Tak Yamaura pinches new growth from a 30-year-old bonsai group planting. The South Surrey bonsai master's private collection has been decimated by thieves.

Returning thieves take South Surrey bonsai master’s life’s work

Tak Yamaura's prized bonsai trees stolen from South Surrey nursery.

The theft of “irreplaceable” bonsai trees has left a South Surrey master of the art and his family heartbroken.

Tak Yamaura’s private collection – grown and nurtured over the past 45 years – has been decimated in recent weeks, by thieves who have returned time and again to the 16164 24 Ave. nursery, most recently on Sunday morning.

Yamaura was asleep in his home on the 10-acre property when he was woken around 4 a.m. by the sound of something amiss. Looking out, he counted at least four dark figures in hoodies on the Japan Garden Art Bonsai property.

“They were a couple feet away from where he was sleeping,” said Natalie Skye, Yamaura’s daughter. “He heard them, he called 911.”

When Yamaura stepped outside, the thieves took off in a pickup truck loaded with his rare plants.

“It’s his lifetime’s work,” Skye told Peace Arch News Monday. “It’s heartbreaking to see this happen to him.”

According to Skye, the break-in was among six that have occurred at the nursery in the past five weeks or so, and one of three since Thursday. Combined, the loss is valued at around $65,000, she said.

Based on what has been taken – which included “mother trees” used to make more bonsai – Skye suspects the thefts were planned.

“The regular person who doesn’t know too much about bonsai would have no idea. But they knew, and they knew exactly which ones were my dad’s private collection.”

Yamaura, 71, came to Canada in 1970, two years after receiving his degree in horticulture from the University of Agriculture in Tokyo.

He is founder and president of the B.C. Bonsai Society, teaches the art wherever there is interest and leads a local club that meets monthly at Sunnyside Hall in South Surrey’s Bakerview Park.

He described himself as a “bonsai-holic.”

Though disheartened by the recent crimes, Yamaura said the break-ins will not dissuade him from attending this month’s club meeting – which takes place tomorrow at 7 p.m. – and he appealed to whoever is behind the crimes to choose another path towards obtaining bonsai.

“I would say, people, if you like bonsai, why don’t you learn instead of stealing? Instead of stealing, join our club. I can help,” Yamaura said.

Yamaura described bonsai as an art, and for those who practise it, it is about more than just the trees.

“We have more respect for the nature, we try to create nature,” he said.

The creations “never end, never finish,” Yamaura added. “Change all the time, but if you work hard, research more, the trees answer right away.”

He does not expect his stolen plants to survive.

“If it’s lazy, if it’s not honest, they react,” he said of the trees.

“That’s what (the thieves) have to learn. It should be returned. If you like bonsai, just join us.”

Anyone with information on those responsible for the thefts or the location of the stolen plants is asked to contact Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502.

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