JAPANESE STYLES OF BONSAI


 

      The various compositions of bonsai are based on an interplay of main trunk line movement, overall shape or outline of the tree(s), number of trunks from a single root, number of trees in a composition, form of container used, type of non-formal presentation, and even size.  A number of classification systems have been put forth to categorize the resulting myriad Japanese styles. 
      Standardization of different classification systems always presents a challenge.  The chart below is no exception.  The following scheme emerged as this chart was being compiled.  The table was set up initially using the order of Yoshimura & Halford's classifications to label the rows.  Additional styles from the other authors were inserted as rows by RJB where they seemed to logically fit. 
      Each column is distinct to itself and is based on a given source's stated classification of styles.  If no main or principle categories were specifically stated or shown, the styles are in order of their presentation in the particular book in small alpha sequence (a, b, c...).  Otherwise, main groups or categories are prefixed 1, 2, 3...   Those numbers might then be followed by capitalized alpha (A, B, C...), which represent the principal styles or subcategories within those main groups.  Additional subcategories under those are designated with small alpha (a, b, c...).  Further breakdowns under the additional subcategories are small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii...). 
      Alternative names to those in the row headings on the left are listed.  Descriptions in addition to the row name start with "or" before the term.  Alternative Japanese terms are in parenthesis.  Where no Japanese term is given, "( nJ )" is employed.
      As with everything else on this web site, your feedback is encouraged to better, correct, amend, or challenge the historical picture emerging.  Additional sources may be listed in future versions of this page.

 
1899-1902
Moore
Nozaki
Yashiroda
Yoshimura
 Koide et al
Naka
Samson
I. SHAPE OF TRUNK, generally a single trunk




1


1
Formal Upright (chokkan)

1
straight
( nJ )


1a
 a
1a
1A
Informal Upright (tachiki)


7
Upright
( nJ )

1b

1
Upright (tachi-gi)
1e
Informal Upright (moyo-gi)





 b
1c

Slanting (shakan)

2
slant
( nJ )


1c
 d
1b
1B
Minimum Slant (sho-shakan)






1bi

Midway Slant (chu-shakan)






1bii

Great or Extreme Slant (dai-shakan)






1biii

Semicascade (han-kengai)




1d

2b
or Midway
1f
Cascade (kengai)
Yamanaka, pg. 13;
Maumené, Fig.7 (kengaï)
4
overhanging
( nJ )
8
hanging style ( nJ )
d
( nJ )
1e
 k
2/2a
Ordinary or formal cascade
1C
Great or extreme almost vertical (dai-kengai)






2c

Top of a cliff or dome cascade (gaito-kengai)





2d

Waterfall cascade (taki-kengai)






2e

Trunk and branches cascading as a mass of strings (ito-kengai)






2f

More than two trunks cascading (takan-kengai)






2g

Literati (bunjingi)




1f
 j
1e
Abstract and free
1g
Coiled (bankan)




1g

1f
Gnarled
1D
Broom (hokidachi)




1h
 l
15b
(hoki-zukuri)
1h
Branches falling down or weeping
(nazashi)
Maumené, Fig.5







Split-trunk (sabamiki)




1i


1i
Split or Hollowed trunk (sabakan)






1h

Knobby trunk (kobukan)






1i

Driftwood (sharimiki)




1j


1j
Peeled bark trunk (sharikan)






1j

Wind-swept (fukinagashi)

3
curving... by sea winds
( nJ )


1k
 i
1d
1k
Exposed-root (neagari)
Bedford, p.916; Tsumura, p.9;
Maumené, Fig.8 (neazari)



1l
 g
13
1l
Aerial-root (neku)







1m
Root-over-rock (sekijoju)




1m


1n
Clinging-to-a-rock (ishitsuki)

10
clasps an enormous rock with its roots
( nJ )
9
( nJ )
c
plant clasping a stone
1n
 n
11
(ishizuke)
1o
Twisted-trunk (nejikan)


10
( nJ )

1o

1g
1p
Octopus (takozukuri)


5
(tako-tsukuri)

1p

12
1q
II. MULTIPLE TRUNKS from a Single Root

7
several separate trunks... only one root
( nJ )


2


2
Twin-trunk (sokan)

5
two trunks
( nJ )


