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Vol#10 Bonsai Styles - Part One

You may have heard of many different style names when starting bonsai. From slanting or shakan, informal upright to moyogi; full cascade or kengai, multi-trunk or kabudachi, yose-ue or forest, and so on.  

Today, I will address the different bonsai styles and shapes that are essential knowledge for any bonsai enthusiast.  

Bonsai is an art that allows you – through its many different forms – to appreciate and recreate natural scenery. Deeping your understanding of the basic shapes of bonsai will enable you to enjoy it to the fullest, both when growing bonsai or appreciating them.  

So let us begin by looking at the three most common styles: 

  1. Formal Upright (Chokkan) 
  1. Slanting (Shakan) 
  1. Informal Upright (Moyogi).  

■Formal Upright or Chokkan 

The Formal Upright style or chokkan is the most basic bonsai tree shapes. Preferably, the roots should be spread in four directions, and strictly speaking, no bending is allowed. 

The ideal shape is the takenoko or Bamboo Shoot Trunk style, where the trunk is thicker at the base of the bonsai and grows thinner as it approaches the apex.  

As for the order of the branches, there should be a beautiful first branch (closest to the root) from either left or right. Then, the second branch starts on the opposite side, the third branch on the opposite side of the second, and so on. Ideally, they should grow in a way that the distance is shorter as they reach the apex. In addition, you can enhance depth with an ura eda or back branch that extends from behind the trunk, from the third branch. 

■Slanting or Shakan 

The Slanting style of bonsai or shakan is a result of natural forces such as the wind and/or snow. It results in a tree leaning towards one side, during the growing process of the tree itself.  

Therefore, it is more commonly found in mountain trees, as opposed to flatland trees. 

Many bonsai trees grow up to about two thirds of the trunk with a small bend, and then switch to a larger bend for the remaining one third, as they approach the apex.  In addition, branching is not as sequential as on a straight trunk, but sometimes there are fallen branches or branches that grow long only on one side to show that the tree has withstood the wind and snow. 

Characteristically, the shakan style is closer to the trees that appear in nature, compared to the other tree forms.  

■Informal Upright or Moyogi 

In the present-day bonsai world, it is often the case that the Slanting and the Formal Upright forms are not easily distinguishable, thus it becomes essential to include the Informal Upright style as well. 

The most prominent feature of the Informal Upright form is that the base of the trunk and the apex are roughly in a straight line, compared to the shakan, where the entire tree tilts to one side.  

To be more precise, the trunk swings back a little more than halfway up, and then bulges out in front of the trunk, making an S shape, which increases depth and gives a more naturalistic view.

That is all you need to know about basic bonsai styles. 

Next time we will look at the Cascade (Kengai) and Semi Cascade (Han-Kengai) styles. 

ReBonsai Yusuke Ogawa   

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