Like most shrines in Japan the Goryo Jinja has a lot of trees, and most of them have a story to tell. The most important tree is a mere stump these days, the Yumi-tate-no-matsu (弓立の松) which features in the story of the samurai warrior to which this shrine is dedicated, Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa. It is said that he once visited the spot where his shrine stands today, and during he visit he leaned his bow against this matsu tree (pine tree). Although the tree is long gone, the story lives on and the tree stump is today protected as part of the heritage of the shrine.
The following three photos are of the large tabunoki which has protected and shaded the shrine’s entrance for about 400 years. The tabunoki is often used in Asia as ingredient in the production of incense. After 400 years the tree is absolutely massive at over 20 meters in height! Another old tree that didn’t make it is an old peach tree that finally felled under the weight of the snow in last year’s February snowstorm.
Also standing strong at 400 years of age is the Meotoicho, or husband-and-wife-gingko tree, a twin trunked giant gingko tree. The left is a male, representing the husband, and the right is female, representing the wife. Due to the large amount of fruit produced by this tree it has come to represent a very fruitful married couple and those newly weds who wish for a large family often comes to tree to pay their respects and pray.
There are also a couple of plum trees inside the shrine grounds that were blooming on my visit, and even a Kawazu Sakura tree, the earliest blooming sakura tree variant, even in the Kanto region it starts blooming in February, almost two months before the other sakura trees, as you can see in the last two photos of this blog post.
Every month in the Japanese calendar is marked with a flower and February is without a doubt the month of the plum blossom! All over Tokyo plum trees are exploding in colors and the first very few but brave bees can be seen bussing around. It is still winter but spring is not far away now. According to the weather forecast Tokyo will see more snow the coming week but as for today the weather just could not be better! My favorite part of the plum trees is imagining the fact that each of these branches will in a few months bear fruit that will be turned into delicious umeshu, plum-wine. I took these photos at Tokyo’s Yushima shrine, where the blossoms are unseasonably late this year.
It is autumn leave season and most people make a point of leaving the house and getting at least a little bit of fresh mountain air. One of the most popular destinations for Tokyo residents is the Takaosan mountain in the Western Tokyo city of Hachioji. I took these photos at the temple at the summit of the mountain when I visited last year. I have yet to make a visit this year.
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!