Basic Bonsai Tree Design

When shaping a bonsai tree, you must first decide which Bonsai trees style is best suited to the tree's natural design. There are complex array of different designs, shapes and styles to choose from. There are, however, five basic design styles that seem to be agreed upon basic or fundamental bonsai tree designs.

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Formal Upright (Chokkan)

For a tree to be a formal upright, it must have a very straight trunk and a very balanced distribution of branches. The goal is to develop a sense of balance, but not strict symmetry. The first branch should be the most developed and should be positioned roughly a third the height of the bonsi. This style is best suited to conifers.

Informal Upright (Moyogi)

Informal uprights are one of the most common styles. This is the most basic design in that it follows the natural structure of the tree's trunk. The goal is to develop a single line of the trunk, reaching from the roots to the apex while producing a natural structure of branches and foliage. Again, the branching starts about a third of the way up, and there should be little or no empty spaces. Most deciduous trees will be best suited to informal upright styles.

Slanting (Shakan)

The "slanting" of this style refers to the direction of the movement of the tree's trunk. A Shakan bonsai will have a very distinctive slant, often time balanced out by very strong rootage on the opposite side of the trunk. The goal of shakan is to balance the movement of the trunk with the placement of the branches so that the bonzi tree does not appear to be lopsided. A slanted style Bonzai tree can often give a very powerful impression of strength and age.

Cascade (Kengai)

These trees give the appearance of a waterfall or cascade of foliage which spills over the pot and down toward the ground. The cascade should have a small crown above the top of the pot and a long cascading main branch that flows from the lower portion of the trunk to the apex. Ideally, the tip of the cascade should line up with the line of the trunk. These trees, which often times simulate the growth of a tree along a mountain's side, exhibit both strength and beauty.

Windswept (Fukinagashi)

This style simulates the effect of sustained exposure to strong winds. In this design, each of the branches appears to be "swept" to one side, as if being blown by a strong wind or having large portions of foliage and branches stripped by environmental conditions. These Bonzi trees are modeled on trees usually found in coastal areas, where strong environmental forces have shaped and sculpted them for years.

Bunjin (literati Style)

This style is the most unconventional of them all.  Bunjin often have long thin trunks which curve back around toward the front at the top, displaying the tree's foliage in a cascading form. It's not uncommon to see Japanese Red Pines shaped in this style. This bonzi style technically "breaks the rules" in a number of ways, but also imitate trees in nature that have been forced to contort themselves to survive. Often the result of adverse conditions, bunjin show us how nature itself "breaks the rules" in order to survive with astounding grace and beauty.

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