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How to Make a Bonkei (Tray Landscape)

Bonkei is the Japanese art of making landscapes in a tray. The goal is typically to make a beautiful and realistic miniature landscape in a shallow ceramic tray. I have taken this with a little bit of a twist in that my landscape leans toward fantasy.

I also have a video on this project at the bottom of the page.

Will has a youtube channel with over 800 videos on projects you can make. Check it out right here




In this tutorial we make the Bonkei you see in the picture above. We see a hero with a sword and shield. He has landed on the bank of an island and on the island is a cave. And inside the cave is some kind of a beast with glowing red eyes.

There is a grappling hook and a rope on the cliff already. So it looks like other "heroes" have already attempted to slay the beast. Will this hero be successful?

Included in this tutorial is a complete step by step of how to make the bonkei and overviews of the LED eyes for the beast, sculpting the miniature hero, and making the miniature tree.


Will's Tips on Creativity Are you interested in the creative process and how a project like this comes about? The path I took to make this project was quite interesting. This project seemingly sprouted out of nowhere and fully realized. A tale even came out of it. You can learn more about the creativity of this project here.

Would you consider a donation of $1 to support my work? Paypal makes it very easy and safe. Click here to donate $1 - Every little bit helps Will to keep making great tutorials and projects. Thanks!



Earn a Certificate of Contribution!


If you make this project email me a picture! I will email you a certificate of contribution from stormthecastle.com You can print it up and hang it on the wall.




Bonkei: Tray Landscapes Book by Jozan Hirota

Amazon has lots of shallow bonsai trays that are perfect for bonkei right here


Tools and Materials:

  • 1 Shallow tray, I also show you how to make your own tray out of cardboard or foam board Amazon has trays here
  • Some type of air hardening clay to form the landscape
  • Various natural color paints like green, brown and grey
  • Some kind of foam or styrofoam as a filling or a base. You can use styrofoam. I use something called XPS (expanded polystyrene) You can buy it at home depot. They also have it on amazon in blue color: DOW Craft Styrofoam Foam Sheets
  • I use a rasp to shape the foam.
  • Woodland Scenics has a nice and inexpensive starter kit with foliage and grasses
  • Procreate epoxy Putty for sculpting the hero ProCreate Putty, 90 grams


Let's Get Started

Draw out the landscape on paper first

You should start by doing some drawings. This way you can conceptualize what you want and how you will make it. Think of it as you would think of a diorama - it is a moment frozen in time. In my Bonkei a hero has just landed on the shore of an island and he pauses to contemplate the task ahead of him.

Your drawings don't have to be beautiful works of art. It is ok if you are not an "artist" This step is still very useful in helping you visualize how it will look, what things there are in the scene and where everything is located.

Make your own tray

And no worries if you don't have a suitable tray for this project. I show you how to make one out of cardboard or foam board.

NextLet's continue (You can also watch the video tutorial below)

The Video Tutorial:



Check out my book on how to make fantasy and medieval dioramas. I put all my best techniques and tricks in this book!

How to make Fantasy and Medieval Dioramas



The Air Dry Clay (10 lb box)

Shallow Bonsai Trays

ProCreate sculpting putty for the miniature hero

Book on Bonkei Tray Landscapes

Will's Related Youtube Videos:

Miniature Tree Making Playlist

Sculpting Miniature Fantasy Figures Playlist

Japanese Projects


Waterfall in a dioramaA Waterfall in a diorama

Actually pretty easy to make a great looking waterfall if you know the right tools and techniques. I have it right here: Make a waterfall in a diorama



How to Make Miniature trees from Household material

Miniature trees are expensive. But I have a nice alternative. You can make them with three materials: Brown paper, a kitchen sponge and glue. And they come out great. Make Miniature Trees