Bunjin Part IV—Choosing Material

In this part let’s discuss some bunjin nuts and bolts. Ideally, what are we looking for in a bunjin?

  • a thin trunk
  • little to no taper
  • a trunk line that engages
  • age
  • high branches
  • short branches

What do we NOT need when scoping out trees?

  • though pine is the quintessential bunjin, just about anything can be bunjin
  • nebari

And while nice to have to suggest age, we also don’t need:

  • shari
  • jin

When you stand back and look at these lists, it may appear that bunjin is the opposite of everything we were taught to find or create in bonsai. And yet bunjin isn’t outside of bonsai tradition, it’s more like the willful firstborn.

From the new Intermediate Course 2: styling a bunjin Shore Pine

A few economic benefits of “going bunjin”:

  • stock is inexpensive
  • many collected conifers are bunjin, devaluing them
  • round pots are cheaper than oval or rectangle
  • little soil is needed

If you’re willing to spend the time, bunjin may be created from young stock. When we buy old stock we’re buying years.

Bunjin are typically pines, but bunjin is an application, a feeling, and may be applied to many species. There are wonderful bunjin azalea. Blueberry. Oak. Though it’s a great place to start, don’t let the traditional guideline limit you.

A spooky Ponderosa Pine bunjin

For the earlier parts of this bunjin series, try these links: 

Bunjin Part I: What IS This Weird Thing?

Bunjin Part II: Building on Weird

Bunjin Part III: What’s a Good Trunkline?


  1. vennfootwear says:

    I love this series. The world needs more bunjin-gi!

    Pleasure meeting you at PBE. Thank you for pushing bonsai to new heights! Hope to take a class with you soon.


  2. Diana Wood says:

    Dear Michael,
    I have been enjoying all your lectures and learning from you. I am a Chinese , have been practicing making bonsai for some years, as I understand “Penjin” in Chinese means scenery in a pot, usually include other elements besides the tree, such as people, rock, bridge…..

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