The Formal and Informal Upright Styles in Bonsai

The Formal and Informal Upright Styles in Bonsai

When you are just getting started on bonsai growing, you may be bewildered at the number of artistic styles that the artists have developed over the many years, but it is quite simple if you group them into major styles. As we covered in an earlier post, there are several major styles in bonsai and most of the styles are derived from these.

formal upright styleThe Formal Upright or Chokkan style, is a simple style that is similar to most types of trees in their full grown, adult form. The trunk tapers to the top/crown of the tree, and the branches are spaced between each other in an ever decreasing manner. Coniferous trees are the best suited for this style due to their tapering triangular architecture, with Juniper, Pine and Spruce species being used most often.

The lower branches of the bonsai tree are the biggest, and they are pruned, trimmed, and trained until they achieve a “Christmas tree” appearance, with the top branches being the smallest. Tapering of the trunk is not achieved overnight, but takes years to perfect. This is done by regular pruning of the top branches while leaving the bottom ones to grow larger and thicker. Occasionally, bonsai artists plant the tree closer to the side of the container, and not directly in the center.


The Informal Upright or Miyogi style is a more relaxed version of the Formal Upright style. It is the easiest style to achieve, and thus, recommended for beginners. In the Informal Upright style, the trunk can bend or slant slightly, either to the left or right, while the branches are still pruned and trained to taper all the way to the top, with the biggest boughs at the bottom.

Like the Formal Upright, coniferous trees are the best, but additionally, bonsai artists use species with slightly wavy trunks like Japanese Maple, Trident Maple, Pomegranate, Beech, and Crab Apple. These species make the bonsai composition look good in any season, even in winter, and this is why the Informal Upright is the most popular style of all.

informal upright styleHow do bonsai artists achieve the slightly slanting trunk in the Informal Upright? They wire the trunk (check out this bunch of wiring resources and tools) while training the roots to grow outward towards the opposite side of the slant by selective watering. This means only watering the area where they want the roots to grow towards. The tree tries to balance its slanting trunk by directing more roots in the opposite direction, and slowly, the tree is “trained” to achieve the Miyogi style.

The trunk is also pruned by allowing it to thicken, and then cut back down after a few years. This process is repeated with the cuts being made slightly higher up each time. This process of pruning will slowly thicken the trunk and make it slightly wavy. It also encourages more branches to grow in the vicinity of the cuts. Meanwhile, some of the smaller low branches are trimmed off, leaving only a few larger ones; they can start higher up the trunk compared to the Formal.

The whole process of making the trunk wavy or slanting is made all the more easier by choosing the right species of tree. That’s why the Maples with their somewhat curvy trunks are highly sought after for this style. In closing, although both the Formal and Informal Upright styles are popular, but the Informal Upright is still the top style in bonsai growing for its ease and simplicity.

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