Tokyobling's Blog

Hikawa Sanbon Sugi – Triple Cedar at Okutama

Posted in Nature, Places by tokyobling on September 10, 2014

The national tree of Japan, the Japanese Cedar or Sugi, is both a boon and the bane of modern Japanese all over the country. It has always been considered the holy tree of Japan and is easily the most well known tree and most used timber in the country, both in modern times and in historic times. Japan is one of the most wood covered countries in the world with most of its surface covered in forest and the wast majority of this is the Japanese Cedar. After the war large efforts were made to plant economically valuable forests around the country and this has now resulted in a national forest that is almost beyond ripe: many prefectures have so much sugi that they do not know what to do with it. Whereas other countries with a profitable forestry industry like Canada, Sweden, Finland or Russia has most of their forest on flat land that is easily accessible to an industrial scale harvesting the vast majority of Japanese forests are difficult to access even for humans on foot due to the mountainous terrain and humid climate. The relative mono culture also means that the pollen season can be brutal. The hay fever from which many Japanese suffer is one of the reasons that so many people wear surgical masks when outdoors and change their clothes as soon as they enter their homes. Even then, the smell of freshly cut sugi very popular and quite attractive, almost as nice as camphor or hinoki! Oh, and despite the English name of “Japanese Cedar” it is not related at all to the cedar in Europe or the Americas.

Still, the Sugi is extremely important for the Japanese and most shrines and temples have a holy sugi somewhere on their grounds. In Tokyo’s westernmost Okutama region I found this peculiar sugi on the grounds of the Okutama Shrine, the Triple Sugi of Hikawa (Hikawa Sanbon Sugi, 氷川三本杉) . I don’t know if this holy tree started out as three separate tree that merged as they grew bigger or if it is really one sugi that has developed three trunks but it is truly massive. At 43m height it is not even one of the larger trees in the country, these giants can sometimes reach up to 70m in height! Most sugi though, grow fatter rather than tall. One of the most famous sugi of Japan has a circumference of over 16m!

The Okutama Shrine is not much for the world except for the famous triple cedar, but I really liked the tiny green grocer that is open to business just next to the tree. It looked wonderfully nostalgic old time Japanese!

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6 Responses

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  1. Christoffer Lernö said, on September 12, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    For some reason that the Japanese attitude to trees in general differs from the western attitude. Is that a misconception?

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on September 14, 2014 at 3:39 am

      You know, everything has a kami, and special trees have special kami!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christoffer Lernö said, on September 14, 2014 at 7:48 am

        Do you feel this concept changes the average Japanese’s attitude towards trees in practice? (Aside from the theoretical spiritual difference)

        Like

  2. Timi said, on October 5, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    I could sit down and watch this tree for days 😮 amazing

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on October 6, 2014 at 1:12 am

      I agree! I hope it survives the typhoon passing over it right now… (^-^;)

      Like

      • Timi said, on October 10, 2014 at 6:12 pm

        I’m sure it’s stronger than most of us would think. Especially with all the people respecting and loving it 🙂

        Like


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