Choosing a Style for Your Bonsai

As mentioned in previous chapters, there are technically two basic styles of bonsai, the cascading style and the upright style. But within these styles there are many sub-group of styles that a bonsai can attain. This group is then further broken down to single trunk to multi-trunk looks.

Use the more common training and styling methods such as pruning and wiring when you start as a beginner, as well as defoliation, clipping, or clamping when required.

Below are some common styles of bonsai you can choose from:

Note : All image credit (except where indicated):


Chokkan – formal upright

Chokkan and Moyogi

Sekijôju and Hokidachi*


Ishitsuki (image credit:

The formal upright style is on of the most common style of bonsai. The layers of branches are very pronounced, and the trunk is generally thicker at the bottom, growing increasingly thinner at the top. Branching begins at about 1/4 of the total length of the trunk with the top formed by a single branch. The specific rules for branch placement, pot selection and such make this style complex and not suitable for beginners. Below are some sub-style of the formal upright bonsai:

  • Moyogi – Informal upright
  • Hokidachi – Broom style
  • Sabamiki – (Split Trunk)
  • Saramiki – (exposed trunk, the bark is MOSTLY stripped off)
  • Sekijôju – (Root over Rock; the plant is grown over a rock and into the soil of a pot)
  • Ishitsuki – (planted in crevices in a rock); The roots of the tree grows in the cracks and holes of a rock. Fertilize this tree to provide enough nutrients. You will also need to water this style often, because the tree does not grow on soil, there is nothing to store water and nutrients.
  • Neagari – (exposed root, like a mangrove)

Shakan – slant style

Image credit: Claire H./Flickr

The bonsai has a straight trunk similar to the formal upright style but the tree is slanted fright from the soil at an angle, with the apex of the bonsai positioned to the left or right of the root base.

Kengai – cascading style

Kengai and Han Kengai

Cascading bonsais are styled to emulate the look of trees growing over water or on the sides of mountains. The apex of the tree falls below the base of the pot.

A subgroup is the semi-cascading style (Han Kengai) where the bonsai extends just at or beneath the lip of the pot.

Bunjin-gi – literati style

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The bonsai generally has a bare and long contorted trunk with minimum branches and a bunch of foliage at the apex.

Fukinagashi – Windswept style

The trunk and the branches are grown to one side, giving the illusion that the tree has been constantly blown in one direction by the wind.

Soju – double trunk style

The Soju style is characterized by one trunk being dominant to the other. A related style to the two trunk style is the Sôkan Style, which is denoted for its double branches growing out of one root system just above the soil; both varying in thickness and length with the thicker and more developed trunk upright, and a slight slant on the smaller trunk. The bonsai is also characterized by a single crown of leaves from both trunks

Kabudachi – multi-trunk style

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The multi-trunk style actually is one single tree branching out from the soil surface. The trunks form one single crown of leaves, where the most developed trunk will form the top. This style is split according to the number of trunks it grows: Sokan – two trunks; Sankan – three trunks and Gokan – Five trunks

Yose-ue – Group / Forest style

Similar to the multi-trunk style, the forest style is comprised of several trees, not one tree with several trunks.

The tallest and most developed tree is planted in the middle, and the style normally calls for a shallow pot. Trees are planted in a straight line but staggered pattern, similar to how forests look naturally. You can choose odd numbers of trees for this style (Sambon-Yôse -3 trunks, Gohon-Yôse -5, Nanahon-Yôse -7 and Kyuhon-Yôse -9.

Ikadabuki – Raft style

The raft style bonsai emulates the old tree that\’s fallen over but still able to provide its branches with enough nutrients to survive.

New roots begin to grow which overtakes the old root system, and the branches that lived now grows upwards into trunk with multiple branches because of the new lease in life. These new trunks form a single crown.

You can enhanced the overall look of your bonsai with another technique, the deadwood technique called jin and shari where you can give your bonsai an aged and \’matured\’ look.

Jin technique is when the bark of the entire branch is removed to create the look of deadwood while Shari means to strip off the bark from areas of the trunk to simulate natural scarring (such as those from a broken limb or lightning strike). Other techniques involve using tools to scare the deadwood as well as chemicals to bleach or preserve the dead wood.

More reading:

Bonsai styles: