This story appears in the May 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.
For America’s bicentennial in 1976, Japan sent a gift of 53 bonsai trees. Many of them, including one that was first potted in 1625, now reside in Washington, D.C.’s National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Tending to bonsai requires calm, focus, patience—and a set of miniature tools. “If you don’t understand the science to keep them alive, there’s no point in understanding the art to make them beautiful,” says Michael James, the museum’s curator.