Akaishi Bonsai history

Akaishi Bonsai history

The history of Akaishi five-needle pine

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Akaishi five-needle pine with over 400 years of history

Akaishi five-needle pine bonsai has a history of more than 400 years since the Azuchi-Momoyama period as a local specialty in Doi-cho, Shikokuchuo City, Ehime at the Akaishi mountain range.

Now, there are about 200,000 fifty-year-old Akaishi five-needle pine planted from seeds in the area.

From Meiji to early Showa

In early Meiji, a local bonsai lover went to the mountain and picked seedlings to start bonsai.

The bonsai trend reached its peak from late Taisho to early Showa (1920s to 40s). People just didn’t stop picking seedlings from mountains and planted bonsai, which usually takes 2-3 years to become presentable products. Yet, most of the sellers were part-timers that there were no bonsai specialties at that time.

Becoming authentic from 1955 onward

Akaishi five-needle pine bonsai taken the domestic market in Japan by storm during the economic miracle began in around 1955. The demand grew rapidly that a huge number of bonsai exhibitions were organized all around in Japan.

showa tenjikai

The cultivation area for Akaishi five-needle pine in Doi-cho was only around 3hs in 1955 while the area and number of trees simply multiplied in the upcoming decade.

In 1971, the area was 11ha with 150 trees, in 1975 it was 34ha with 270 trees. In 1983 it reached 43ha and 285 trees. The numbers then remained constant that in 1984 it was still 43 ha and 285 trees.

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From mountain picking to growing

In around 1955, a lot of people went to the Mount Akashi and picked the abundant the five-needle pine seedlings and that is called “yamatori” (literally “mountain picking”). At that time, there were a lot of buyers from Kanto visited Ehime.

The alpine plants nearby the peak of Mount Akaishi was later designated as a natural monument of Ehime (“Alpine plants at Mount Akaishi, 14th December 1957).

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The demand grew so rapidly that the seedling became extinct in 1959. People then started picking seeds to grow their own seedlings.

So, it led to overlogging of pine trees with seeds. Aiming at the seeds, people started to log unripe trees and even trees without any seeds. That was the beginning of the chaotic overlogging.

Because of such oversales of seeds, the tree became rare and caused problems.

Spreading Akaishi five-needle pineal over the country

In 1961, Akaishi five-needle pine was promoted as bonsai throughout Japan. Also aiming at expanding the sales market and promoting as a go-green campaign, the “1st Akaishi five-needle pine sales exhibition” was held.

In 1962, after “2nd Akaishi five-needle pine sales exhibition”, dozens of producers announced the establishment of “Akaishi five-needle pine bonsai union” (with Nanasuke Moritaka as the first chairman) in response to the nationwide rising demand.

They drafted rules for the union, formed a committee with different roles on different members and set every second Sunday of the month as their meeting day. From time to time they also organized markets in various scales, and they have also prepared an Akaishi five-needle pine producer catalogue for nationwide promotion.

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The beginning of extensive protection movements

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In 1963, “Akaishi five-needle pine protection union” was formed for protecting the seeds of the endangered plant at Mount Akaishi, the habitat of a huge number of alpine plants and the origin of five-needle pine.

The local residents also organized vigilantism activities such as onsite patrolling throughout the day, inspection, and stakeouts. Five-needle pine seed-picking became prohibited without the permit from the town education committee. An armband was given to those successful permit applicants to pick the seeds.

The utmost attainment of Akaishi five-needle pine

Partly due to the active efforts of the union, the sales of Akaishi five-needle pine went well in various places. At that time, five-leaf pine seeds were sold everywhere in the country while one selling agent stood out in terms of their profits.

1955 was the beginning of Japan’s economic miracle with Japan’s record period of economic growth and significant increase in national income. It was the time the Japan economy made an advance tremendously that the demands of bonsai also expanded.

The bonsai trend reached its peak from 1950s to 60s. Akaishi five-needle pine has taken the market by storm that the number of union members also increased gradually and reached its peak around 64 or 65 in total. That was the time “if you want to dig money, try making five-needle pine”.

After the quick rising trend with extensive sales, customers began to ask for customization like various leaf features and branch shapes.

After the quick rising trend with extensive sales, customers began to ask for customization like various leaf features and branch shapes.

The global development of Akaishi five-needle pine…

Tokyo Olympics was held in 1964 and Japan World Exposition was held in 1970. As Japan is opening itself more to the world, there were even trainees coming to Japan from Europe in 1960s to 1970s.

While some other sellers just upheld the idea “to make Akaishi five-needle pine a world-famous specialty and accommodate the world market” and invaded the mountains of Akaishi to overlogging.

