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Vol#3 The Front of a Bonsai: What Is and How to Identify It?

Vol #3   Written by Yusuke Ogawa

The Front of A Bonsai

Hello, my fellow bonsai lovers. When you are taking care and displaying your bonsai tree, do you think of the front?

Each bonsai always has a front side and a back side, and at exhibitions and bonsai shops, the tree is always displayed with the front facing the viewer. However, the question "What is the front?" does not have an easy answer. When I first entered the bonsai industry, I couldn't tell the difference between the front and the back, and I often made my teacher angry.
So, this time, I would like to explain how to identify the front of the bonsai.

5 Important Elements

First of all, there are 5 important elements (rooting, tree rise, branching, crown and age) you need to consider when styling a bonsai.
Of these five elements, rise and crown are the key points when identifying the front.

blog_bonsai japanese new year

A typical bonsai tree is often compared to a sumo fighter ready for a match. The rise (from foot to waist) flows backward, and from there to the crown (or head in case of the sumo player), the tree shape gradually flows forward. That is generally considered a good tree shape.
In other words, where the rise is more backwards is called the back, and the part where the crown is more prominent is considered the front. This is how the front of a grown tree is decided, but when it comes to a tree being trained or shohin bonsai, most of times you can decide by yourself.

japanese bonsai artist with pine bonsai tree

Examples

If the rise is growing stronger, there may be some unnatural parts such as the crown or canopy facing backwards and as a result the branching looks worse. In such a case, it is important to decide the front based on the problems that are the most difficult to improve.

Take these examples as well:

  • If the canopy and branches can be improved by pruning and wire trimming, you can determine the front based on the rise.
  • If the rise can be improved by repotting, then decide according to the canopy

In most cases, bonsai is not something that can be improved immediately, it will gradually improve over time. So do not worry.
Even if you think that you can't finish the bonsai tree or display it the way you want, taking your time without being impatient will lead to the creation of more beautiful specimen. Moreover, being patient with your tree will also have a positive effect on your mind as the owner of the bonsai. 

Mr. Ogawa (owner of reBonsai, collaborator of Wazakura Japan)

2 comments

  • Hello, I found this volume of your blog very helpful in pointing out some of the features that the front of a bonsai should have. Perhaps in the future you could comment on “inoculant” Myconox Mycorrhizal. How to use it, which species of tree benefit from it, how much to use, and how it benefits the tree. Thank you for your time and the information, it’s very much appreciated.

    David H. Oomen
  • Hello, I found this volume of your blog very helpful in pointing out some of the features that the front of a bonsai should have. Perhaps in the future you could comment on “inoculant” Myconox Mycorrhizal. How to use it, which species of tree benefit from it, how much to use, and how it benefits the tree. Thank you for your time and the information, it’s very much appreciated.

    David H. Oomen

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