Name: The Giant Cryptomeria of Kabasaki Hachimanguu (樺崎八幡宮のスギ)
Type: Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
Trunk Circumference: 5.2m
Age: 600 years
Location: 栃木県足利市樺崎町 (36° 21′ 42″N 139° 29′ 41″E)
Date of Visit: 2012-7-25
When one thinks of Ashikaga City, one may think of it as the place where Minamoto no Yoshiyasu (源義康, later Ashikaga Yoshiyasu, 足利義康), ancestor of the Ashikaga Clan that came to power as shogun in the Muromachi Period, came from. His son, Ashikaga Yoshikane (足利義兼) married the younger sister of Hojo Masako (北条政子), and thereby increased the influence of the clan.
Yoshikane, in his final years, founded Kabasaki Temple (樺崎寺) in Ashikaga, and spent his days deep in prayer there. Kabasaki Hachimanguu (樺崎八幡宮) was founded after his death, and his son Yoshiuji (足利義氏) is enshrined there (though he’s buried at nearby Houraku Temple [法楽寺]). This is an area that is deeply a part of Japan’s national history.
Now, Kabasaki Temple is no more, though the remnants of it were named an important national historical landmark in 2001. Kabasaki Hachimanguu still exists in the old temple compound, though.
On the right side of the main shrine building, you’ll see a lone cryptomeria stretching towards the sky. That is this tree. It’s definitely an old tree, but it seems doubtful that it was planted in the Kamakura Period, when Yoshiuji was kickin’ around. No, this is more likely from the Muromachi Period.
There’s a great wound on the side of the tree, quite high up, which seems to have been caused by a lightning strike. In photos I’ve seen from 2004, there was a great branch extending out of that area, but it had no leaves — probably already withered from the lightning damage. I suppose in the intervening eight years, it became dangerous and, to protect the buildings around and visitors, it was removed.