2a
 c1
3
Double trunk
2A
Double trunk
Three trunks (sankan)




 2ai
c2


Five trunks (gokan)

6
five-trunk
( nJ )


2aii
c3


Clump (kabubuki or kabudachi)




2b
 e
5
2B
Stump (korabuki, lit. "turtle back")




2c

6
2C
Straight-line or raft (ikadabuki)

8
lying-down [with] branches go up like separate trees
( nJ )


2d
 h
(ikada)
9
2D
Sinuous (netsunagari)



b
(netsuranari)
2e
 f
(netsuranari)
7
2E
III. MULTIPLE TRUNKS & GROUP PLANTINGS




3


3
Two-tree (soju)

9
two or more different kinds of trunks
( nJ )


3a

4
3a
Three-tree (sambon-yose)
Blight, p.258 ( nJ )



3b


3b
Five-tree (gohon-yose)




3c


3c
Seven-tree (nanahon-yose)




3d


3d
Nine-tree (kyuhon-yose)




3e


3e
Multiple-tree (yose-ue)
Yamanaka, p.59 ;
Blight, p.258 ( nJ )


a
( nJ )
3f
 m
10
Group planting (yose-uye)
3f
Natural-group (yamayori)




3g

8
Sprouts from a fallen cone
3g
(yomayori or yomayose)
Clustered-group (tsukami-yose)




3h


3h
IV. NON-BONSAI GROUP PLANTINGS




4


4
Tray-landscape (bonkei)
Yamanaka, p.15; Blight, p.258;
Tsumura, p.14; Maumené, Fig.1

(bonkai)



4a


4a
Group planting (saikei)






14

Seasonal plantings




4b


4c
Plantings of herbs, grasses, and shrubs (kusamono or shitakusa)


6
grass bonsai
( nJ )
f
grasslike plants
4c


4b
V. SPECIAL CATEGORY




5



Miniature (mame)

c
tiny plum trees less than four inches high
( nJ )
4
or nutshell
e
5



Small-sized, 8 - 15 inches H (katate-mono or komono)

b
about a foot high
( nJ )
3
Carried in one hand





Medium-sized, 15 - 26 inches H


2
Held in two hands





Large-sized, 40 - 80 inches H

a
four feet high
( nJ )
1A





Large, carried by 2 persons


1B





Large, carried by 3 persons


1C





Large, carried by 4 persons


1D





VI. SHAPES or OUTLINE (jukei)






15

Pyramidal or Conical 
(jikkei or jikka)
Yamanaka, p. 7; Bedford, p.916;
Maumené, Fig.2 (jikki)







Very traditional pine tree (matsu-zukuri)






15a

Ball or Egg (tama-zukrui)






15c

Candle flame (rosoku-zukuri)






15d

Umbrella (kasa-zukuri)






15e

Exaggerated form of Matsu-Zukuri, often used for background of "Noh" plays (hosho-zukuri)






15f


 
NOTES

Yamanaka & Co. Auction Catalog, Nov. 1899 ; Blight, Robert  "Among the Plants: Garden, Field and Forest," Current Literature, June 1900; Bedford, Cornelia E.  "Elfin Trees," Harper's Bazar, Aug. 11, 1900; Tsumura, Toichi  "Dwarf Trees," 1901; Maumené, Albert  Les Arbres nains japonais, 1902.

Moore, Adrienne  Interviewing Japan; 1939, pp. 166, 167-168, 171.

Nozaki, Shinobu  Dwarf Trees (Bonsai); 1940, pp. 7, 22, 24, 26, 27, 46, 49, Photo 80.

Yashiroda, Kan (ed.)  Handbook on Dwarfed Potted Trees; 1953, revised 1959; pp. 2, 15, 32, 43, 67, 88.

Yoshimura, Yuji & Giovana M. Halford  The Art of Bonsai; 1957, pp. 65-66, 111.

Koide, Nobukichi, Saburo Kato, & Fusazo Takeyama  The Masters' Book of Bonsai; 1967 (Japanese), 1983 (English), pp. 46-52.

Naka, John Y.  Bonsai Techniques; 1973, pp. 123-124.

Samson, Isabella & Rémy  The Creative Art of Bonsai; 1986, revised 2000, pp. 12-13.


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