Steal This Tree

This Sunday, celebrate the Japanese new year, a.k.a. Oshogatsu, at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, which has served as a center for Japanese art and culture for more than 25 years. During the daylong celebration, check out the traditional sado tea ceremony and eat mochi cakes -- the food of choice on New Year's Day in Japan. The cakes are made in a large wooden bowl by pounding sweet, sticky rice into lumps that are then baked or grilled. At 1:30 p.m., learn more about traditional Japanese musical instruments such as the koto (kind of like a zither, which is sort of like a harp), the shamisen (like a lute, which is something like a guitar), and the shakuhachi (a bamboo flute that is sort of like, well, a bamboo flute). Sunday is the last day to participate in the museum's holiday festivities, which include folding origami paper doves and hanging them on a "Peace Tree."

The first weeks of the new year are a good time to reflect, and a good place to reflect might be the Morikami's gardens -- 200 acres of trails, koi-filled ponds, and bonsai trees ready for meditation. Bonsai, in reference to those delicate, laboriously pruned miniature trees, literally means "plant in pot." Their cultivation is an art, especially as demonstrated by bonsai master Ben Oki, who will lead a New Year's workshop on how to create the little tree sculptures. Oki curates the bonsai collection at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. How big is he in the bonsai world? Well, the American Bonsai Society named its annual "Ben Oki Excellence in Advancing Bonsai Award" after him. Do you need more credentials? OK... he designed Cybil Shepherd's Tennessee garden, so there.

After attending Oki's demonstration, there's one more thing you should know before getting started on your home chop shop. Each bonsai tree is an original, unique, and sometimes valuable work of living art. That's why the American Bonsai Society decided to come out of the shadows to discuss the unpleasant phenomenon of... bonsai theft. Says the society's website: "Bonsai theft is not a popular subject, and is not widely discussed, but like many other societal problems is a reality. It is frustrating when your bonsai is stolen, and it doesn't help not being able to do anything about it. "

So the society decided to act. It created the online Stolen Bonsai Registry -- an electronic milk carton for abducted shrubbery -- where photos are posted along with notes pleading, "If you have seen or know of this tree, please contact..." To keep your bonsai safe and secure in such a troubled world, the society suggests installing alarms, remote sensors, lights, trip wires, and LoJack systems, as well as heeding wise admonitions like "Do have someone watch when away" and "Don't brag so much."

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Dave Amber