Bonsai Styles

There are a variety of different styles into which bonsai can be classified. Bonsai are styled to reflect nature and therefore represent the different shapes of trees seen growing in the wild.

Formal upright (Chokkan) Formal Upright
The tree grows straight and upright with evenly-spaced branches growing out from each side of the trunk. The trunk has an even taper from base to apex and the branch thickness and length decrease with height.
Informal Upright Informal upright (Moyogi)
This is similar to the formal upright but the trunk curves and bends, yet still grows upright. It is the most commonly seen style in nature and bonsai.
Cascade (Kengai) Cascade
The trunk bends over the side of the pot and cascades downwards, terminating below the bottom of the pot. This style is commonly seen in trees growing on mountainsides, maybe when the tree has been pushed down by the weight of snow, wind or other weather conditions.
Semi-cascade Semi-cascade (Han Kengai)
Similar to the cascade style, the trunk curves over the side of the pot but terminates below the level of the rim, not the bottom of the pot. In nature, trees growing on rock faces or river banks exhibit this style.
Twin-trunk (Sokan) Twin trunk
Common in nature, a tree sometimes develops two trunks from the base, one of which dominates and is therefore thicker and taller than the second. The branches tend to lie around the outer side of each trunk to give an overall balanced arrangement.
Literati Literati (Bunjin)
The trunk is long with accentuated curves and the branches and foliage are confined to the topmost section. This represents a tree that has grown in an area where there was competition for light, so the tree had to grow tall. Many types of tree in nature also assume this style in maturity.
Windswept (Fukinagashi) Windswept
As suggested by the name, this type of tree would be greatly shaped by strong winds, and slants away from the prevailing wind. Most of the branches are confined to the downwind side of the trunk, and those that are on the upwind side are weaker and often bent round to follow the path of the wind.
Broom Broom (Hokidachi)
This style resembles an upturned broom and can look like the classic "lollypop tree", but does occur in some deciduous trees in nature. The trunk is thick, extending to about half the height of the tree and then branches into a mass of fine twiggy branches which form a symmetrical domed head.
Clump (Kadudachi) Clump
This is where several trunks grow out from the same root system and is often seen in nature where coppicing occurs. Trees are cut down to ground level and from the remaining stump, a mass of new shoots grow resulting in multiple trunks from the same base.
Group/Forest Group/Forest (Yose Ue)
A collection of trees are planted together to resemble a forest. To give the impression of depth, thicker trunks are placed towards the front. To avoid an artificial look and improve aesthetic appeal, an odd number of trees are used unless there are 15+ trees.
Raft (Korabuki OR Netsuranari) Raft
This reflects a tree that has fallen over in it's past, but has survived and carried on growing. Its branches have become the new trunks and it resembles a small group of trees. The original trunk it often left visible to illustrate the tree's history.

Juniper with jins

An example of jins on a cascading juniper. The image suggests the higher branches have died off as the tree was forced to grow downwards.

Deadwood (jins and sharis)

Some styles and species of tree lend themselves to having areas of deadwood on them. They add to the apparent age of the tree and suggest it's history - such as enduring storms, drought or lightening strikes.

A dead branch is referred to as a jin, and an area of deadwood on the trunk is called a shari. They can have appeared on the tree naturally, or can be created artificially, perhaps from a branch that is not wanted in the finished design of the tree, as this can make its removal look less man-made.

Hawthorn with shari

A hawthorn with a shari on its trunk

Some bonsai artists produce highly stylised trees. This is a matter of personal taste. However, a bonsai should reflect nature. Pines, for example, do not naturally grow into broom styles, just as elms rarely grow into formal upright styles.

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