Bonsai styles: examples

Examples of styles based on trunk orientation

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Japanese name

English name



Formal upright The trunk is straight, upright and tapering.


Branches progress gradually and regularly, with the thickest ones at the bottom and the thinnest ones at the top. This creates a triangular / cone shape.


Symmetry is important for the chokkan style.


Strong roots are visible at the surface of the planting medium, running from the trunk base downward into the medium, and radiating evenly around the trunk. Having one root pointing towards the viewer (when the bonsai is viewed from the front) is desirable.


Informal upright Both trunk and branches feature noticeable curves, but this is still an upright style because the apex of the tree lines up with the trunk base at the bottom.


The largest branches are the lowest ones and the smallest branches are the top ones, with gradual progression, but since this style is informal the progression may be broken where the irregular shape of the trunk calls for it.


Slanting The slant style trunk emerges from the planting medium at an angle, and the apex of the tree is located to the left or right of the tree’s base.


Branches are normally parallel with the ground.


Cascade For a full cascade style, the apex of tree falls below the base of the container. This style mimics cascading trees growing on mountainsides, river banks and similar.


The typical container is tall and slender, to give room for the cascade.


Semi-cascade If the apex of the cascading tree only reaches the lip of the container, or falls just below it, it is known as han-kengai.


Multi-trunk cascade Any type of cascade can be a takan-kengai as long at it has at least two cascading trunks.


Examples of styles based on root placement

Japanese name English




Exposed-root At the base of the trunk, the roots are visible since they aren’t hidden by any planting medium.


The exact proportions vary from one specimen to another. On some specimens, the exposed roots are very long, i.e. two-thirds of the total tree height.


Root-over-rock There is a rock at the base of the trunk and the roots are wrapped around the rock, before reaching the planting medium. The roots are exposed to varying degrees.


Clinging-to-a-rock The roots grow in soil found in the cracks / hollows of a rock.

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Examples of styles with multiple trunks

Multiple trunks from the same root

Japanese name

English name





Two trunks growing from the same root, with one trunk being taller and thicker than the other. Both trunks are clearly visible from the front.


Branches from the trunks extend in various directions, but not directly toward each other.


In many specimens of this type, the two trunks touch each other at the base. They may even be joined to each other for a while before separating into two trunks.



Three trunks. One trunk is thicker than the other, and it is usually also this trunk that is the tallest one. To make the specimen look less symmetrical, the trunks are placed so that a straight line can not intersect all three at the same time.



Five trunks



Seven trunks



Nine trunks



Three or more (always an odd number) trunks grow from a single point.

In the wild, this can for instance be the result of a group of trunks sprouting from the same cone or a collection of suckers growing from the same point at base of a tree.



This style is similar to kabudachi, but the ground-level roots form a domed shaped (like the shell of a turtle).


Straight-line raft

This style intends to mimic a natural phenomenon that occurs when a tree trunk falls over without dying, and what used to be branches now grow vertical, essentially forming a whole set of new trunks attached to the old (now more or less horizontal) trunk. In some cases, new roots will shoot out from parts of the old trunk that is touching the soil.


Sinuous raft

Similar to ikadabuki, but the fallen trunk is not straight – it has several bends in it. Therefore, the new trunks do not form a straight line.


Multiple trunks from individual roots

The most common choice is to use the same species for all trunks, although using two or more species is of course possible since each trunk has its own roots.


Japanese name

English name



Two-tree Typically, one of the trunks is noticeably larger than the other.


The distance between the two trunks vary from one bonsai specimen to the other. In some creations, they are so close they look like twin-trunks.


Three-tree The bonsai grower will typically ensure that the trunks to do not line up with each other.


It is common for the trunks to be of different height and width (one dominant + two smaller ones of two different sizes), but resemble each other when it comes to other visual characteristics, such as foliage density.


Five-tree The typical configuration is two dominant trees + three much smaller trees. Of the two dominant trees, one is larger than the other.


Seven-tree Seven trunks


Nine-tree Nine trunks


Forest A planting of many trees in the same container. Usually an odd number of trunks (unless too many to count easily, then it can be odd or even).


The height of the trees is usually very varied, to mimic the height differences of trees in an old-growth forest.


To emphasize the height of the trees, it is common to use a container with very low sides or even just a flat rock slab.

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Examples of styles based on trunk and bark surface

Japanese name

English name


Sabamiki Split-trunk, hollow trunk There is a split or hollow in the trunk, an injury which has weathered over time. It can range in depth from superficial to being almost the full depth of the trunk.


In the wild, such injuries can for instance be caused by lightning strikes or animals.

Sharimiki Driftwood This is a style where the tree has lost a significant amount of tree bark. The intention is often to give the impression of age and hardship.


It is called driftwood, since the barkless parts reminds us of weathered and bleached driftwood stranded on a beach.


It is important that the bonsai grower keeps a large enough bark connection between the roots and the living parts of the tree, because otherwise the living parts will soon die.


Examples of other styles

Japanese name

English name


Hokidachi Broom The trunk grows upright and straight. The bottom 1/3 of the trunk has no branches. Above this point, branches grow out in all directions to form, with the help of its foliage, a ball-shaped crown.


The tree species selected for hokidachi are usually ones with a natural inclination to form extensive and fine branching, such as elms.

Takozukuri Octopus The trunk is thick and comparatively short, and is topped with several long branches which are contorted into curved shapes – creating the impression of an octopus.
Bunjingi Literati This style is named after the Chinese scholar-bureaucrats who depicted minimalist landscapes in Chinese brush paintings, e.g. for the famous “The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting”. These landscape paintings typically show trees surviving in challenging environments, where the harsh conditions has made their trunks contorted and reduced their foliage. In Japanese, the term bunjingi was created by combining bunjin, a term for scholars practiced in the arts, with ki which means tree.


A bonsai of this style will typically have a long and contorted trunk, and the branches will be stunted or even reduced to a minimum, creating a more or less bare trunk line.

Fukinagashi Wind-swept This style mimics trees that grow where there are strong prevailing winds coming from one specific direction, e.g. on a windswept hilltop by the sea.


Many styles can be adapted to become fukinagashi, such as the (moyogi) informal upright and shakan (slanting).


Fukinagashi can be single-trunk or multi-trunk.