A visitor admires a display of bonsai trees at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show in September 2018
A Japanese couple whose 400-year-old bonsai tree was stolen have issued a public plea to the thieves begging them to water the delicate plant.
For decades, the miniature juniper “has been shaped, watered and cared for with all of the precision needed for a priceless piece of art”, says the New York Times. “In the wrong hands, it could die within a week.”
The ornamental tree was one of seven stolen this week from a nursery in Kawaguchi, north of Tokyo, run by fifth-generation bonsai grower Seiji Iimura and his wife Fuyumi.
“Of course I hate the thief who stole them, but I want to tell him or her: please pour water on them and please take care of them,” Iimura said. “I would feel sad if they die.”
Cultivating the tiny ornamental trees, a traditional East Asian artform, “requires a delicate technique of chiselling branches to twist and pull them into shape, all the while battling to keep the tree alive”, says Channel News Asia.
The stolen trees are worth 10 million yen (£70,280) but the Ilmuras say they consider them “priceless”.
In a Facebook post appealing for help tracking down the thieves, Fuyumi said the couple’s 3,000 bonsai trees were “like our children”.
The stolen trees were all Shinpaku, “a variety of Japanese cypress considered among the most gorgeous of bonsai plants and popular at home and abroad”, the Asahi Shimbun reports.
“An individual well-versed in bonsai must have been involved in the theft,” Seiji said.
The 54-year-old said he has installed security cameras at his farm, which will remain open to members of the public.
The theft comes three months after a similar raid on a bonsai farm in nearby Saitama, in which eight Shinpaku trees were stolen, the Asahi Shimbun reports.
The farm’s 81-year-old owner speculated that international black market could be behind the thefts, noting that Shinpaku trees “are often traded in Vietnam and China at prices much higher than in Japan”.