The Bunjin or Literati Style
 By Jerry Meislik

One of the common bonsai styles is the bunjin or literati style. Despite many, many articles attempting to describe the essence of this style there is still a profusion of mis-statement and confusion regarding this design.

I am not going to go into the massive amount of information of the history on this style or the numerous attempts to describe the style as an essence, a feeling, a mood etc.......

Bunjin can be any style, windswept, cascading, upright etc. The key factore is that the design has a dominant and commanding "LINE". By that I mean the key, outstanding and pervasive aspect of the design must be a line; usually the line described by the trunk of the tree. If this line is obscured, hidden or de-emphasized the tree becomes a non-literati design and may be whatever conventional description of the tree as cascade, formal upright etc.

To illustrate I am going to take a juniper of my friend Ash Barnes of Australia and change the image to illustrate the above points.

Ash's juniper as originally photographed - Bunjin or just informal upright?

Virtual image of the same tree with more foliage - not Bunjin

 Less foliage - Bunjin?

Tree with original trunk line and scant foliage - Bunjin

Trunk line shortened and scant foliage - Bunjin


Same shortened trunk with more foliage - not Bunjin

In a second example Tom Simonyi, bonsai artist and teacher, of West Virginia obtained an Acacia cyanophylla as an untrained plant. He transformed it into a bonsai with definite bunjin character.

Acacia before Tom's styling

Tree as it looks now, 2011

A future virtual concept - bunjin style

In summary, if the trunk line is the major focal point and emphasis of a design then very likely the tree is a bunjin/literati. Once the line is de-emphasized by more foliage etc. the design will begin to lose its bunjin character and become a typical bonsai described as usual by its trunk shape and character and not by its LINE.

Previous Page
All Rights Reserved © 2011 Jerry Meislik