of Japanese tradition and a mass-produced commodity, plant capitalism leveraged bonsai's multiple identities in support of U.S. and Japanese national and imperial discourse.
Thesis (S.M.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Architecture, 2012.This electronic version was submitted by the student author. The certified thesis is available in the Institute Archives and Special Collections.CD-ROM contains copy of thesis in .pdf format.Cataloged from student-submitted PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (p. 133-139).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Architecture.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology