TOKYO – Japanese cultivators are despairing over the future of stolen bonsai plants, several of them hundreds of years old, from nurseries near Tokyo.
Seiji Iimura, a cultivator who lost a 400-year-old tree – that he had personally looked after for over two decades – to theft, took to social media to advise the thief as to how to care for it.
The tree, a Shimpaku Juniper, is one of the most popular species in the Japanese art form of sculpting small trees, and was the star of the Bonsai Kirakuen nursery, which Iimura runs.
He was so attached to the plant that he declined many offers to sell it, he told EFE.
On Jan. 12, someone broke into the nursery, located in the city of Kawaguchi, north of the Japanese capital, and stole the plant and three other plants of the same species, native to Asia.
This was not the first time, however, that the garden was burgled in recent weeks.
Days earlier, someone had stolen three Japanese white pine bonsais, or Goyomatsu.
Worried about the fate of their precious bonsai, Iimura and his wife, Fuyumi, posted an appeal on Facebook, advising the thief how to care for them.
In the post, Fuyumi equated the pain of losing the trees to that of having had one’s limbs cut off.
She added that the 400-year-old Shimpaku needed care and would not survive a week without water and urged the thief to water it properly.
The price of this tree alone could exceed 10 million yen ($90,615), says Iimura, reluctant to calculate the monetary value of a possession that has greater sentimental than monetary value for him.
The total worth of the other trees that were stolen comes to 5 million yen, not surprising for these living art forms, which are often cared for by multiple generations.
Iimura tells EFE that his family has been making bonsais since the Edo period (1603-1868) and that he is the fifth generation to devote his life to this tradition.
The term bonsai in the Japanese language is made up of two words “to plant” and “tray” and refers to the care and sculpting of plants in miniature shapes.
In his workshop, Iimura takes a small shrub and with great care and patience, begins to sculpt the young trunk, with several curved branches crowned by pruned leaves, its characteristic twisted shape.
He says, while making a bonsai, one must pay attention to details such as the line of the trunk, which can be freely shaped with wires to get the “most beautiful” form, as well as the flowerpot and the direction of the branches.
The grower urges people to use their creativity while making bonsai trees, which he says can be made into any shape one wants.
People from all over the world visit Bonsai Kirakuen to stroll among the close to 3,000 bonsai trees that Iimura displays in a garden that is open to public.
However, after the recent thefts, he is planning to install security cameras and a door to protect the precious trees.
The cultivator explains that they have reported the thefts to the police, who are yet to get back to them.
Other gardens in Kawaguchi have also witnessed multiple burglaries in recent weeks.
In Nov. 2018, eight bonsai trees were stolen from a farm in the city of Omiya, also north of Tokyo, which is run by 81-year-old Hiromi Hamano, six months after a similar theft there.