The city of Sosa, in Chiba Prefecture, to the east of the Japanese capital, has been famous for many of Tokyo’s manicured gardens and temple grounds, with trees that are artfully and artistically shaped. A traditional craft that involves a technique called nomiire – cutting, chiseling branches and twisting them to form a shape while making sure it remains alive, the art itself of shaping “macro-bonsai” trees is slowly dying, with few people taking up the profession nowadays.
38-year old Yoichiro Sato comes from a family who sculptures trees for a business for four generations, and he remarked that challenges for his craft have arisen with more and more Japanese families are turning to simple and easy-to-care-for trees instead of the “complicated” ones. He says that, “he’s really grateful that people abroad are looking to Japanese garden trees.”
Chairman of the gardening firm Koshuen, Koichi Ebato, agrees that it is tough for their profession in Japan, as “there is no space, and houses are not suited for Japanese gardens anymore.” He also stressed that, “the economy is bad. Nowadays, most of my clients are Chinese.” Relying on overseas demand, Hapan exported about 8.17 billion yen (approx. US$78 million) worth of chiseled trees, plants and miniature bonsai last year, an increase of 22 percent from 2011.
Buyers who wish to acquire such crafted trees must be willing to spend and practice patience, as shipments of such products are quite tricky because plants need water and sunlight and will have to be kept in refrigerated shipping containers without those essentials for weeks before they reach their final destinations. Some trees only need a few years to a decade to complete, while others sometimes need up to a century or more to be crafted.
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