Photo – CSCeramique

Shapes of Pots
– Part 2 –

Claude Savard

To maintain the visual harmony of a bonsai, selecting the right pot is of utmost importance. The pot styles, namely « Shin, Gyō, Sōh, » encompass distinct shapes that enhance the overall aesthetics of the tree.

In my previous article, I discussed the significance of the pot in achieving harmony within a bonsai and provided guidance on selecting a pot that complements the desired image. In this article, we will shift our focus from a vertical standpoint to a horizontal perspective as we explore different pot shapes.

In my article titled « How to recognize if my bonsai is male or female? » I outlined several methods to identify the gender-specific traits of a bonsai. These distinguishing features also influence the selection of suitable pots.

The « Shin » style is known for its distinctive rectangular pot shape, featuring straight sides and a relatively tall height. This particular style creates a sense of solidity and stability, enhancing the overall presentation and emphasizing the tree’s verticality.

The « Gyō » style is characterized by the use of round or oval pots, which perfectly complement the organic shapes and flowing movements of bonsai trees. This choice of pots creates a serene and harmonious atmosphere, evoking a sense of balance and tranquility. The gentle curves of the containers harmonize effortlessly with the graceful forms of the bonsai, enhancing their overall aesthetic appeal. By embracing the Gyō style, bonsai enthusiasts can achieve a seamless integration between the natural beauty of the trees and the artistic elegance of the containers, resulting in a captivating display that captivates the eye.

When it comes to the « Sōh » style, it involves square or rectangular pots that feature rounded edges and softened angles, resulting in a blend of straight and curved lines that exudes elegance and sophistication. The selection of a suitable pot style is contingent upon the bonsai type, its style, and the desired visual impact. By meticulously considering these factors, one can craft a harmonious display that accentuates the distinctive beauty inherent in each bonsai.

The Japanese categorize these characteristics into three categories: Shin, Gyō, and Sōh. These three characteristics are closely intertwined with Japanese culture and were originally associated with writing.

The « Shin » style represents a rigid writing with well-defined symbols. It can be compared to a Western capital letter, thick and precise. This style is associated with massive trees that evoke heaviness, with lines marked by sharp angles.

As for the « Gyō » style, it represents a more delicate and stylized form of writing, with slender and easily readable characters. It is associated with a bonsai tree that evokes femininity, with sinuous, graceful, and elegant lines. Oval-shaped pottery is often used to represent this style.

On the other hand, the « Sōh » style represents a more irregular writing, with symbols that are less stylized and defined. It corresponds to a cursive, light, and free writing, varying from person to person. Many bonsai trees are classified in this style because it is rare to find a bonsai that exactly matches a pre-established model.

In the examples I have described here, it is possible that I have clumsily and simplistically presented these concepts, as the Japanese have also incorporated this way of thinking into their relationship with everything around them, including bonsai. The art of bonsai reflects the deep-rooted Japanese philosophy of harmony with nature and the appreciation of beauty in simplicity.

What do these categories mean for the bonsai pot?


These pots are associated with trees of masculine character. They are characterized by straight lines, an imposing appearance, and a lack of refinement. Square or rectangular shapes are frequently used to reinforce this masculine impression. Conifers with trunks and branches forming acute angles are often found.
The presence of deadwood (shari) and dead branches (jin) on these trees is also observed. Certain species of deciduous trees, such as plum, hornbeam, or azalea, can also be used. In both cases, these trees evoke an image of mass and robustness.
The pots in question display natural clay colors, without glaze and often without texture. The most commonly used shades are browns, terracotta, and various shades of gray, reminiscent of stone colors.

Example of a « Shin » type pot


Of course, these elements contrast with the « Shin » style. They represent trees that embody the feminine image in bonsai, emphasizing soft lines and using pottery that reflects femininity.
Oval pots are the most commonly used, whether plain or textured. For evergreen specimens, a glossy, matte, or semi-matte glaze is chosen. Conifers, on the other hand, are always placed in unglazed pots. In both cases, motifs such as flowers, leaves, or engravings can be added. The bowls can sometimes be convex or concave.
Taller feet are often observed, sometimes adorned with patterns, further enhancing the feminine aspect of the pot. It often gives the impression of having high heels.

Example of a « Gyō » type pot


The last category of pots offers a wide variety of shapes, ranging from polygons to pots with rounded contours, as well as irregular forms, plates, and shells. It is in this category that we generally find the most common styles of bonsai. However, it is rare to find a tree that exclusively embodies one of the other two categories.

Example of a « Sōh » type pot »

This category of pots presents a multitude of aesthetic options to showcase bonsai trees. Polygons offer sharp and precise geometric lines, adding an architectural dimension to the bonsai presentation. On the other hand, pots with rounded shapes bring a sense of softness and harmony, complementing the organic curves of the miniaturized trees.

Irregular shapes provide a touch of modernity and uniqueness to the overall display. They can reflect the asymmetrical beauty of nature and provide an interesting contrast to the regular forms of the trees. Plates and shells, on the other hand, can be used to create miniature scenes where the tree is presented in a specific landscape or ambiance.

It should be noted that selecting the appropriate pot for a bonsai will also depend on its style and age. Certain traditional bonsai styles, such as the formal upright style (chokkan) or the informal upright style (moyogi), will better complement pots with more classic and balanced shapes. Other styles, like the cascade style (kengai) or the forest style (yoseue), could benefit from bolder and more original pots.

In conclusion, the category of pots offers a wide variety of shapes and styles, allowing bonsai enthusiasts to choose the one that best suits their aesthetic preferences and desired artistic expression for their miniature tree.