Name: The Giant Hackberry of Munakata Shrine (胸形神社のエノキ)
Type: Japanese Hackberry (Celtis sinensis var. japonica)
Height: 23m in 1994, 18m in 2007, considerably shorter now.
Trunk Circumference: 5.7m
Age: >300 years
Location: 栃木県小山市寒川 (36° 16′ 41″N 139° 43′ 31″E)
Date of Visit: 2012-7-28
Below the left bank of the Uzuma River (巴波川), there lies Munakata Shrine.
Enshrined here are Tagorihime-no-Mikoto (田心姫命), Ichikishimahime-no-Mikoto (市杵島姫命), and Tagitsuhime-no-Mikoto (多岐津姫命), three goddesses born from Susanoo’s sword and known collectively as the Three Goddesses of Munakata (宗像三女神). These are the same goddesses enshrined at Munakata Grand Shrine (宗像大社), though that Munakata (宗像) and this Munakata (胸形) are written differently.
The Three Goddesses of Munakata are, essentially, ocean goddesses. So, I wonder how it came to be that there is a Munakata Shrine here, so far from the sea? That being said, Munakata Grand Shrine is head of 6000 Munakata Shrines in the country, so it is unlikely that this is the only inland one. I can only guess, but I assume that the Uzuma River was prone to flooding, and if these three goddesses offer protection from the vagaries of the sea, surely they are powerful enough to protect people from a bit of a stream.
Or so they may have thought. Despite this, in Showa 16 (昭和１６年, 1941CE), the main temple was washed away in a flood. The flood also washed away much of the soil around the roots of this hackberry, though the health of the tree was not significantly impacted at that time.
The tree in question lies to the left of the torii. It seems that as early as Heisei 6 (平成６年, 1994 CE) the tree was suffering from a variety of maladies, and the appropriate countermeasures were taken. They must have been at least partly effective because the picture at the very top dates from, I believe, Heisei 17 (平成１７年, 2005 CE), and it appears to be quite healthy there. Alas, by Heisei 19 (平成１９年, 2007 CE) many of the branches had died and been cut off so they wouldn’t present a falling danger.
Now, the tree that was once described as the largest hackberry in Tochigi is dead. The places where branches were cut off are covered in metal caps, and the bark has come off in many places and you can see woodworm holes everywhere, and in the bottom you can see that the entire main trunk has been hollowed out. This is a dead tree, and that’s sad.
But it’s not entirely dead. Perhaps the roots remained strong, or perhaps in its final years the tree had some particularly healthy seed dropped nearby. Whatever the case, this tree is slowly but surely regrowing, as can be seen from the many tall shoots. These shoots weren’t here in 2007, and it’s a remarkable amount of new growth in just five years. Though the hackberry I came to see is but a dead shadow of its former self, it lives on through the new shoots it has started to grow. Perhaps in 300 years, it will once again be the biggest hackberry in Tochigi.