Name: The Giant Cryptomeria of Yagurasan Shrine (谷倉山神社のスギ)
Type: Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
Trunk Circumference: 5.8m
Location: 栃木県鹿沼市中粕尾 (36° 33′ 15″N 139° 34′ 05″E)
Date of Original Visit: 2012-4-28
Date of Re-Visit: 2012-4-30
Though this tree is technically “along” a prefectural road, in fact, the Omoi River (思川) acts as a barrier between the two. Though the main path into the shrine faces the river, there is no bridge across it at this place. There used to be a bridge here, but not anymore. There’s apparently a bridge further downriver a short ways, beside an abandoned fishing pond, but I was unable to find it the first day I tried. That is the only way to get to Yagurasan Shrine and this tree, and on April 28th, I failed.
However, on April 30th, I was doing other trees in Kanuma, and realized I was 1) only about 10km from here and 2) that I probably wouldn’t be anywhere near this tree again for a long time. If I was going to make another attempt, it had to be this day. I had also left incredibly early, and the other trees were all incredibly simple to find and shoot, so I had some time on my hands.
I finally found the bridge over the river (it wasn’t on any of my maps, nor were the roads on the far bank). Immediately upon crossing the bridge, there was a rocky, overgrown road up into the hills. That wasn’t anywhere near the right direction, so I took the road that forked to the right, towards the shrine. Here, too, I was met with another fork, up into the hills, or down along the flood plain. I wasn’t sure which to take, and when I noticed that neither were good for car traversal, backed up to the first fork and parked there.
Coming back to the second fork, I thought, “Why, it must certainly be the upper path!” and followed up that way, all the while getting caught in spider webs and weaving among fallen rocks and wondering if I was going to meet a bear or a pit viper. Maybe a kilometer or so later, the trees on the river side thinned and I could see the prefectural road across the way. I realized that 1) I was much too high now and 2) I was much too far upriver. Stupid, stupid. I turned back, hoping I wouldn’t trip and break my camera or twist my ankle or something. I made it back to the fork uneventfully.
Turning down the fork to the lower path, I realized that this was, indeed, the right way. There were some wee fields on my right as I trudged along the slightly muddy path. I reached the abandoned fishing pond. In the distance, I could see a man sitting by the side of the path. As I approached, I bid him good morning, and asked him if he knew Yagurasan Shrine.
“Of course I do. It’s just up there, keep walking, you’ll see it,” he said. He was old, probably in his 60s. His dialect was very thick, and he mumbled, so it was difficult for me (with my poor-listening-comprehension-at-the-best-of-times) to catch everything he said though. He was leaning on a pickaxe. I thanked him and continued on my way. Sure enough, a little further along the trees gathered in, and the torii was visible. I had finally found Yagurasan Shrine.
This sacred giant cryptomeria is, if you look at the base, actually two trees joined together. Of course, the union probably happened long, long ago. To view each tree individually, they’re not so remarkable, but since they are joined as in a love knot, it makes it more special.
After taking the photos I wanted to and adjusting my socks (they’d somehow worked their way off my heels and bunched up at the toes during the misguided attempt at the upper path), I made my way back towards the car. The old man was still sitting, leaning on his pickaxe. I thanked him again, and commented on the tree, “It’s really a great tree, isn’t it?” The following is an account of what (I think) he said. Again, dialect, mumbling, and my often-terrible listening comprehension mean I’m working on the fragments I did understand.
The cryptomeria? Yeah, it’s a great old tree. I used to climb it, or try to, when I was a boy. All the children did. The Snake God lives at that shrine, you know. Very important to honour the Snake God, with so many pit vipers around. But that was all a long time ago. These days, no children play there. There are no children in this village at all. Only oldtimers like me left. And the oldtimers, they don’t care about the shrine or the Snake God either. You saw the state of the place, right? It’s filthy. Needs a good cleaning. I used to do it with my wife, the cleaning I mean. But I’m old, and it’s such a big job. And I’m alone now that the wife has died. I hope one day children will return and honour the Snake God and play under the shade of that cryptomeria again. Won’t be while I’m still around, though, I guess. Haa, this old guy is going on and on. You should have told me to stop! Anyway, you must be busy. I’ll let you get on your way.
I smiled, and thanked him again. I didn’t know what else to say. I trudged back to my car, feeling a little more melancholy than I had been.