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Bonkei and bonseki[edit]

Just a quick note to say that a couple of recent additions to the article appear to refer to bonseki, a related but visually quite different Japanese art form. The existing bonseki article is quite good at describing the nature of the art form, and perhaps this bonkei article needs a bit more description so that it is not easily confused with bonseki. I will remove the "See also" reference to sand painting and the image of a woman with bonseki. Sahara110 (talk) 19:57, 15 October 2010 (UTC)


What's the difference (if any) between a bonkei scene and a diorama? Boneyard90 (talk) 14:30, 15 June 2012 (UTC)

I don't know if there's a great deal of difference if you compare the written descriptions. There appear to be some visual differences between bonkei and diorama, but I suspect the biggest difference may be intangible, based on the history of miniature landscapes in some Eastern cultures and the diorama tradition in European-derived cultures. I have no bonkei photos unencumbered by copyright,[1] so will have to describe in them prose to highlight the visual differences I see.
First, the large style of dioramas we often see in museums, which have at least one full-scale (true size) item in them, are not typical of bonkei. Bonkei are generally between the size of a large tray and a small tabletop (very roughly, the largest dimension will be 50 cm to 150 cm). There are dioramas that fit into the same size class as the bonkei for which I have references.
Second, small dioramas in the European tradition seem to have no limit as to the type of scene depicted, including historical battles at various scales, topographical maps of real locations, settings for miniature machines (e.g., the model railroading tradition), and so on. But the artifacts called bonkei are almost universally scenes of the Japanese countryside and wildlands, generally decorated with miniatures depicting a simple, historical time (oxen and wooden bridges, but no high-speed trains, for example).
Third, and most difficult to describe, is the intangible purpose of the bonkei. As far as I can understand, it is to provide a locus of attention that allows the viewer to contemplate a simple, rural or wild, peaceful scene. Like bonsai, it allows a town or city dweller to look at a detailed depiction of nature and may provide a focal point for meditation, formal or informal. There is a long tradition of miniature landscapes in some Asian cultures, some based on living contents, others more static, like bonkei. They do not seem to be used in these cultures for the wide variety of public and teaching purposes served by dioramas in the European cultural tradition, but instead for personal or private enjoyment.
In summary, dioramas can be any reasonable size, depict any content of interest, and serve public and teaching purposes as well as others. Bonkei are typically small enough to fit easily on a small table, depict the countryside of old Japan, and serve the purpose of private contemplation.


  1. ^ Behme, Robert Lee (1969). Bonsai, Saikei and Bonkei: Japanese Dwarf Trees and Tray Landscapes. William Morrow and Co., Inc., New York. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-688-05205-8.  Unknown parameter |DUPLICATE_isbn= ignored (help)