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The trunk of a bonsai tree is the most appealing part to create the illusion of
age. Therefore, as a first step, you should start with developing a
well-formed trunk such as good taper (kokejun), initial rise (tachiagari),
smooth curves, etc. The other design elements, including branch location,
foliage distribution, leaf reduction and so on, can be established later on in
the design process.
When you make a tree that has developed to a certain stage into a bonsai,
you need to consider how to best present the grace and charm in the tree's
shape. In particular, you should pay the most attention to the shape of the
trunk. If you follow the traditional tree forms to make your bonsai, whether
you choose “chokkan” (formal upright form), or “moyohgi” (informal upright
form), or “shakan” (slanting form), or “bunjingi” (literati form) depends on
the shape of the trunk. Once you have decided on the particular form, based
on your tree's shape you can focus on the display of the tree's “kokejun”
(taper) that represents a giant tree, or its “tachiagari” (initial rise) that
emphasizes the tree's characteristics, or the tree's smooth curves.
Trees growing in nature typically have large and thick trunks at the foot,
which narrow as they extend upward. This is called “kokejun”. However many
plants whose sizes are suitable for bonsai are not of this type. In order to
make a bonsai tree's “kokejun” resemble that of a naturally growing tree, you
must make the tree's trunk.
By promoting the growth of branches on the trunk, you can develop a larger
“tachiagari” (initial rise). When the “tachiagari” has grown into the desired
extent in thickness, you can cut off those branches to form “kokejun”. The
more nutrition and water that is absorbed from the roots and flows to the
rest of the tree, the thicker the trunk will grow. The more branches there are
on the trunk, the more nutrition and water will flow, and in turn the trunk will
grow thicker. After every branching, the flow of nutrition and water through
the trunk decreases, so the trunk narrows. The thickness of the trunk is
proportional to the flow of nutrition and water through it. This is just like the
water pipes connecting the water source to the taps in our homes.
Trees always grow upwards. Typically the most active part of a tree is its top
most part. You can prune the leaves and branches in the upper half of the
tree to stimulate the growth of the trunk and branches in the lower part so
they will grow larger.
If you repeat the above-mentioned work and provide sufficient sunshine and
fertilizer to your tree, in a few years its trunk will grow larger and form a
Repeatedly growing and pruning will make the trunk
For plants such as the
Chinese elms, even the
buds growing out of the
stump could make the
trunk become larger.
Two months after new
buds growing out in early
summer, you can bend
the trunk with wires to
form shapes and prune
again four months later
in late autumn. You
should use wires to
shape the trunk when
the tree is still young.
You should repeat this
process in the second
and the third year. The
trunk will gradually grow
larger and you can make
it into a bonsai.
Another method to make “kokejun" - "Tatekae"
There is another method to make “kokejun”. You first determine the branch
needed, then cut off the trunk above this branch, and let this branch grow
into a new trunk. A branch is thinner than a trunk, and this method makes
better “kokejun”. Repeating this work on the selected part of the tree, you
will be able to make the desired “kokejun”. In this process, if the branch that
grows into the new trunk almost upturns, it can form a straight trunk
(“chokkan” = formal upright form). By adjusting the branch's growing
direction, you can make “moyohgi” (informal upright form).
This method is called “tatekae” (reshaping the trunk or branches by cutting
back). It can be applied to branches as well as the trunk.
However, this method takes a long time to eventually form a natural “kokejun”
without scars on the trunk.
When pruning the branches, the buds and the leaves, some tree species are
prone to withering, so you must pay special attention to the period and
extent of pruning. In addition, you should fertilize before and after pruning to
prevent the tree from withering. This also makes the trunk grow larger.
The shape of the trunk between the roots and the first branch (“ichi-no-
eda”) most prominently displays the tree's characteristics. This part of the
tree is called “tachiagari”. For example, in traditional bonsai “chokkan” (formal
upright form) has the trunk growing energetically straight up, “moyohgi”
(informal upright form) aims to show smooth curves of the tree's shape, and
“bunjingi” bonsai (literati form) displays the gentle and elegant smoothness
of the tree. Since “tachiagari” highlights the bonsai's characteristics and
aesthetics, you should pay special attention to it when making a bonsai.
Starting from “ichi-no-da”, there is “ni-no-eda” (second branch), “san-no-
eda” (third branch) growing on the tree. Their locations, lengths, angles, and
their relations to the trunk and the entire tree all can significantly affect the
aesthetics of the bonsai. Indeed, they are key to fully expressing your
You can make “tachiagari” with the method that enlarges the trunk in making
“kokejun”. But for trees that have already developed to a certain stage, such
as when the part between the roots and “ichi-no-eda” is already long, you
can instead use the air layering method to shorten it.
SECRET OF SHAPING
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