cedar-forestThere are many styles of Bonsai and all refer to natural styles in nature. Many have Japanese names such as Ikadabuki, Netsuranari, Nebari and Shari. These terms have become generic although originating in Japan and they work in the same way as Latin terminology works with garden plants. It allows everyone, no matter what country he or she is in to understand each other.

In China where the other great art of Penjing, the Chinese name for Bonsai, originated they have many styles reflecting the landscape in the many regions that these styles are commonly seen in nature. The five main regions of China have within these regions a number of forms.

My point is that while we grow Bonsai or Penjing outside Japan or China, we have to work with our own native trees and try and reflect the styles that we see around us in our own countries landscapes. This means that we should be taking the opportunity to create unique styles of American, Australian, African or Scottish Bonsai and not just Japanese or Chinese styles.

John Yoshio Naka, a great American Japanese teacher and authority on styles and size definitions, identified both the major styles and heights, which help us, determinate the style descriptions.  John is no longer with us and like many others having studied with him over the years, I was taught these styles by John and I have put his descriptions in the following chart. This is a good start to the understanding of the names in both Japanese and in English. Chinese styles have their own terminology. I teach in many different countries where English is not the prime language so the terminology is useful as everyone will understand Chokkan rather than Formal Upright. I prefer using the English terminology in English speaking countries though.


Japanese Name English Name
Chokkan Formal Upright No curves or bends in trunk
Moyogi Informal Upright –Trunk changing direction.
Shakan Slanted
Sho-Shakan Small Slant
Chu-Shakan Medium Slant
Dai-Shakan Extreme Slant
Hankan Very coiled trunk
Fukinagashi Windswept
Bankan Old coiled trunk
Saba kan Hollow trunk
Shari Kan Exposed deadwood on the trunk- Shari miki dead wood with dead branch stumps like fish bones
Neijikan Twisted in wind trunk and- or – branches
Kobukan Lumpy trunk, gnarled with age
Kengai Cascade.
Han Kengai Semi cascade
Dai Kengai Straight cascade, extreme or long.
Gaito Kengai A tree that is on the edge and cascades with a round Ju Shin, apex.
Taki Kengai A cascade changing direction
Ito Kengai Multiple thin cascades
Takan Kengai Twin or more trunks cascade
Netsuranari Raft style from roots
Ikada Raft style of trees from fallen trunk
Ikadabuki Raft style from a fallen tree, branches takes root.
Soju Twin trunks
Sokan Two trunks of differing size from single root
Yose-uye(pr. Yohsay-ooay) Forest / group style
Tako Zukuri Octopus style. Very twisted branches and trunk
Ishi-zuke Root over rock
Ne-agari Exposed root style-erosion exposed roots
Hoki dachi Broom style. Fan shape with even growth
Bunjin Literati. Similar to elegant Sumi paintings long trunk with slight growth at top. Not heavy
Some Trees in Japanese English Names. I have listed just a few here for general reference
Momji or Kaede Maple
Sugi Japanese Cedar
Keyaki Japanese Grey Bark Elm
Ichijiku Fig
Shide or Soro Hornbeam
Goyo-Matsu (mats) Five needle white pine (also Pinus pentaphylla)
Kuro-Matsu (mats) Japanese Black Pine, two needles
Shimpaku Juniper. The most popular Juniper grown as Bonsai
Kashu Shimpaku California Juniper. Also Utah and other similar species such as Western Juniper and Common Juniper (communis)
Benishitan Cotoneaster
Botangi Buttonwood. Silver Buttonwood. From warmer climes in America, Florida etc.
Kashi, Kunugi, Oak. Many varieties
Maki Podocarpus pine
Satsuki Flowering Azalea. Kurume Azaleas
Ezo-Matsu Spruce, Japanese. Jezo, Ezo or Yezo spruce
Ichii Yew. Japanese, American or English
Sarusuberi Crepe Myrtle
Tsuge Box. Stiff when old but great for Bonsai
Other Terms*
Ara-kawacho & Arakawa Rough bark
Mastu (Mats) Pine Bonsai
Ju –Shin Top of a Bonsai tree
Shoki Collected Bonsai that is  well established as a Bonsai
Yamadori* Collected Natural material for Bonsai or Natural Bonsai not yet refined into a Bonsai
Tangei Bonsai material or material good for making Bonsai
Bonsai A tree in a tray or container-From the Chinese Pentsai-later Sung Dynasty.
Bonkei Landscapes with other plants, animals figures, buildings etc. In China its Pentsai.
BonsekiBonsekei Landscape planting but no figures Only rocks, moss and trees.
Uro Hole in trunk with healed edges
Nebari * Surface Roots
Saba miki Split trunk
Shari kan Bark split from trunk
Shari, * & Shari Miki Exposed areas on trunkDead trunk areas with jinned twigs sticking out like spines
Jin,  & Jinn * Jinning Exposed areas on branches or tipsTo remove bark and create dead wood
Dai Table to display a Bonsai
Daiza Shaped Table or a base for a Suiseki


  • · common terms


Bonsai heights and names


Many years ago John taught us that we need to have a structure of size descriptions as well. Bonsai come in a variety of heights ranging from one inch up to six feet. Essentially the larger Bonsai are known as Garden Bonsai or Yard Trees while most Bonsai are of a reasonable size around a maximum of 40 inches. In some instances trees that require two persons to carry it are simply big trees in pots and not accepted (in some quarters) as true Bonsai. Nothing is fixed as to what is a Bonsai however and this size chart is a guideline.


Sizes are measured from soil level to the Apex of the Bonsai. The right size of pot to enhance the tree acts as a frame to a picture. It should be seen but not seen. A pot should not take over from the tree but have a quiet elegance in its own right. A pot should not be a distraction.

One inch = 2.5 Centimetres


Height Name English or other Name
1” Keishi Tsubo Thimble size –Within the Shohin category
1-3” Shito Mini size-very small-Within the Shohin category
Mini size –Within the Shohin category
Katade –Small Size also Gafu-Bonsai, or  Miyabi-Bonsai. (Gafu is a term for excellent small sized Bonsai)
8- 16”
Sho or Kifu – Small to medium size
Chuhin Medium Size
Also Oomono – Both terms mean Large Size but Oomono means a large size that can be carried by one man.
41—65” Very large sized Bonsai. Sometimes termed as Yard Bonsai. Needs two men to carry this size. Not always accepted as Bonsai in Competition (subjective)

Article by Craig Coussins©   





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