Name: The Giant Zelkova of Arakashi Shrine (荒橿神社のケヤキ)
Type: Zelkowa serrata
Trunk Circumference: 5.5m
Age: 700 years
Location: 栃木県芳賀郡茂木町小井戸 (36° 32′ 18″N 140° 11′ 25″E)
Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
North of Motegi Town Hall, at the top of Mt. Kikyou, the Motegi Clan had their castle. The front of the mountain facing the town is a steep slope, but the rear has a flat plateau perfect for building on. This place is called “Tachi” (舘, that is, mansion, or small castle), so it may be where someone related to the castle once had a home?
Arakashi Shrine is located on the east side of this plateau, separated from the castle remains by a small gulley. The deities here enshrined include Kunitokotachi-no-Mikoto (国常立命), Toyoshikumono-no-Mikoto (豊雲野命), and Arakashikone-no-Mikoto (阿良加志古根命). The shrine is said to have been founded in Daidou 1 (大同元年, 806 CE). This shrine lies to the northeast of Motegi Castle, and thus probably served to protect the castle against the evil that flows from that direction.
Before Manji 1 (万治元年, 1658 CE), there was a three-storied pagoda here. Back then, Buddhism and Shintoism were pretty deeply mixed, and I guess that mix would have made this a pretty impressive shrine. Now, the hall that once housed the image of the Amitabha Buddha is slowly falling down.
This zelkova is between the first and second torii on the right, beside the road that goes by the shrine. It’s near the Amitabha hall. The tree isn’t about to wither and die, but it’s not the healthiest either. Though I guess they probably put it in carefully, surely they could have put more thought into the placement of the mirrors.