The Giant Trees of Tochigi: #61 The Giant Cryptomeria of Myouunni Pagoda

#61 The Giant Cryptomeria of Myouunni Pagoda
As seen from the car park.

Number: 61
Name: The Giant Cryptomeria of Myouunni Pagoda (妙雲尼塔の大杉)
Type: Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
Height: 45m
Trunk Circumference: 4.6m
Age: 500 years
Location: 栃木県那須塩原市塩原門前 (36° 58′ 16″N 139° 49′ 15″E)
Date of Visit: 2012-7-23

#61 The Giant Cryptomeria of Myouunni Pagoda
This is the front entrance to the tree, but there’s a fence and a NO ENTRY FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF sign just below the camera. Dunno why.

Myouun Temple (妙雲寺), located 300m northwest of the old Shiobara Town Office, is a zen temple of the Rinzai School. The nun who founded the temple, the eponymous Myouun, is said to have been the younger sister of Taira no Shigemori (平重盛).

Legend has it that this tree was planted by the grave of Myouun, and three trees grew instead, joining at their base as they grew. While this may be true, Myouun would have died in the late 1100s, and these trees barely look the 500 years old the information plaque claims, let alone 800 or 900 years.

This temple… it was a bit terrible. Big signs everywhere saying it is forbidden to take pictures or video if you intend to make money off them. Yes okay, get over yourselves. All of the gardens and trees were blocked off with NO ENTRY signs. I crept in the back way to get a closer picture of the tree in question, because what the hell. Also, the path up the moist hill was made of the slickest stone slabs ever. Dangerous! Ironically, that slope is called Enmeizaka (延命坂, Long Life Slope). I digress.

#61 The Giant Cryptomeria of Myouunni Pagoda
If you follow Long Life Slope to the top, you find a graveyard. If you double back along the top of that hill, you’ll find another “NO ENTRY FFFFFFFFFF” sign. If you ignore it and squeeze through the hydrangea bushes, you find a set of stairs down to the rear of the trees, and if you’re sneaky, you can take some pics there, as I did.

Here and there, dotted around the compound are other giant cryptomeria that bear no names or protection (besides the NO ENTRY signs barring access to them).

Shiobara isn’t just an onsen town. It’s also popular for its water. Indeed, on the grounds of the temple there is a wee waterfall with a daft Buddhist name I can’t be bothered to remember. Natsume Souseki wrote a poem entitled “妙雲寺に瀑を観る” (“See the waterfall at Myouun Temple”). Even now, in autumn, many haiku poets gather here to enjoy the changing season and to write.