Here comes the Bonsai Rider!

I found yet another intriguing little article on the Asahi Shimbun newspaper recently about an enterprising fellow who has become a local celebrity in Tokyo: the Bonsai Rider. The Bonsai Rider is a local gardener who wasn’t selling many bonsai trees, and decided to take his wares to the streets, where surprisingly he has sold a steady stream of trees, even after the economy worsened, and earned a name for himself.

I enjoyed this uplifting article as it is proof, that a smart business person can succeed under any economic conditions if they have a well thought out plan, are customer-centric and keep costs frugal.1 Economic downturns are simply a sign of the market adjusting itself and shedding failing business.2 The story shows also how many in Tokyo are downsizing their lives, just as their choices in bonsai are getting smaller and more frugal, and still enjoying life.

Living in Ireland for a year taught me a lot about the benefits of a frugal lifestyle too. My little family and I moved there shortly before the global economic crash, but even then, I could tell my fellow Irish co-workers were a lot more frugal than what I remembered back at the home office. These were successful technicians and well-paid by Irish standards, but many of them still brought their lunch from home, or if short on time, simply bought the ingredients at the local Spar, and made it themselves. You could get a nice half-loaf of Johnston, Mooney and O’Brien’s bread, some luncheon meat and good European mustard for a few quid, make it at work, and it might last you a whole week. I quickly adapted to this change in lifestyle and stopped eating out so much like I did back in Seattle, and started buying lunch ingredients at the store. I was relieved to see they had peanut butter there, and I ate more peanut butter at work than any other co-worker. Clearly it was an American thing. ;) Since coming back to the US, I have tried to continue these habits, such as making coffee at home and bringing it to work in a thermos (no more Starbucks except on weekends), and buying a big can of oatmeal (yet another Irish specialty) to eat at work and spending no more than $10 a week on basic provisions at the office, while saving the extra money for the following week.

The joys of frugality are certainly something promoted on a religious level as well, so there’s nothing to be ashamed of either. Don’t let your friends influence your spending habits, take pride in saving money and being clever about it. And if you’re thinking about going into business somewhere, remember some good business fundamentals (frugality and “customer-first”) and take a lesson from the Bonsai Rider! :)

1 Another man I admire similarly.

2 Sadly, a lot of regular people suffer as a result of reckless and bad business strategies, to say nothing of actual crooks.

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4 Comments on “Here comes the Bonsai Rider!”

  1. Morris says:

    Great post. Would you please write some more posts about consumerism and economy development from a Buddhist’s perspective.

  2. Doug says:

    Hi Morris,

    I would be very glad to do so. :)

  3. Kendall says:

    I’ve always been pretty frugal. I had a small allowance when I was a kid compared to my friends and always had to do chores to get it. I always managed to save up my money for things I really wanted, like a Nintendo 64. That penny-pinching has carried over to my adult life, especially through college where it was a necessity. The penny-pinching also let me pay off my school loans very quickly, which was great.

    I only eat out a handful of times a year, generally just with friends. It’s hard eating out as a vegetarian anyways and I consider myself a good cook when I’m trying and take the time to do it right. Many of my co-workers eat out nearly every day and I know that is expensive. More of them have started bringing lunches since I’ve started there though. I guess I’m rubbing off on them some. I feel America have become too much of a consumerist nation with many people feeling they’re entitled to everything. Many people on welfare still spend the money for cable and internet, yet their kids often have to skip a meal or two each day because the parents don’t have the money for food.

    There are many great things in this world that we can enjoy that do not require spending money or very little. People should not forget this and remember that money does not equal happiness nor success. Happiness is what we make of it.

  4. Doug says:

    Hi Kendall,

    Good point about the consumer culture, and the problem with welfare approach (though I am still glad its there given I lived on welfare once). I think we need to instill a greater sense of personal responsibility in people, rather than trying to force a top-down approach which only makes people stay out of trouble just enough. I’ve seen how people who make little money can still live good lives and have a stable financial situation because they’re self-disciplined.

    I was one of those goofballs who ate out a lot until I went to Ireland and realized most people weren’t doing that. Ireland is a poorer country and the US, so people learn to make do with less and be more resourceful. It’s a nice habit to emulate. America won’t be the richest country in the world forever, you know. ;)

    A friend once likened America to a person who always spends money, but does nothing to earn it. Since most of our industries have moved to a service-based one (with raw products produced elsewhere), we’re not really producing much anymore, let alone anything sufficiently competitive in the world. Sooner or later we’ll run out of money unless we either get fiscally disciplined, or start producing a lot more and be more competitive.

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