Grief-stricken owners offer care instructions to bonsai thieves

TOKYO • Ms Fuyumi Iimura has a message for whoever broke into her family's expansive garden outside Tokyo and made off with a small fortune's worth of some of the planet's most beautiful bonsai trees: Please water them.

Over a period of several nights, a team of bonsai bandits stole the cream of Ms Iimura's collection, regarded as some of the most exquisite in existence, CNN reported.

It was like losing a child, she said in a Facebook post. The only thing worse would be if the trees were not properly cared for and centuries' worth of work withered away because of neglect.

"I want whoever took the bonsai to make sure they are watered. The shimpaku lived for 400 years. It needs care and can't survive a week without water," Ms Iimura said in the grief-stricken post on her Facebook page, referring to the rare junipers that were stolen.

"They can live forever - even after we're gone, if they receive the proper care."

Clearly, the thieves knew what they were doing in last month's heist. They stole a total of seven trees, but those were the most expensive in Ms Iimura's collection, according to CNN.

Combined, the plants were worth US$118,000 (S$160,000), but could fetch much more on illicit markets.

Last month, thieves stole seven bonsai trees, worth a small fortune, from fifth-generation bonsai master Seiji Iimura's garden outside Tokyo, including the one pictured. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ SEIJI IIMURA

"We treated these miniature trees like our children," Ms Iimura said. "There are no words to describe how we feel. It's like having your limbs lopped off."

Her husband Mr Seiji Iimura is a fifth-generation bonsai master, whose family has been cultivating bonsai since the Edo period, which ended in 1868.

Ms Iimura's Facebook profile is full of pictures of bonsai trees: mature trees in their garden, younger specimens and pre-bonsai seed-lings at a greenery fair.

But if the bonsai were children, the shimpaku was clearly the favourite, a 400-year-old cover model of a tree whose undulating lines are straight out of a storybook.

Shimpaku junipers, which are increasingly endangered in the wild, are found in difficult-to-access cliff areas, according to the World Bonsai Friendship Federation.

Stories that sound like mythical fables abound of bonsai collectors risking their lives on Japanese mountainsides to collect the trees.

The Iimuras' shimpaku had a similar backstory.

It had been taken from a mountain more than four centuries ago, and Mr Iimura's family had gradually culled the tree down to its current size - 0.9m tall and more than 0.6m wide.

It dotted posters for a bonsai fair.

Ms Iimura snapped photos of the tree topped with snow, its needles covered in sparkling ice crystals.

The couple had hoped to enter it for a contest in coming months.

The thieves also made off with other trees, also rare shimpaku.

"An individual well-versed in bonsai must have been involved in the theft," Mr Iimura told the newspaper.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'Grief-stricken owners offer care instructions to bonsai thieves'. Print Edition | Subscribe