There is an urgent call for the revival of the art of bonsai in Japan. Ironically this iconic way of gardening has grown ten-folds internationally while the domestic market sees a stunted growth. Bonsai trees are very popular across Asia, Europe, and America and many enthusiasts hold bonsai clubs where they teach and trade bonsai growing techniques.
In the past decade or so, the exports to these areas have hit a record high. Hopefully this autumn, local Japanese will see the value in these plants and give a boost to the domestic market. Mr. Remo, a Swiss IT engineer from Zürich, recently visited Mr. Yamachi’s bonsai garden in Kokubunji cho in Takamatsu. This area is well-known for pine bonsai and produces around 80% of Japan’s pine bonsai.
Remo has been passionate about bonsais for more than a dozen years now and was sent the Satsuki, dwarf azalea by Yamachi. The art is being appreciated more by the expats rather than local Japanese folk. The Japan Trade Organization, JETRO, states that Bonsai export sales of 2001 amounted to a total of 640 million yen, or $8 million US. However last year the sales tipped to 670 million yen, amounting to $8.4 million US. The biggest buyers of bonsai are China, Italy, and America. For the Asian market, buying a bonsai is associated with prestige and status symbol. For the European market it is bonsai stands for simplistic beauty used in interior decorating.
To take advantage of the international popularity of bonsai, Kagawa Prefecture has increased the numbers of bonsai dealers, who meet the standards for exporting bonsai from 10 to 15. Efforts to promote the art through international bonsai exhibitions have borne fruits. Sales of bonsai have reached over 10 thousand to date, and are expected to exceed last years total of 12 thousand. To draw a comparison, Japan’s Bonsai Association membership has fallen from its peak of 30 thousand members to only 7 thousand at present.