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Bonsai nurseries Japan Part1 (How they operate)

October 2, 2013

I visited several types of nurseries in Japan. The first type I would describe as a high end , high price higher quality, outlets. You wold generally not find anything cheaper than Y10 000 there, and those will be things they have barely styled, or worked on. Like items just bought from an auction and styled in an hour, or brought in by former customers that no longer want them or stopped keeping bonsai. The quality of the bonsai is high , collector type quality, mingled with some average bonsai, at very high prices, for everyday income from internet sales. This nurseries can command high prices even for inferior quality bonsai, just because they have reputation. I shall not mention names here, but I visited a number of this type of nurseries. Usually , artists with Reputation are the owners. This nurseries cater for collectors, some exhibit at exhibitions in Japan  and some dont.

Many of this nurseries have customers trees at their premises, which they exhibit style, and look after, on behalf of their clients.

The second type, is the type that caters mostly for the tourist trade. I would put here the nurseries in bonsai village. They have some pretty good bonsai but they have affordable bonsai too, that I can say looked expensive to me, compared to the prices in the wholesale nurseries. I saw trees, in the original grow out pot, they are sold at the wholesale, that were sold without any intervention, 3-5 times the price at the wholesale nursery.

Most nurseries at bonsai village don’t allow photos taken, unless you are with an agent that has some good relationship with them. They have an agreement not to allow photos taken at their premises. They have also some high-class bonsai, that are really expensive.

Another source of trees, is the cooperative Kogara. There growers and hobbyists bring their trees and they are sold by the owner on commission. Some good finds, but nothing for the very high-end connoisseur, with prices to match…very reasonable. Lots of rough material too.

Kogara is the cooperative that holds and supplies the green fair event in Tokyo on 9 sept. every year. Some very good bonsai for the price you pay. Worth seeing it.

The next is a wholesale nurseries. The best I found so far is Takahashi  engei and the one next door to it,  Negishi en. I found both nurseries with the largest selection of prebonsai and bonsai, at wholesale prices. Some fantastic prices… They cater for customers with large orders, but they can sale you few also if your agent knows them.

The cheapest place to buy is auctions that are held for professional growers in Japan. Not the auctions on the internet. They have very special  tread prices for both finished bonsai and rough materials. Only professional bonsai growers are allowed at this auctions. But I know of one foreigner a big buyer that was taken there by his agent…but not too sure if he will be taken again. Why???? I heard rumbling…and though I was not given the real reason for the rumbling, I think I know it:

At the auction he can not get commission from the seller. Otherwise you are welcome at the auctions that are held several times a month, as long as you can prove that you are trading in bonsai. How you will manage to bid there if you don’t know Japanese, is another story. But if your bid is the last, no matter how much, I am sure it will be cheaper than anywhere else.

In Japan most people use agents to go to the nurseries. You pay commission  to the agent for every thing you buy between 20-45%, depending on how much you buy.  For that You get: Collection from the airport, and hotel reservations, daily transportation to all nurseries which are scattered in different towns, Organizing the inspection and permits in Japan, packing, and sending of your trees.

What I have heard and experienced, is that though reasonably honest, agents operate in different ways. First of all no one tells you that they get a commission of 10% + from the owner of the nursery, which comes out of your pocket.  Some agents get you a discount at bonsai village of around 10%, and some other nurseries too.

Some agents that charge you  the lowest % commission, in order to attract you to do business with them, have code words with the owner of the nursery, that is prearranged, so that when you ask for the price, just in case you know some numbers in Japanese, the nursery owner adds a lamp sum to the usual price and what you pay on the end is some times 2-5 times the usual price, plus the very little commission of 20% which you were netted in with in the first pace.

I thinks it is important for people to know all this since we are all in the same shoes. I know buyers that don’t use agents, go to the nurseries on their own, and even get their own permits, thus avoiding paying large commission to agents. But if you are not buying much an agent is the most reasonable option for you. As long as you get the right one.

Think how much you will spend on transportation and arranging all this things, plus if you have to stay in a hotel extra days to arrange your permit. They use their own car to take you around, and get you a small discount where prices are exhibited, Plus you are  not charged anything for the packing and delivering your trees to be transported. It takes also time for the inspection to happen. You are saved all that and to me the commission was worthwhile.

I shall post pictures from the different nurseries, on separate threads.

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