National

French bonsai expert says potted pines are now a global art form

by Woo Song Mi

Kyodo

A bonsai-besotted foreigner is so taken with the miniature trees he has set up home in Kagawa Prefecture, a major bonsai production area.

“Bonsai never stops moving. It’s intriguing, as its shape is changing and never-ending,” says French national Xavier Brusset, 35, who is now living in the town of Miki.

Kagawa Prefecture is believed to produce more than 80 percent of the nation’s potted pines.

The plants are increasingly popular overseas and exports across Asia and Europe are on the rise.

Brusset says high-priced bonsai, which have been cared for over the course of decades, are now an international art form.

“The culture has changed with the times,” he said.

“I hope bonsai will be carefully nurtured by someone, regardless of nationality, and handed down for generations.”

Brusset’s first brush with bonsai was a Chinese-produced tree given to him by his grandmother when he was 14.

In 2004, the resident of Toulouse, France, came to Japan and studied the art form for more than four years under artisans in Tokyo and Takamatsu, the capital of Kagawa — sometimes even living with his teachers.

In 2009, Brusset went independent and in 2012 opened a cafe in Miki, where he started holding bonsai classes on an irregular basis.

Next to his cafe, Brusset also sells modern bonsai plants and ornamental foliage such as cactuses.

But he remains an evangelist for his main hobby, traditional pine bonsai.

It is believed that Kagawa Prefecture became a home for bonsai because cultivation techniques such as grafting, used for pines, was developed in Takamatsu during the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

Exports to Europe of Kagawa bonsai began around 1989, and gradually its renown has spread.

The prefectural government says exports from Takamatsu were around 15,000 units in 2013, up from a mere 3,000 in 2008.

Exports to Taiwan and other Asian countries have grown in particular in recent years, local government officials said. However, they added, domestic demand is shrinking.

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