SHITAKUSA VERSUS KUSAMONO
by Kora Dalager -- February 22, 2008
When we display bonsai, we usually also include an accent plant-as it has become known over the years. The correct term should be shitakusa which is translated from the Japanese into: shita=below or under, and kusa= grass. In the last 20 or so years a related or new art form has developed, commonly known as kusamono, which literally means: kusa=grass and mono=thing. Mrs. Keiko Yamane, a student of Mr. Saburo Kato, is one of the pioneers in the art of kusamono. Now we have distinct differentiations between companion plants and kusamono.
Personally, I prefer the term complementary plant to the term accent plant or companion plant, because the shitakusa is not meant to be the dominant focus of your presentation rather, it is a plant material to complete the exhibit of your main focus which can be a bonsai, a suiseki and or a scroll. When you look at a bonsai or suiseki display, you should never have the first impression: wow! what a great shitakusa or complementary plant. It should round out the exhibit to form a complete impression to make you imagine that it is Winter or Spring or that you are in the woods, or that the bonsai is high up in the mountains.
Kusamono on the other hand are the "top dog." They are the focus of your exhibit. You can, of course, add a scroll, figurine or suiseki to complete the picture. Kusamono can be tall, mixed plantings or all the same plant in a container or out of a container. The kusamono dictates the impression of place and season, such as a meadow, a bog, or the mountains.
Here then are a few guidelines to growing your kusamono and shitakusa.
- Be in proper proportion to the main focus (e.g., bonsai, suiseki and or scroll)
- Should not be more "showy" than the main focus
- Indicate the season of the year
- Indicate to some extend the type of location, where the bonsai grows ,f.i. in the woods can be indicated by ferns and mosses, deciduous trees more with grasses.
- Containers should be unobtrusive, dull in color and as flat as possible, to the extend the plant material will allow. The plants can also be taken out of the container and be displayed on a flat tray
- Can be a single plant, mixed plants, in or out of the container
- It can be displayed with either a scroll, figurine or suiseki, but these items will be subservient to the kusamono.
- Kusamono are usually displayed on a mat, flat board, flat ceramic tray and rarely on a formal bonsai type stand
- Kusamono should conform to the seasons.
- It can be a combination of seedling type trees, flowers and grasses
When planting a shitakusa or kusamono, be sure to select plants that have similar growing conditions, for instance plants which need lots of water together or plants that like a lot of sun, or plants that grow primarily at high altitude etc. Also be especially aware of plants that are excessively invasive-use them sparingly and keep them in check, so they don’t dominate the planting, killing off the rest of your plants.
When displaying either kusamono or complementary plants, they should not look like they have just been potted, please plan ahead, weeks if not many months ahead of a show. There should be no soil readily visible-if necessary, cover with moss several weeks before a show.
Have many complementary plants available, so you can pick out the right combination; size versus the main focus, shape and color of the container. Shitakusa must also be directional-so plan ahead for that as well.