The word “shohin” literally means “small goods” (ahah! Now you see the significance of our website subheading 😉 ) and refers to the small sizes of bonsai. This encompasses mame, gafu, and kifu sized bonsai and covers trees from a mere inch to 1 foot in height.
In recent years, shohin sized bonsai have experienced a rapid increase of popularity across the globe. This is more so than any other area or size of bonsai. The reason for this is due to the limitations of time, space and finances that enthusiast’s encounter.
It is said that to grow bonsai well you must have at least one of the following – time, space or money. This is the main contributing factor to the decline of interest in large bonsai (even in Japan) and the subsequent rise of popularity in shohin sized trees.
Space – Unlike their larger bonsai counterparts, shohin require very little space. A small balcony can easily home over 100 shohin and mame sized bonsai, giving the occupier a variety of colour, shape in interest through every season.
Time – As we can now see that space or lack of it does make growing shohin bonsai impossible as it would with larger bonsai, time also plays a less critical role. In order to grow a large bonsai you need to grow a suitable tree in the ground for many years or buy an expensive piece of collected material. Starting from seed and cutting would be and extraordinarily lengthy process requiring many years of field growing if we wanted a big bonsai. Yet seed, cutting and layering are exactly the methods employed and attractive little shohin bonsai do not take that long to develop and there is so much enjoyment in nurturing your own collection that isn’t found in restyling a purchased.
Time is not only a consideration when developing bonsai but also when carrying out the day to day maintenance. Our busy lives never allow us enough time to do all the things we want and as a result, bonsai are often the first things to suffer, coming way down on the list of priorities. Individually, shohin bonsai need only minutes to prune, shape and repot and are easily brought indoors to make working much more comfortable.
Cost – A quality bonsai will be expensive. High class shohin bonsai often command prices in excess of a similar, larger tree. The material to start a shohin bonsai however can be obtained very reasonably. The costs of all the consumables involved in bonsai cultivation are also a factor. Soils, wire, feeds etc all have to be bought, shohin naturally due to their size use less of everything!
Displaying Shohin – This is where the fun really starts. In a bonsai exhibition you are usually given a set space say four feet. One shohin would look lost so shohin are presented in a composition with others, an accent plant, maybe a scroll and other accessories. It’s not a case of displaying your entire collection in one four foot space but selecting shohin bonsai that complement each other in terms of size, shape, specie, colour and seasonality. Seasonality is very important in any bonsai display and is even more so in shohin bonsai.