The expression and arrangement of Shohin

The choice of trees and their place in a standard rack, in a classic Japanese display. Western artists from low land areas may choose a deciduous tree as main tree at the top of the rack, if it is showing strength and a masculine appearance. Because mountain trees are not present in nature in such areas which the display may reflect, and the expression of the display is the choice of the artist.

Arranging Shohin-bonsai in a display is one of the most pleasing and joyful moments of the Shohin-bonsai art. Displaying is where the artist has the opportunity to express the mood and feeling of nature, and the important expression of the seasonal changes.

What the artist chooses to express is a personal choice. The goal though, is harmony and peace, and a clear seasonal approach. A few guidelines are important to have in mind when arranging the display.

There are a few traditional and bonsai cultural observations to take into account. Of importance is the top tree placed at the top of the main shelf at the rack. This tree must show great strength and be of a more or less formal character, in order to bring in peace in the display among others.

Another reason that the top tree has to be a strong and masculine peace, is that this is the most important tree in the display and aesthetically this tree will add balance and peace to the overall display. If the top tree is weak, feminine or too expressively styled, it will bring the display to look disturbed and without harmony.


In the above example I have used an evergreen Lonicera nitida that shows great strength and which has a masculine expression, and formal style, as the main and most important tree in the display. The assistant tree in this autumn display is a Prunus, clearly showing the seasonal approach much desired in the the Shohin-bonsai display. This display focus on the colours of autumn.

The masculine and strong trees in Japan are always pines or junipers, because this is how the trees act in the mountains of Japan, and throughout history especially the pine has great value to the Japanese. Therefore pines, and sometimes also junipers, are always used as the main and most important tree in the Japanese way of displaying Shohin-bonsai.

In other countries, like UK, Denmark, the Nederland’s i.e., pines or junipers are not necessarily the strongest and most masculine trees present in nature. Therefore we might want another specimen as the main tree in the Shohin display, – but we can of course use pines or junipers if this is what the artist wants.

No rules tells what to do. Only tradition and culture leads the way through guidelines, and most important – the feeling expressed by the artist is what counts

An evergreen Lonicera nitida can be as powerful and strong as a pine here, as well as a Spruce can be a good choice.

What is important is that the chosen tree has a strong, masculine and more or less formal expression. My personal view is that also a deciduous tree can be used, but then this tree has to be extraordinary powerful, and clearly masculine in its expression as well as the other trees used must be able to achieve the right harmony and balance with this tree. An evergreen tree will in most cases be the preferable choice and easier choice.

The assistant tree

The second most important tree in the display is the assistant tree, which interacts with the main tree. The role of this tree is to bring in a clear seasonal approach shown through leafs, flowers or fruits or a strong tree supporting the main tree, or adding a feeling of strength e.g. making use of a conifer e.g.; – all depending on what the artist wants to express.

The assistant tree can be both a feminine, often a deciduous tree, or a masculine tree, more informal styled than the main tree.

Other trees in the display

If more trees are used in the display, these can be both evergreens and deciduous trees, but all of them have to be in harmony with the main tree and the assistant tree, and not take attention away from the two most important trees in the display. This in order to achieve harmony and peace in the display.

The trees must express the seasonal changes, but also a evergreen tree can be used if the artist wants to bring in an element of strength e.g. to the display.


Accents are used to add further mood to the display, and express the season too. The accent most often interacts with the assistant tree, but can be used as part of the main rack arrangement too if needed or wanted.


This is a Japanese Shohin display, showing the classical way of making use of a Japanese Black Pine as the main tree, and a White Pine as assistant tree. This display expresses strength.

This Japanese display shows the use of the assistant tree clearly expressing the seasonal approach, making use of the Japanese classical Black Pine as the main tree. The display is much lighter and more romantic than the example shown just above.