Japanese tree shapes 樹形 Jukei

When study gardening, one topic will eventually cross the ambitioned student: tree shapes.

Today I want to introduce the tree shapes you might learn in Japan. These are, of course varying slightly from the typical forms in Europe or America.
Some of them are unique to Japan.

Tree shapes

Natural shapes

oval tree shape
Oval shape 卵形 tamago-gata
Kobushi コブシ Magnolia kobus – kobus magnolia
Hanamizuki ハナミズキ Cornus florida – flowering dogwood



conical tree shape
Conical shape 円錐形 ensui-kei
Konifā コニファー – various conifers




column tree shape
Column shape 円柱形 enchū-kei
Kaya カヤ Torreya nucifera – Japanese nutmeg-yew
Popura ポプラ Populus – poplar



bell tree shape
Bell shape 半鐘形 hanshō-gata
Kinmokusei キンモクセイ Osmanthus fragrans – sweet osmanthus
Mokkoku モッコク Ternstroemia gymnanthera



umbrella tree shape

Umbrella shape 盃状形 haijō-gata
Keyaki ケヤキ Zelkova serrata – Japanese zelkova
Yamazakura ヤマザクラ Cerasus jamasakura




weeping tree shape
Weeping shape 枯垂形 koshide-gata (shidare is frequently used for this type)
Ume ウメ Prunus mume – Japanese plum (apricot)
Sakura サクラ Prunus, Cerasus – Japanese cherry



hemisphere shape
Hemisphere shape 半球形 hankyū-gata
Jinchōge ジンチョウゲ Daphne odora – winter daphne
Kodemari コデマリ Spiraea cantoniensis – Reeve’s spiraea


creeping shape
Creeping shape 匍匐形 hofuku-gata
Kotoneasutā コトネアスター Cotoneaster
Haibyakushin ハイビャクシン Juniperus chinensis var. procumbens


Man-made shapes

tamachirashi 玉ちらし tree shapeCloud shape 玉ちらし tamachirashi
Irregularly arranged branches, which end in a ball shape made of smaller branches and leaves.




danzukuri 段造り tree shapeStep shape 段造り danzukuri
This shape is similar to the cloud shape, but the branches are arranged in a regular pattern.




tamamono 玉物 shapeRound shrub 玉物 tamamono
The upper part is rounded. The overall shape reminds at an egg cut in half.



sutandadoshitate スタンダード仕立て tree shapeStandard shape スタンダード仕立て sutandādo shitate
One main trunk with no branches in the bottom part with a rounded canopy.




topiary トピアリー shapeTopiary トピアリー topiarī
Western-style shrub shaping in truly unnatural forms.



Typical Japanese shapes

chokkan 直幹 tree shapeFormal upright 直幹 chokkan
One upright trunk. The image is that of a Christmas tree.




kyokukan 曲幹 tree shapeInformal upright 曲幹 kyokukan
One trunk is winding upwards. This shape is often seen in Japanese gardens.




shakan 斜幹 tree shapeSlanted 斜幹 shakan
This shape is similar to the informal upright form but is either slanted to the right or left.




kengai 懸崖 tree shapeHalf (or semi) cascade 懸崖 kengai
The tree is bending down (a cliff). The top is not reaching the ground.




nageshi 流枝 tree shapeFlowing branch 流枝 nageshi
The flowing branch shape is similar to the slanted shape but has a main branch, which is stretching over water.




daisugi 台杉 tree shapeDaisugi 台杉 daisugi
Typical for Kyoto. The trunk is cut in a height of 50 or 60cm above the ground. From there new trunks grow upright. Kitayama sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) are used for this style.




After knowing the shapes, one question might occur: why is it important to know which tree has which shape?
The answer is easy. When planting trees, one needs to consider the space the canopy of a tree needs after several years growing in one place. Depending on the shape of the canopy, we can choose different trees, shrubs or groundcover to accompany it and know which distance between the trees is required for a healthy growth.
If you plant two trees with a wide, round canopy next to each other, the distance between both needs to be larger than between two trees with a column shape.

I hope you enjoyed this excursion into Japanese garden design theory!

The overview is based on materials of the E&G Academy (http://www.eandg.co.jp) and the website of 人工樹形(仕立て樹形)

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Useful tools and resources:

Garden technical release – Everything about trees

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Yamada Kaoris guide to Bonsai shapes

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Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way

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Okatsune 103 Bypass Pruners General Purpose Medium

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Okatsune Garden Scissors/Hand Pruner Type A, No.201-SN w/BP

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Most common garden shears used in Tokyo.
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Okatsune Professional Snips, No.207

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This type is used for Megiri.
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Okatsune Precision Hedge Shears, 7 5/8″ blade, 22″ overall length

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Felco F-2 Classic Manual Hand Pruner

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