Master bonsai grower calls on thief of 400-year-old tree to water plant

Fifth-generation expert Seiji Iimura, who owns garden in Kawaguchi City, said he took care of it as if it were his own child.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Arata Yamamoto and Saphora Smith

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.

Seiji Iimura's 400-year-old bonsai tree.Seiji Iimura

“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.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

“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.

Caroline Radnofsky contributed.