Recently, exports around the world of these little trees have increased by leaps and bounds. Hugely popular across Asia, Europe, and America, Bonsai exports to these areas have hit a record high, 10 times what they were only ten years ago. With the onset of autumn, as exports reach full-scale, people who work in the bonsai business hope that bonsai can regain some of its popularity domestically as well.
At the end of September, bonsai farmer Mr. Yamachi (60) welcomed Mr. Remo (37), a Swiss IT engineer from Zürich to his bonsai garden in Kokubunji cho in Takamatsu. Takamatsu is famous for the pine bonsai and accounts for 80% of Japan’s pine bonsai production.
Mr. Remo has lived for a year in the Kanto region with his Japanese wife and family and has been a bonsai virtuoso for 13 years. In the past, Mr. Yamachi sent Mr. Remo his Satsuki, dwarf azalea, and Mr. Remo visited Mr. Yamachi when on a trip to Japan, hoping to learn more about bonsai from him. After speaking in-depth with Mr. Yamachi about bonsai, Mr Remo commented adamantly on the charm of bonsai, how it was a bringing together of natural characteristics into a compact loveliness.
According to the Japan Trade Organization, JETRO, Bonsai export sales of 2001 amounted to a total of 640 million yen, or $8 million US. Last year’s sales totaled a record 670 million yen, amounting to $8 million 375 thousand US.
The biggest buyers of bonsai include China, Italy, and America. The Asian market spends a lot of money to acquire the prestige attached to buying bonsai as they are a status symbol there. In Europe there is a trend towards using the simplistic beauty of bonsai for interior decorating. The popularization of Japanese bonsai as an art form is spreading around the world.
At the 11th annual Asia-Pacific Bonsai and Suiseki Convention, held last November in Takamatsu, Japan, 76 thousand people from over 30 countries came to purchase and learn more about bonsai, a testimony to the bonsai boom taking place. This September Mr. Yamachi was invited to France to share and direct people in his bonsai techniques. He commented that people overseas have the passion to acquire better and better bonsai.
In response to the rising popularity of bonsai abroad, Kagawa prefecture have increased the numbers of bonsai dealers, who meet the standards for exporting bonsai from 10 to 15. Through the effects of international bonsai exhibitions, sales of bonsai have reached over 10 thousand to date, and at this rate are easily expected to exceed last years total of 12 thousand. To assist in the expansion of the international market, JETRO along with Kagawa are planning a business meeting with European gardening contractors within the year.
While the international bonsai market is expanding, interest on a domestic level is waning. This could be due to Japan’s diversified interests of forging ahead with new things and changes in the living environment of the country. Japan’s Bonsai Association has dwindled from its peak of 30 thousand members nationwide of a few decades ago, to only 7 thousand at present.
Mr. Yamachi declared with hope, “We are proud of our bonsai technique. In order to show the world a high quality bonsai the domestic market should regain some of its vitality.” Meanwhile bonsai continue to be deeply appreciated outside of Japan.