Here’s another post with terrible photos – please forgive me for posting these, but I couldn’t resist the subject, a massive himalayan cedar growing right out of the foundations of a little convenience store in central Tokyo! As all connoisseurs or “shitamachi”, or the classical “downtown” areas of Tokyo knows, Yanaka is one of the best. Situated on a high field overlooking Ueno to south and famous mainly for the many tiny temples and one massive cemetery, Yanaka is popular with locals preserving the low, single or double storied architecture of the area. It’s surprisingly easy to miss and I often wonder how it has managed to escape the lure of the property development people as the location must be really attractive. I always get lost on the labyrinth like little streets of the area and yesterday I wandered into one of Yanaka’s famous spots, the Himalayan Cedar (ヒマラヤ杉) and the Mikado bread store (みかどパン店)! It’s hard to get a sense of just how massive this tree is, and how sudden and unexpected it is as you come upon it from either one of the three streets meeting at the base of the tree. I used a very wide angle lens to capture it in these photos, but the pictures doesn’t come close to showing how awe inspiring this tree is. I really hope this tree will be around for the joy of future generations hundreds of years to come. The old lady who runs the little convenience store seemed as ancient as the tree itself, and I hope she will last many year to come as well, although I didn’t see the cat which is almost as famous as the store itself.
It’s spring in Tokyo and I just can’t stop taking these snapshots of nature coming back to life here in the capital. Who said there is no nature in Tokyo? Well, I do, often, but here’s a few photos from around Kitanomaru Park in Tokyo’s Kudanshita, near Yasukuni Shrine and the Budokan arena. Kitanomaru Park is one of the best in Tokyo in my opinon, large, central and very clean, with ponds and even almost natural artificial water falls. There’s also plenty of cherry blossoms here in the spring, and sometimes it feels like half of Tokyo has decided to come here. The statue of the stern looking man is of Yajiro Shinagawa, an ex-samurai who became a very aggressive politician in Meiji-era Japan. He is famous for being very pro-emperor and anti-shogun, and both pro-foreign and anti-foreign having been a successful diplomat in Europe and being infamous for an attack on the British diplomats in Edo (the old name for Tokyo) in July 5th 1861. An interesting person. The old moat near the park is also a nice place to rent a rowing boat and get really up close to the cherry trees growing near the water. When I was there the park was full of people enjoying a sunny afternoon, although not every one was happy, I have a feeling the little boy in the last photo was getting bored with his sleeping father.
The fact that Japanese people are some of the most long lived in the world is pretty well known by now, but even they live very short lives compared to Japanese trees. I’ve been in quite a few countries around the planet but I have never seen as many old trees as in Japan. Here there are ancient giants everywhere. Of course the most famous old trees of Japan are on the island of Yakushima, including the 2000-7000 year old Jomon Sugi、or the incredible 65km long avenue of Sugi (Japanese Cedar) that leads pilgrims to the grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu and was planted about 400 years ago. But really, you often don’t have to go further than to your local shrine to see some very old trees. While in Omiya I saw this tree, a giant (Cryptomeria japonica?) that is so old the core has completely rotted out. This being safety minded Japan, naturally the old tree has been boarded up to keep people out of it. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen doors and locks on a tree before!
I believe that the Japanese religion of Shinto is to thank for the abundance of old growth trees even in urban areas. These trees are believed to house kami (spirits or Gods) that protect the neighborhood and people are very reluctant to cut them down. In fact, the cutting of an old tree is such a dastardly deed that even when absolutely necessary, many people will hire a non-local to do it. This specialist will perform rituals to appease the Gods and the wrath of the locals. I’d hate to be an arborist in Japan!
@ All images copyrighted. Please use only with permission.