Bonsai (盆栽)

Bonsai is an inclusive term referring to plants planted in a pot, their foliage, shape of leaves, bark on the trunk, roots and the pot, and also to the hobby of enjoying all of this form.

Furthermore, it seeks to recreate in these plants the shape of large trees that can be seen outdoors on a smaller scale in a pot. Therefore the branches are pruned and fixed with wire to imitate the aesthetic of nature and sometimes the roots are bent or made to creep over rocks and taking up the challenge of using a variety of techniques is part of the fun. Time and effort is exerted with fertilizing, pruning, wiring and watering. One of the attractions is that as the plants are living, there is no moment of 'completion,' but rather it is always changing.


It began when the 'Bonkei' (miniature landscaping) practiced in China in the Tang Dynasty was brought to Japan in the Heian period. In the Edo period, cultivation of bonsai was popular as a sideline of the samurai, and bonsai and gardening boomed. Even after the Meiji period, bonsai was a stylish hobby, however as time and effort were required for managing cultivation and watering, due to the changes in lifestyles, it gradually became a hobby of older generations who had the spare time. Therefore, from after the war until about the 1980's, it was considered a hobby for old people. However, from the 1990's, bonsai gathered attention overseas and there has been a trend towards seeing it in a new light, and as a new awareness of bonsai has grown as it has become a stylish hobby among young people.


Bonsai focusing on trees
Pine and oak varieties (including pine, Chinese Juniper, Needle Juniper, Cedar)
Bonsai for enjoying berries (including Japanese winterberry, persimmon, quince (rose family), crab apple)
Bonsai for enjoying flowers (including Plum, flowering quince (plant), cherry, azalea)
Bonsai for enjoying the leaves (including maple, zelkova, Japanese wax tree, bamboo)
Bonsai focusing on grass
Bonsai which are a combination of plant varieties or shapes (including group planting, Saika (flowering) bonsai, Mambonsai (bonsai decorated with a small plastic figures))

Tree Form

Chokkan Style (Straight Trunk)

Bonsai with a straight trunk growing vertically upwards are called Chokkan style bonsai. The ideal is for the trunk to gradually become thinner from the roots to the tree core.
This is called a 'good taper.'
If the branches branch off in a balanced way around the trunk, left to right, front to back, and the space between branches becomes smaller further up the tree, this is called a good branch balance. Also it is ideal to have the roots spreading on all sides.

Moyogi Style (Curved Tree)

Moyogi style bonsai is one in which the trunk is twisted into a curved line from left to right. It is important that the taper is good and the tree curves with a form which is well-balanced all around. It is necessary to take care with the branch formation and leave the outward curving branches as in nature, while pruning the inward branches. If the tree core is directly above the base, this gives the viewer a sense of stability.

Shakan Style (Angled trunk)

If the trunk grows up at an angle, due to being exposed to a wind coming from one direction or other obstacle, and the tree is growing in one direction on an angle from the base to the core, this is called Shakan style bonsai. The characteristic of this bonsai is that the branches do not all point in one direction but extend in all directions.

Fukinagashi Style (Windswept tree)

Fukinagashi style face even more extreme environments than Shakan style, and both the trunks and branches point in one direction, with the branch length being longer than the height of the tree. These look similar to the semi-cascade, except for the position of the ends of the branches.

Kengai Style (Cascade)

Bonsai which form a cascade imitating the shape of trees growing out from sheer cliffs by the sea or ravines with the trunk growing straight down are called Kengai style bonsai. Incidentally, bonsai with trunks and branches growing downwards below the rim of the pot are called Kengai style bonsai and those with the trunks and branches at about the level of the rim of the pot are called Han Kengai (semi-cascade) style bonsai.

Bankan Style (Coiled trunks)

Bonsai with remarkably twisted trunks are called Nejikan (twisted trunks) while those that are even more twisted or coiled like a snake are called Bankan style.

Hokidachi Style (Broom style)

Bonsai with the branches spraying out from half way up the trunk such that the main branch cannot be distinguished are called Hokidachi style bonsai because they look just like bamboo brooms. The aesthetic points are the graceful divergence of the branches and the balance of the diverging point and height of the tree.

Neagari Style (Bonsai with exposed roots)

Neagari style bonsai are those which have been grown in a harsh environment and the roots branching off under the earth have become exposed on the surface of the topsoil due to the effects of wind and rain.

Takan Style (Multiple trunks)

Bonsai with more than one trunk growing up from the base. Bonsai with two trunks are called Sokan (twin trunks), those with three trunks are called Sankan (triple trunks) and those with five or more trunks are called Kabudachi (clumps). Bonsai with an odd number of trunks are preferred, while those with an even number of trunks are unpopular and avoided, except for twin trunk bonsai.

Netsuranari Style (Connected roots)

These are bonsai which have the roots of more than three of the same plant connected, or in which the tree has fallen down and been buried in the earth, and what was once a branch is grown as the trunk, and the base of that branch sends out roots which are connected with the other roots. There is also a similar bonsai called Ikada Style bonsai (raft bonsai). They also have the tree lying on the ground and what were originally branches are grown as trunks, with the difference from Netsuranari style being that in Ikada style bonsai there is only one root. As with the multiple tree forms, an even number of trunks is avoided.

Yoseue Style (Group planting)

Bonsai with a number of different variety of trees grown in one pot or rock are called Yoseue style bonsai. There are also many highly creative combinations of bonsai with a group of the same plants, groups of different plants or combinations of plants with sculptures.

Bunjingi Style (Literati)

Originating with tree forms that appear similar to Chinese Nanga (southern school) paintings. It was popular among the literati of the Meiji period, hence the name. Nowadays, bonsai with narrow trunks and few branches, and with the branches having a small volume are also called Bunjingi style bonsai.

Jin and Shari Deadwood on Bonsai

On some trees part of the branch or trunk may die off, and the bark peel off causing the white core of the tree to be exposed. If this happens on a branch, this part is called Jin, and if it happens on the trunk it is called Shari. This happens in nature, however in bonsai there is a technique of creating this effect artificially by peeling with a chisel or other such tool. It is usually done on pine or oak varieties such as junipers, however it is also done on plum and other trees.

There is a village called Bonsai-mura in Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture. This originated when a group of bonsai growers moved there from Tokyo to grow bonsai after the Great Kanto Earthquake.

Export Restrictions in the EU
Japanese bonsai, known as 'enBonsai,' became very popular in Europe from the 1970s, however due to the discovery on October 15, 2008, of an Asian long-horned beetle parasite on a garden tree being exported to the Netherlands, an emergency measure was taken to tighten import regulations. The regulations prohibit the import of garden trees which have not been grown for over two years in a facility which prevents the infestation of Asian long-horned beetles and exports effectively became impossible in 2009 and 2010.

[Original Japanese]