Basic Shohin display

Basic Shohin-bonsai displays

Source of information’s: All Japan Shohin-bonsai association and Gafu-ten book.

There are basically three ways of setting up a Shohin-bonsai display. And remember this is all about guidelines, not rules. Rules don’t exist in bonsai but guidelines helps creating a balanced display, and understand traditions and goals with the display.


The basics to understand are the relationships between trees. The main tree, being the most important tree in the display, decides which trees best supports it. Avoiding repeating the style of the main tree when choosing the secondary and supporting trees is a simple and basic guideline to remember. A single trunk main tree demands a multiple trunk tree or a tree with a fine ramification next to it as an example.3 pieces display, Hira-Kazari

Hira-Kazari refers to a flat landscape.  This can be a field with trees, grasses or flowers. In this type of display the main tree generally is placed at the highest point in the display. Leveled higher by using a single tree stand or table.

It is a three pieces display, which also can have a fourth element attached, using a scroll with a painting underlining the feeling of nature and/or the time of the year.

The above example is without a scroll, but it could have been used if trees have were placed with greater distance between them allowing space for a scroll.Only at the three pieces display a scroll is sometimes used, because there is no room for it at larger displays with more trees used. Simplicity and free spaces are essential.

The main tree (1) placed at the highest point must have a direction and visual flow towards the (2) receiving tree, and the receiving tree stabilizes the flow. A third element (3) is a grass, flower or ornament e.g. suggesting the growing place, time of year i.e.

If a single trunk tree is used as the main tree, the best tree to receive will be a multiple trunk tree or a clump style tree. This will make a visual stable and peaceful display. Remember grasses, flowering shrubs and ornaments e.g. used in a display have to be of a size in harmony with the trees, and have to be small to create a natural and peaceful arrangement.

Special round moon shaped display rack at Shohin-bonsai exhibition in china.
Special round moon shaped display rack at Shohin-bonsai exhibition in china.

Round shelves display

A variation from the classic rectangular shelves (next subject to be described) is the round shelves. Cascade and semi cascade trees often fits well in this type of shelves as main trees, because the round shelves invites to this type of movement.

The trees next to the main tree has to be a less noticeable trees, in order not to overrule and take away the attention from the main tree, and in order not to make a too disturbing and uneasy looking display. Using a single trunk tree as the main tree at the highest position inside the round shelve, demands a supporting tree with multiple trunks or ramification /many branches, a Suiseki stone or small grass or flower.

Remember empty spaces are of great importance.

The rectangular display

The classic rectangular display shelves come in different varieties with room for two, three of five pieces e.g.  It is important to carefully select the trees so they harmonize with each other.  The trees must fit the rack or the other way around.

At the top, the main tree is placed, and especially at this type of rack it more trees included, the main tree has to show strength and visually seem strong and stable.  The powerful main tree is received by the binary tree placed outside the rack. Cascade and slanting trees are good choices as receiving trees, in this type of display.

The trees placed inside the tree have to have the same interaction. At the middle shelf trees with more movement can be chosen. At the bottom more stable trees are required to stabilize the display and make a solid visual and peaceful expression.

Important: There are no rules, just guidelines.