Rules rules – too much

What is it about rules in bonsai? Rules seems to rule, often too much.

I really believe in the historical heritage of bonsai have to be taken seriously, and be part of the moderne development of bonsai. Sometimes though, bonsai people have a tendency to cling to something written or told in the past, that has little to do with reality. Or the art.

There are several different directions taught by bonsai masters and teachers. Including myself. These can be very different, and sometimes in contradiction with each other. The only real rules to take seriously, are the ones telling how much space you have at an exhibition, and the categorizing of the sizes within Shohin-bonsai. These are some rules chosen to be the standard for this part of the art.

Ho you then express your bonsai art, is another matter. So here is a reprint of an article written a little while ago. Simply because I keep stumbling upon folks that cling very rigidly to “rules” in bonsai.

Say No to Rules


4 items, three shohin-bonsai and one accent. Is it right or wrong? Does it matter? Does it work? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Say NO to RULES. We are still clinging to the bonsai rules thing. When we do not cope with the artistic freedom or maybe are afraid of failing, we can always say we did what we did, because the rules told us to do so. But the frightening truth is, there are no rules in bonsai.

There may be some restrictions regarding exhibit areas on a exhibition, how tall a tree going into the shohin category have to be. But generally speaking THERE ARE NO RULES.

A common belief concerning shohin-bonsai displays is that the display has to be with a odd number of trees; when counting elements, dead items do not count in (scrolls), – and even at the latest exhibition I took part in, a judge disqualified a display because of the use of an even number of trees. Say what?

I therefore borrowed (with permission) a few photos from the highly recognized Japanese exhibition Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association, with examples that proves not to go with this misunderstanding. There are no rules telling us how many elements to put in to the display area assigned the artist.

Two bonsai and one accent. Is this three items, or two bonsai with and accent? Odd or even numbers? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Sometimes it is easier to set up a display with an uneven number of trees, because it is easier to balance the display. But it is only because of this, not that you can´t or will be denied artistic freedom. Why are most displays with an uneven number of elements then? you may ask. Because it is easier to set up and achieve harmony. If you use an even  number of items, the use of negative space is very important to achieve the right balance and harmony – but if it works it works. So please go ahead and experiment with the display, and forget about numbers and rules. Just think about the expression, the mood, the feeling and balance of your display. That’s what counts.

Four items – does it work? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.
How will you count this? Will you count? Should you? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.
Four bonsai and one accent or five items? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *