The Giant Trees of Tochigi: #73 The Giant Ginkgo of Nogi Shrine

#73 The Giant Ginkgo of Nogi Shrine
Here we are at Nogi Shrine. Though Flickr’s geonaming thinks this is in Koga, Ibaraki, it’s actually in Shimotsuga-gun, Tochigi. The brick path this side of the torii extends for a kilometer behind me.

Number: 73
Name: The Giant Ginkgo of Nogi Shrine (野木神社のいちょう)
Type: Ginkgo biloba
Height: 13m
Trunk Circumference: 9.7m
Age: 1200 years
Location: 栃木県下都賀郡野木町野木 (36° 12′ 56″N 139° 42′ 30″E)
Date of Visit: 2012-7-28

#73 The Giant Ginkgo of Nogi Shrine
It’s a fairly large, well-appointed, well-maintained place.

Nogi Shrine is much larger than I thought it would be. Even as I approached it, my navi had taken me down a narrow side street towards it, so I thought it would be just a wee shrine, but in fact it’s quite a large compound with a very long brick-and-zelkova lined avenue leading up to the front gate.

#73 The Giant Ginkgo of Nogi Shrine
Here’s the tree, in all its aerial-rooty majesty.

To the right of the main hall stands a single old ginkgo. But what a ginkgo it is! Around the tree is a stone wall, and a series of wooden stakes. Though this tree doesn’t have a shimenawa as such, the rope on the stakes at the wall has kamishide (紙垂) attached, so indeed, this tree exists in a sacred space.

#73 The Giant Ginkgo of Nogi Shrine
Some trees are tidy. They grow straight, they have lovely lines to them, they are beautifully designed. Surely you have seen ginkgos like this too — tall, straight ginkgos with nary a branch out of place. The one at Mibu Temple springs to mind. But to achieve that effect requires constant pruning and the occasional cutting-the-top-off. If a ginkgo is left to grow naturally on its own, you get a mess like this, which is beautiful in its own way.

According to the information board, when Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (坂上 田村麻呂) was returning from his Subjugation of the Emishi (蝦夷征伐), he stopped at this shrine to pray, and, as a memorial of this visit from a great man, this tree was planted. In this way, we reach the age of about 1200 years. Whether this story is the truth or not, the size of this tree and the sheer number of aerial roots dribbling their way to the earth everywhichwhere certainly suggest that this is more than your ordinary tree.

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