VILNIUS - One could easily get away with saying that Lithuania and Japan don't have much in common, but from May 10 - 13 the III International Bonsai & Suiseki Exhibition and Japanese Art Festival in Alytus will prove that one man's will can turn even a Lithuanian town into a mini Japan, at least for a few days. For those who are less informed about Japanese culture, a bonsai is a small tree cultivated in a container where the atmosphere of nature is recreated. It takes years and plenty of skill to create a true bonsai, but this piece of living art can survive for up to 400 years if properly taken care of.
Visitors to the festival will have the opportunity to see the most beautiful bonsai trees from the world over. The festival will attract bonsai masters from 15 countries including Japan, where the art of bonsai was developed and popularized after being imported from China.
The festival's organizer, Kestutis Ptakauskas, is an enthusiast who gained interest in bonsai trees after coming home from the battlefields of Afghanistan. Ptakauskas found that the practice of growing bonsai was the only thing that brought him back to a state of peace 's he has a Japanese garden at home where he starts his day with meditation. Since then he has become the informal ambassador of Japanese culture in Alytus and his bonsai trees have won a number of awards. Ptakauskas initiated Alytus' bonsai exhibitions and has begun plans for a Japanese garden there, which should be ready by 2010.
Though the interest in growing bonsai trees in Lithuania is not very high 's there are only a few people wanting to learn the art 's the previous two exhibitions attracted over 25 thousand visitors from all over Europe.
Ptakauskas says that the bonsai exhibition in Alytus is one of a kind.
"There are many bonsai exhibitions, but this is an exhibition and also a Japanese arts and crafts festival."
This year Ptakauskas promises not only bonsai trees and suiseki (rock art), but also a kimono show, a demonstration of Japanese sword making, haiku poetry, lectures on imperial Japanese gardens and much more. In sum, the festival will be an opportunity to delve into Japanese culture for three days. Participants will get the chance to try calligraphy, origami, Japanese ceramics, and even to take part in a tea ceremony and listen to traditional Japanese music.
Back when he organized the first exhibition, Ptakauskas almost had to beg the famous masters of bonsai to come to Alytus, but this year there are so many guests coming he even had to think up a selection procedure. That means that this year the audience will have the opportunity to learn from the top masters of bonsai and see their works.
And this isn't an event to skip 's Ptakauskas says that this year's festival will be the last one. "Organizing such an event is a very difficult task. I couldn't find anybody willing to help me with the festival and it's getting too difficult," he says.
So pack your bags and spend your weekend in Alytus enjoying the traditions of Japan.
Tickets are sold at www.tiketa.lt.