I got to spend a day at Meiji-jingu watering the trees that were on display, cleaning up the pots and tables and talking to the visitors. I got into quite a lengthy conversation (monologue) with an older gentleman who had some interesting observations on the way people tend to look at bonsai, and other things, in exhibitions and in general.
Most foreigners (and I would add most younger Japanese people) tend to start comparing age and price, they might go so far as to select their favourite (usually the oldest or most expensive), snap a few pictures and move on. According to the gentleman I mentioned, it is part of the Japanese tradition to view an object of art or beauty not only on its surface but also to consider its inner qualities. For example, does it express age, hardship, loneliness, tranquillity etc? Imagine the number of people to whom this object has belonged, and other such "beyond what meets the eyes" type of values. In his view, the Japanese people have a habit of making such considerations, while others seem not to. He thought I ought to spread a little sense of deeper appreciation to the people of Sweden, and a few of the neighbours too while I was at it.
Earlier I was talking to some interested tourists and started explaining some of the aspects that go into a display. Well actually I only got as far as mentioning the match between a particular tree and table, but this small thing alone opened up their eyes and, i think, allowed them to enjoy the other trees that little bit more.
Perhaps it's knowledge and practice, rather than inherent habit, that we need to start appreciating the inner beauty of things.
Here's for taking a good look before whipping out the camera in the future.