Selecting A Container For A Koto Hime Japanese Maple


I’ve been on the search for the “perfect” container for one of my favorite shohin bonsai Koto Hime Japanese maple started over 30 years ago from a cutting. During the past four months I’ve purchased three containers. A few days ago during our bonsai tour of seven top potters in Tokoname, Japan, I was fortunate to find another three “perfect” containers. A glazed container was obtained from Ikko Watanabe. That was about an hour after I purchased two unglazed containers from the Reiho Kiln.


A few days later at the Ueno Green Club in Tokyo I found another two. Although Chinese, they have a wonderful patina which suggests that the container is old. All the other containers are Japanese from Tokoname kilns. When I returned home on Thursday I counted up all the containers, including the one it has been in for a few years and now have 10 suitable containers!


Why so many containers for a single small tree? Well, I enjoy appreciating and sharing shohin bonsai composition displays with friends and at exhibitions. The effective aesthetics of this type of display are difficult. Each individual container in a shohin composition should be of a different color and shape, also keeping in mind the season.



Often different glazed containers are used during the different growing seasons to contrast with the changing foliage colors and unglazed in winter when a quiet feeling is desired. Proportionally, it is also important to have a slightly larger size container when the tree is in leaf and looks more massive, and to use a slightly smaller size when the dainty winter twiggy winter silhouette is featured. Although the tree may look good in a smaller container, it must remain healthy and is generally repotted annually.



Note all the containers are oval, except for a rectangle, which is nearly square. The pale yellow container is a modified oval. Why oval? Of all the container shapes, the oval is easiest to use. That’s why I offer many oval shaped containers to my beginning students. The feeling of this maple bonsai suggests a simple oval. Also note that five of the ten containers have an outer lip, which is the shape I prefer for deciduous species generally.


There are six different colors in these ten containers. The unglazed are generally used in winter. The glazed containers are often used during the summer growing season, spring with colorful new growth and in autumn with the changing leaf coloring. Although Koto Hime Japanese maples do not often turn orange-red, they usually become a golden yellow in autumn.


All the containers are about the same size in length, 18cm, but with different depths. These were selected so the tree can be easily lifted and transplanted according to the season of display or necessary use in a formal box display stand.


Hopefully, these ten containers will help me display and share the beauty of this shohin bonsai maple display aesthetics along with refining bonsai. The display features a medium size Ezo spruce bonsai and the Koto Hime Japanese maple will be the accessory bonsai. Both are different sizes, and according to my taste the containers should be of a different shape and color. The Ezo spruce is in an oval hand made unglazed brown container by Gyozan, who is considered to be number one in Japan now. The Koto Hime Japanese maple is in a light blue glazed rectangular container, which appears to be square. The companion plant is a Dwarf monde grass in an irregular round unglazed container. So, all three containers are of different sizes, different colors and different shapes, which provides interest and avoids duplication in a bonsai display.


I hope this shohin bonsai does not grow larger or dies….

The bonsai was just transplanted into the aged appearing rectangular container, which appears to be square according to my taste. Why was this container used? Well, in a few days I leave for my 40th annual southeast lecture tour. I always bring a small display to share with the hosting clubs. This year I’m teaching about shohin bonsai and formal bonsai display and refinement. This medium size display composition offers may opportunities for discussion on display, container and display table selection, training as well as bonsai refinement.


I hope this shohin bonsai does not grow larger or dies….