Bonsai can be defined as trained trees in small pots that mimic the nature of mature-sized trees that you see in the wild. Bonsai was first established in China during the 6th century in the form of miniature trees and landscapes. Imperial embassy personnel and Buddhist students from Japan brought these ideas back to their country and practice was further refined into bonsai.
A question that commonly comes up is "Is bonsai a type of tree?" The answer to that question is no. Bonsai are normal trees that have been trained by a bonsai artist. The bonsai artist will carry out certain techniques to further add to the illusion of a small tree. The artist may trim the tree, or maybe even wire branches into different positions to give the impression of old age. Finally, the bonsai may be decorated with moss, rocks, or figurines if appropriate.
For a lot of people, bonsai appeals as a unique and thoughtful gift, as a bonsai can last a lifetime (or many!) under the correct care. People often doubt themselves when it comes to caring for bonsai, but in reality, bonsai care can be very straight forward. A fish tank requires more attention!
Another question that is often asked is "Will my bonsai grow into a normal sized tree?" If a trained bonsai was taken out of its pot and was placed into the ground to grow, then theoretically the bonsai will grow into a normal-sized tree again. The pot, combined with trimming is what stops the bonsai from growing wild. Even though a bonsai tree lives in a pot, that bonsai tree will live as long as that of a normal tree provided it is well looked after. Some bonsai trees are thought to be over 1000 years old!
The purpose of bonsai is primarily contemplation for the viewer. When developing or caring for bonsai, your focus should be on the journey rather than the destination. A renowned bonsai master grew bonsai from seed (which takes a very long time) right up until he was 80 years old. The trees that you create now, will provide inspiration for future generations. Below you can see a tree from Japan which is over 400 years old! This tree has been passed down through generations and happened to be in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped.
The chances are that your first tree will not be a masterpiece like you can see above here. I doubt that you would feel comfortable looking after a 400-year-old bonsai as your first tree anyway. Purchase a starter tree and learn what you can from it. After some time with the hobby, you will start the adventure of creating your own bonsai which is also very rewarding.
Since bonsai has first established in the East, it has become popular all over the world. You will find very welcoming communities and forums online for any help that you need when it comes to bonsai care. Bonsai is a very relaxing hobby and you may find that it becomes a lifestyle!