The shapes of pots-2

Part 2

Photo – CSCeramique

To maintain harmony in the presentation of a bonsai, it is very important to choose the right pot for your bonsai.

What do the styles “Shin, Gyō, Sōh” represent?

Shin, Gyō, Soh

As I explained in the article on the importance of the pot in the harmony of bonsai, choosing the right pot for your bonsai will really support the image you want to highlight.

In the previous article, we saw the shapes of pots, but with the vertical vision. Today we are going to see these same forms, but with the horizontal vision.

In the article ( How do I know if my bonsai is feminine or masculine style? ), I explained the ways to recognize these characteristics on a bonsai. We also find these same features on the pots.

The Japanese group these characteristics into three categories.

  • Shin
  • Gyō
  • Sōh

These three characteristics are associated with Japanese culture in several ways. Initially, it was associated with writing.
A rigid script with symbols that are very well defined represents the « Shin » style, while on the contrary the « Sōh » style represents a script that is more irregular with symbols that are less stylized and defined. As for the characteristic « Gyō », it makes the union between the two others and represents rather a form of more delicate and stylized writing.


To give you a more western view, let’s say that the « Shin » style is a capital letter, bold and well defined. This style is associated with the masculine side of the tree. We use it when the trees are massive and look heavy with lines that have sharp angles.


The  » Gyō  » style is more delicate, slender, more stylized, and easy to read.
This style is associated with a tree that is very feminine, meaning a bonsai tree with sinuous, graceful and elegant lines. The pottery that best represents this style is the oval shape.


As for the « Sōh » style, this genre represents much more cursive writing with styles that are much lighter and looser, not very well defined and different depending on the person. Many trees are classified in this style, because it is rare to find a bonsai that exactly matches all the criteria of the other two styles. The potteries for this category are multiple, we find round, rectangular or even polygonal shapes with characteristics of other styles, either with straight or convex cuts, rounded or straight corners, etc.

In the examples that I am describing to you here, it represents perhaps very awkwardly and simply what these notions are, because the Japanese have also brought this way of thinking into their relationships with everything around them and bonsai are no exception. not.

What do these categories mean
for the bonsai pot?


These are the pots that are associated with masculine trees. Pots that have straight lines, pots that project the massive, strict side and without any refinement.

We use square or rectangular shapes to give this masculine side.

Often they are conifers with trunk lines and sharply angled branches. These pots have clay colors of natural shades, without glaze and often without textures. The colors most often used are browns, terracotta and shades of gray which represents the colors of stone. You can also see these trees with dead wood (shari) and dead branches (jin).
You can also find certain species of deciduous trees such as plum trees, hornbeams or azaleas.

In both cases, the trees give the image of a massive and heavy tree.

Here is an example of a « Shin » type pot


Of course, these all the opposite of the « Shin » style, they are trees which represent the feminine image in bonsai, so we accentuate these soft lines by using pottery which will represent the feminine side.

Oval pots are most often used. These are pots that are solid in color, with a glaze on the pot that is either glazed, matte, or semi-matte. You can afford patterns on the cut such as flowers, leaves or engravings. The cuts are sometimes of convex or concave shapes.
We often see legs that are higher and even with patterns which accentuate the feminine side of the pot. The pot often gives the impression of having high heels.

Here is an example of a « Gyō  » type pot


This last category represents the forms of pots which are of various shapes
You can also find certain shapes such as polygons, pots with rounded shapes, irregular shapes, plates and shells.

It is not uncommon to find trees representing this style in bonsai. I would tell you that it is the vast majority of the trees that are found in them.

However, it is rare to find a tree that only represents one of the other two categories.

Here is an example of a « Sōh » type pot

Of course, I don’t want to give you a lesson on the history of Japan, it would be far too long and above all it’s not in my area of expertise, but here is a summary.

The « Shin » style is for masculine trees

« Gyō » style is for feminine trees

The « Sōh » style is for trees that represent characteristics that are either masculine-feminine or feminine-masculine. So we can have a tree which is more masculine, but with certain feminine criteria and vice versa.

The Japanese over thousands of years have truly refined the art of bonsai. They even apply these principles on the presentation in exhibition, the tables, the pot of the companion plant (Kusamono) which highlights the bonsai and even the roller behind the tree (Kakejiku).

So it is very important to pay very particular attention to the style of pots that you use for your bonsai in order to present the tree in its best assets.


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