The Giant Trees of Tochigi: #71 The Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple

#71 The Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple
The tree can be seen from quite a distance on National Road 352. Turning off that road, you are met with this view.

Number: 71
Name: Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple (壬生寺のイチョウ)
Type: Ginkgo/Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba)
Height: 19m
Trunk Circumference: 5.1m
Age: 400-500 years
Location: 県下都賀郡壬生町大師町 (36° 25′ 55.2138″N 139° 47′ 51.8706″)
Date of Visit: 2011-7-18

This area is called Daishi (大師), but unlike one may expect, it doesn’t refer to Kobou-daishi Kuukai (弘法大師空海), but rather to Jikaku-daishi Ennin (慈覚大師円仁). Ennin was the first monk in Japan to be granted the title “Daishi”, great teacher. This sacred place is said to be the birthplace of Ennin. On the grounds, there is a well where Ennin is said to have had his first bath as a baby. Even now, the water still flows out of a bamboo pipe. It is said that if you drink the water from this well, it will ensure an easy childbirth, and plentiful breast milk.

#71 The Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple

Long ago, there was another temple here, but even then, this place was said to be the birthplace of Ennin. Ennin was born in Enryaku 13 (延暦13年, 794CE). Though it is not clear how it transpired, centuries later in Joukyou 3 (貞享3年, 1686), the lord of Mibu Castle asked the head priest of Rinno Temple, Prince Tenshin, (who was the fifth son of Emperor Go-Sai) to have a hall with a statue of Ennin built. That hall is still around, and was added to Mibu Town’s register of Tangible Cultural Assets in 1991. But it was damaged during the earthquake of March 11, 2011, and on this day, repairs were still ongoing.

The Mibu Temple that had stood from at least 1686 was demolished in Taisho 5 (大正5年, 1916 CE) and the current building was erected.

#71 The Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple
It really is a lovely tree.

This giant ginkgo, a registered natural monument, stands in the center of the temple grounds. It has been diligently pruned, so as to maintain a neat, tidy form that ginkgos rarely conform to on their own. One thinks, at first sight, that it’s a little small to be included in the prefectures natural monument list, but I suppose the set of this tree and Ennin’s birthplace give it added value.

#71 The Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple
The priest was really friendly and chatty.

When I arrived, the couple that run the temple were outside, and they were glad to talk to me at length about it. They led me to the tree and told me to put my hand on a patch of bark that was lighter than the others. “This is the tree’s energy spot. You can feel its ki if you put your hand here.” I did, but I didn’t feel anything. They also pointed out some cherry trees that were planted by Edwin O. Reischauer when he visited here during his tenure as US Ambassador to Japan. Reischauer had a keen interest in the life and achievements of Ennin, so it’s natural that he would visit here.

#71 The Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple
A pillar commemorating the visit by then-Ambassador E.O. Reischauer in 1964. That was the same year he was stabbed by "a disturbed youth" and contracted hepatitis from a subsequent blood transfusion. The hepatitis would kill him nearly 30 years later.
#71 The Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple
These leaves have popped out just to the left of the power spot.
#71 The Giant Ginkgo of Mibu Temple
Well, what an interesting place this was! I wonder if my next stop can stack up!

I try to show you my Japan. Won’t you show us your Japan?