2024年6月14日金曜日

FOREIGN THIEVES LIKELY BEHIND STOLEN JAPAN BONSAI AMID BOOM ABROAD - NAGOYA JAPAN

FOREIGN THIEVES LIKELY BEHIND STOLEN JAPAN BONSAI AMID BOOM ABROAD - NAGOYA JAPAN

@Jackie San


The soaring popularity of bonsai abroad has spurred a recent spate of thefts of the aesthetic plants across Japan for sale outside the country, with signs of foreign involvement.


Exports of bonsai, or miniaturized trees and other plants cultivated as a traditional Japanese art, have risen in recent years thanks to increased interest in Japan and relaxed restrictions. But the prized plants, often raised outdoors in pots, are especially susceptible to being stolen.


"Recently all anyone talks about in the industry is theft. It's unbearable," said Tatsuharu Takeshita, 72, who works at bonsai seller Koyoen in the central Japan city of Inazawa.


The shop has lost a total of 15 potted bonsai trees, which he painstakingly nurtured, in two incidents -- one last year and another in January in which thieves cut through a protective fence he had installed. The thefts occurred late at night, and in some cases, the stolen bonsai had been entrusted to his care by customers.


So far, 25 thefts in 11 prefectures have been confirmed, according to data collected since February 2023 by the Nippon Bonsai Growers Cooperative. There was also a case of theft involving a bonsai worth over 3 million yen.


In one incident on May 8, 2024, 33 bonsai potted trees with a total value of 18.8 million yen were stolen from a store in Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan.


Numerous eyewitness reports and other sources claim that the crimes were carried out by groups made up of foreign nationals. Stolen bonsai have turned up for sale on U.S. social media sites, the cooperative has said.


Recent developments, such as the 2020 lifting of a ban on exporting Japanese black pine bonsai to the European Union, have significantly heightened overseas demand for the plants, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.


JETRO figures showed that the value of bonsai exports reached around 910 billion yen in 2023, 2.7 times the amount in 2020, with this year expected to be even higher.


Some businesses have successfully turned the tables on thieves. Local police in central Japan arrested three Vietnamese men in April and May on suspicion of stealing bonsai. The trees were traced after the owner put tracking devices on them, leading authorities to identify the group's base of operations.


Acknowledging the vulnerability to bonsai grown outdoors, a senior investigator called on businesses to step up security.


A Nippon Bonsai Association official, meanwhile, advised owners to "regularly take photos" of their bonsai to make it easier to prove ownership.

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@Jackie San


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