TOKYO — A master bonsai grower whose 400-year-old tree was taken from a garden outside Tokyo has issued a heartfelt plea for the thief to care for his stolen “child.”
Seiji Iimura, 53, said seven of his bonsai trees worth around $63,000 in total were stolen from his garden in two separate heists last month.
“The bonsai tree that’s 400 years-old, I looked after it as if it were my own child,” said Iimura, a fifth-generation bonsai master whose garden is north of the Japanese capital in Kawaguchi City.
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“I expect the robber to at least water the plants, otherwise they will die,” he said, adding that he was particularly concerned about the 400-year-old specimen. “I just hope that whoever took it takes really good care of it.”
Iimura said he thought the thief knew which trees to steal as there are more than 3,000 bonsai in his garden. He estimates that the 400-year-old bonsai alone was worth some $54,000.
He said the good news was that bonsai can always be identified by their unique markings.
“No matter how much you cut the trees, one cannot change the stem patterns,” he said.
But while he is hopeful to be reunited with his tree, he realizes it could be hard to trace if it is sold multiple times.
The expert is not the only bonsai enthusiast outside Tokyo to lose a tree in recent months — there has been a spate of thefts in the area this winter. Iimura said he has now invested in surveillance.
“I run an open garden where anyone can enter. I always thought having cameras and gates would be too formal,” he said. “In that sense, it’s very unfortunate.”
Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo; Saphora Smith and Caroline Radnofsky from London.
Arata Yamamoto has been a NBC News producer in Tokyo, Japan, since 1993. He has worked on an array of stories, including the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, and Haiyan typhoon that struck The Philippines in 2013.
Saphora Smith is a London-based reporter for NBC News Digital.