While some other sellers just upheld the idea “to make Akaishi five-needle pine a world-famous specialty and accommodate the world market” and invaded the mountains of Akaishi to overlogging.

In 1965, Ehime Education Committee, and related education committees started working together to fight against prohibited picking and illegal logging.

Afterward in 1966, “Akaishi Natural Monument Protection Strategy Planning Conference” was held to strengthen and reach common ground of the protection policies, management, and administration.

Akaishi five-needle pine as a local specialty

The sales went very well, and people started to have high hopes on it as the next specialty of Ehime following mikan citrus. In 1971, Ehime Prefectural Economy Union and National Federation of Agricultural Products Sales (which merged with National Federation of Agricultural Products Merchandise to become National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations in 1972) initiated mail orders in different cities involving Tokyo as the essential part for the activities in Kanto, which was pivotal to making the bonsai national famous.

The end of the domestic bonsai trend

In 1976, the mountains of Akaishi in Ehime was designated as a nature conservation area that logging of young trees were prohibited.

In 1986, The Commemoration Ceremony of the 60th Anniversary of His Majesty the Emperor's Accession to the Throne was held at Nippon Budokan that Akaishi five-needle pine was selected as the stage decoration put next to the Emperor, which enriched the development of bonsai.

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Eventually, luxury entertainment, hobbies, and items of the economic miracle came to an end in the economic bubble that also put a period to the trend of bonsai.

Domestic demands went down, and the number of cultivator also dropped.

Look out to the world again

As the prosperous domestic sales of Akaishi five-needle pine deteriorated progressively, sellers started to target the overseas market so bonsai export slowly started at the end of 1980s.

Seitaro Arai & Co., Ltd (a trading company in Yokohama), the Yokohama Nursery Co., Ltd (a horticulture firm), and Yamatonoen (breeding and sales of vegetables) are the three main firms to deal with overseas sales, mostly EU countries centering on the Netherland.

The number of producers continued to shrink that the peak of 300 farms dropped to around 100.

Successor issue of the production region

In 2001, the size of the protection union (Akaishi alpine plants protection club) reduced to just lower than 10 members and finally it broke up. The union had plans to rebuild mountain trails while they faced an aging problem- no young members joined in and existing members were all aged so unfortunately, the plans could not be implemented.

Strengthening the foundation to the world market

In November 2014, the Kagawa office and Ehime office of Japan External Trade Organization started a string of promotional events for Akaishi five-needle pine aiming to attract buyers to visit Kinashi and Kokubunji areas of Takamatsu, the production land of pine bonsai.

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The overseas market grew slowly, and “Akaishi five-needle pine export federation” (with Junichi Moritaka as the chairman) was founded by the producers from Shikokuchuo City, Ehime in July (August?) 2019 with an objective to strengthen trades with the European market.

In December, the union chairman acquired an opportunity to meet with Francis the Bishop of Rome at Vatican City, at where the Christianity Catholic Church headquarters located. The chairman presented to the pope an Akaishi five-needle pine. Since then the plant gained enormous popularity in Europe.

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The Akaishi five-needle pine export federation then proceeded to prepare for massive export to Europe that in January 2020, as many as 150 bonsai aged from 10 to 100 years prepared by the five members were ready to be sent to Europe after accomplishing a series of shipment and immigration procedures.


As plants from Japan were prohibited and restricted by quarantine, they planned to establish an exhibition farm in Germany to solve the problem.

Currently, there are around 30 five-needle pine production farms at Shikokuchuo City. The Akaishi five-needle pine bonsai union still exists while the number of member reduced to 42 from 60 when it was first established during the peak of the bonsai trend.

Members had been restricted to local Doi-cho residents when the union was formed while after the reformation of cities that Shikokuchuo City was officially born, the union welcomed members from Shikokuchuo, as well as Saijo and Niihama for more activities and information exchange.

The future of Akaishi five-needle pine

Nurturing the next generation became an important issue in the aging society.

Although the local bonsai market was still in recession, the overseas demands slowly grew because of the effort of the federation. The regular export and overseas trade also proved that the efforts in developing overseas market did pay off.

Akaishi five-needle pine experienced troughs and peaks in hundreds of years.

After experiencing overlogging, illegal loggings, and dangers of production collapse, the history and development of Akaishi mountains and the pine are finally preserved because of the local producers and enthusiastic vigilantes who aimed to “do something to protect five-needle pine”.

Akaishi five-needle pine has all the essential elements to become world famous.

It is now restarting its journey- not merely as a plant but for the spirits of ancestors and traditions.

The pine is around because our ancestors contributed enormously to protect and pass down to us.

Around 200,000 fifty-year-old Akaishi five-needle pines planted from seeds are growing soundly under the close care of producers. They are waiting silently at their farms for their showtime.

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