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Saikei (栽景) literally translates as "planted landscape".[1][2]:228 Saikei is a descendant of the Japanese arts of bonsai, bonseki, and bonkei, and is related less directly to similar miniature-landscape arts like the Chinese penjing and the Vietnamese hòn non bộ. It is the art of creating tray landscapes that combine miniature living trees with soil, rocks, water, and related vegetation (like ground cover) in a single tray or similar container.[3] A saikei landscape will remind the viewer of a natural location through its overall topography, choice of ground materials, and the species used in its plantings.

Trees, soil, and rocks form a miniature living landscape.

A typical saikei is contained in a large ceramic tray with low sides. Within the tray, rocks and soil are arranged to suggest a natural landscape, often modeled on a specific type of real landscape like a seaside or a mountain path. Small living trees are planted in the soil and may be arranged to emphasize perspective, for example, with smaller trees to the rear of the display. The trees themselves are similar to, but less elaborately shaped than, bonsai trees. They are selected and cultivated to look like mature trees that match the simulated landscape they grow in. Non-tree plant specimens may also grow in the saikei, such as ground cover or other small plants that help evoke the landscape.

Saikei differs from the related Japanese art forms in some key ways. According to Lew Buller, Toshio Kawamoto (the founder of the saikei form) "was adamant that his living landscapes were not bonsai",[4] citing saikei rules such as the mandatory use of stones, and the placement of trees and roots above the rim of the tray. Bonsai uses stones as the base for a tree or trees in the root-over-rock style (Sekijoju) and growing-in-a-rock (Ishizuke) styles, but does not form landscapes from mixed stones and soil. The shape of the ground is very important in saikei, where it is of reduced or non-existent importance in bonsai. In general, saikei concentrates on the evocation of a natural living landscape, rather than on the character of individual trees as emphasized in bonsai.

The arts of bonseki and bonkei also depict miniature landscapes in trays, but do not incorporate living trees or other flora. In bonseki, simple landscapes are portrayed on flat trays using sand and stones. In bonkei, rocks and sculptable materials (e.g., cement) are formed into hills and mountains rising out of ground materials like sand and gravel. Miniature figures of people, animals, buildings, and other outdoor elements may be placed on a bonkei but would be out of place on a saikei. The presence of living materials means saikei are challenging to preserve and display relative to bonkei.