Are There Bonsai Competitions? (first place tips!)

Are There Bonsai Competitions?

One of the best parts of growing a bonsai tree is the process of exhibiting and showing the tree that you have so painstakingly worked on to the rest of the world. That being said, finding places to show your tree off can sometimes prove a challenge. So are there bonsai competitions? 

Bonsai competitions exist and are widely available in almost all countries. Some of the most popular bonsai competitions include the Kokufu-ten, Sogo-ten, BCI Photo contest, and the UBE bonsai competition. These competitions are either in person or online. 

So how exactly do you register for these competitions? And what do you typically win in a bonsai competition? Keep reading to find out more. 

Just a quick heads up, over the past three years of running Plantpaladin, hundreds of people have asked for product recommendations. As such, You can find my favorite indoor bonsai tree here (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), my favorite outdoor bonsai tree (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), or have a look at all the products I recommend here

Are there bonsai competitions?

As I’ve been practicing bonsai for almost 4 years now, I feel as though I have a good grasp on the basics of growing bonsai and so want to expand my horizons and potentially compete or exhibit some of my trees. 

This got me thinking about bonsai competitions and if they are a thing. 

As such, I got in touch with my local botanical gardens, reach out to 10 plant paladin readers to get a full understanding of there are bonsai competitions. 

To summerise: 

  • Bonsai competitions are widely available in most countries
  • The vast majority of these competitions are usually free to enter. 
  • The level of skill required to compete in these competitions will vary, with most competitions in the west available for amateurs to take part in. 
  • Most of these competitions usually take place in large national exhibitions that are held around bonsai
  • Most smaller bonsai events and competitions take place online, with images of bonsai trees being posted online
  • The most prestigious competition to take a part in is the Kokufu-ten Exhibition which takes place in Tokyo, Japan. 

What is the best bonsai competition in the world?

The best bonsai exhibition. competition in the world has to be the Kokufu-ten competition which takes place yearly, in February, in Tokyo Japan. At almost 100 years, this competition/exhibition boasts competition-level trees from all over the world, in the birthplace of modern bonsai. 

The event typically takes place over 8 days. 

Now this competition might not be very amateur-friendly with literally the best bonsai keepers in the world showing off and competing for their trees, that being said it is worth visiting should you want to take your knowledge of bonsai to the next level. 

How to register for the Kokufu-ten bonsai exhibition?

Due to the pandemic, booking tickets for the event in 2020, 2021, and 2022 events has been challenging for people who are not Japanese residents. 

On top of this, it is only Japanese residents who can register for the competition – after all, the event is aimed at finding the best bonsai tree in all of Japan. 

To register however as a visitor, you will need to go to the official website here. 

Other bonsai competitions in Japan

With Japan being the modern birthplace of bonsai many other bonsai events are worth attending for professionals, these include: 

  • Gafu-ten, Kyoto (January) 
  • Sakufu-ten (January)
  • Sogo-ten (late March)
  • Annual Bonsai Exhibition, Takamatsu (mid/late November)
  • Taikan-ten, Kyoto (late November)

Best bonsai competitions for ametuers

So while the Kokufu-ten is without a doubt the best competition in the world, the number of barriers to entry means that it is not viable for the average bonsai tree gardener like me or you. 

Luckily there are loads of great amateur bonsai competitions around the world too that you can register for. 

These include: 

The BCI photo contest

Easily the most popular bonsai competition here in the west is the BCI’s annual photo contest.

To register, first, become a member of the BCI. 

Then follow the instructions on their website and submit a photo of your bonsai to the BCI. 

The winner gets a picture of their bonsai tree is then featured in the organization’s magazine and website. 

The online nature of this even makes the barrier to entry a lot lower. 

The US National Bonsai Exhibition 

This event takes place every 2 years. 

To enter, a fee of around $80 is needed for your bonsai/shohin tree

3 judges will then compare and give out prizes to the winning trees. 

Now sadly the event has just taken place in 2021 and so the next event will not be scheduled until 2023 however you can read up more on the future events here. 

Other bonsai competitions

With bonsai continuing to prove popular, there are competitions available for bonsai globally. 

As such, I wanted o to highlight a few more key events that are available around the world. 

These include: 

The UK 

Expo bonsai UK 

Kent bonsai exhibition 

Heathrow Bonsai Show

Telford bonsai show 


Belgium bonsai show 

Bonsai san show 


Pretoria bonsai competition

Capetown bonsai exhibition


Lodi garden competition 

Can amatuers compete in bonsai competitions? 

Most amateurs can compete in amateur bonsai competitions, such as the  Most of the prestige bonsai competitions in the world such as in Japan, only accept entries from Japanese residents. 

Are bonsai competitions online?

With bonsai becoming more of a worldwide hobby, more and more people are looking for ways to exhibit and enlist their bonsai trees in competitions. 

One type of competition that is becoming more and more popular is digital submission competitions. 

These typically work by sending and submitting an image of your bonsai tree into a competition for review. 

This image will then be scrutinized either by a panel of judges or access your bonsai trees aesthetics. 

Other online submission competitions decide on a winner by posting images of their finalists to social media such as Facebook or Instagram.

The image of the bonsai tree then that gets the most amount of engagement wins. 

How to get your tree ready for a bonsai competition

For most of you, ensuring your bonsai tree is in good condition will be enough to submit it for amateur bonsai competitions. 

There are however a few things you should consider looking into before you opt-in for your first bonsai competition. 

These include: 

  • Remove any pests or diseases – bonsai are notorious for attracting aphids, scale, spider mites, or other diseases. – Use pesticides and fungicides to remove
  • Ensure any defoliation, trimming, pruning, dead branches have all been removed and competed. Consider brushing your tree clean to further boost its aesthetic appeal – particularly if it is a hardy species such as Willow
  • Remove any wiring on the tree Wiring your bonsai should have already been completed before you submit your tree for competition. 
  • Add finishes touches such as sphagnum moss, sabamiki, or deadwood techniques to your tree. Ensure you keep notes of how long it has taken to grow your tree, and other key facts you feel judges will need to know. 

Survey on bonsai competitions

Finally, I asked 10 plant paladin readers if they want to submit their bonsai tree for competition. 

Here were the results: 

Are there bonsai competitions

My top picks for the gear you will need!

So like I mentioned earlier, over the past three years of running PlantPaladin, hundreds of people have asked me for my recommendations on the best bonsai gear on the market. 

Having spent thousands of dollars on bonsai items these past few years and tested at least 100 bonsai-specific products, I’ve listed my favorite products below – All of which I highly recommend and think you can get great value. 

They can purchase directly by clicking the link to take them to Amazon. 

Bonsai Tool Set: One of the significant challenges I’ve had is finding a toolset that was not only durable but didn’t break the bank. SOLIGT has recently developed a fantastic bonsai tool set that covers all the tools you need to trim, prune, and repot your trees. – You can grab it here

Complete Bonsai Set: Many of you will want to grow your bonsai trees entirely from scratch, but finding the varicose seeds, pots, and other items in one place can be challenging. Leaves and Sole then have created a complete bonsai set that I’ve personally used that ticks all the boxes. You can grab it here

Bonsai wire: The number of times I’ve run out of wire for my bonsai or purchased cheap bonsai wire that doesn’t do the job is embarrassing for me to admit. After a lot of trial and error, I found that using Hotop’s aluminum bonsai wire is one of the best options on the market. This can easily be used for both indoor and outdoor bonsai. You can grab it here.

Fehed Nicass

Fehed Nicass has been passionate about all things bonsai and botany focused for the past 3 years. What started out as a hobby has developed as a passion and he is now on a mission to teach and learn.

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