Giant Tree Files: Ω3 The Giant Camphor of Kawago

Ω3: The Giant Camphor of Kawago
I drove nearly 3000km (round trip) to see this tree, and it was certainly worth it.

Name: The Giant Camphor of Kawago (川古のクス)
Type: Camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora)
Height: 25m
Trunk Circumference: 21m
Age: 3000 years
Location: 佐賀県武雄市若木町川古 (33° 15′ 07″N 129° 59′ 35″E)
Date of Visit: 2013-03-25

This giant camphor tree stands on the grounds of Hinoko Shrine (日子神社). However, these days the grounds around the tree are more commonly known as Kawago Giant Camphor Park, and is maintained by the town. It’s difficult to feel that this is a shrine. In fact, the actual Hinoko Shrine? I didn’t see it at all when I was there.

Ω3: The Giant Camphor of Kawago
That pole that you see in all the pictures is actually a lightning rod. Of all the giant trees I’ve visited over the years, this is the only one with its own lightning rod, and what a good idea that is!

The trunk circumference is 21m. In a Heisei 1 (平成元年, 1989 CE) survey of giant trees by the Ministry of the Environment, the root circumference was found to be 35m, and even 2m above the root/trunk boundary, the trunk was still a hefty 12.5m in circumference. At 4m above the root/trunk boundary, it’s still 11.4m around. Because of the very gradual taper of the trunk, anyone coming face to bark with this tree will undoubtedly be left with an impression of great bulk.

Ω3: The Giant Camphor of Kawago
Here’s the wee shrine at the base of what was once an open hollow featuring a carved in situ statue of Kannon.

On the south side of the trunk there is a great hollow, which is now filled in with whatever synthetic compound tree surgeons use for such purposes, with a tiny space for a wee shrine. Formerly, where is now a filled-in-hollow, there stood a statue of Kannon said to be carved by Gyoki (行基). It wasn’t carved and then placed into a pre-existing hollow, no no. This image of Kannon was carved directly into the in situ heartwood of the tree. (This doesn’t present as large a problem as it seems at first, as the heartwood doesn’t perform life-sustaining functions, merely structural ones).

Ω3: The Giant Camphor of Kawago
Awesome.

In the early Meiji period, there was an anti-Buddhist movement in the country (Haibutsu kishaku, 廃仏毀釈, literally “abolish Buddhism and destroy Shakyamuni”), and during this period the statue was beheaded. By Showa 60 (昭和60年, 1985 CE), the region around the statue had started to rot, including the outer layers, which presented a real danger to the tree. The remains of the statue were removed and the resulting hollow was filled. The statue now resides in a nearby (but apparently well-hidden, as I didn’t find it) Kannon-do.

Even without the statue though, a magnificent tree such as this is naturally going to inspire feelings of devotion and spirituality.

Ω3: The Giant Camphor of Kawago
This was late March, imagine how this place must be in high summer!

In the Record of Hizen Province (肥前国風土記), it is said that Yamato Takeru (日本武尊, who also made an appearance in the history of the Ancient Sakura of Yamataka) observed that camphor trees flourished and were of particularly good quality in this region, and so he called the place Saka no Kuni (栄国); it is said that this is the origin of the present day name of Saga (佐賀).

Though this tree would have been 1000 years old when Yamato Takeru was here, and perhaps it’s all just a legend anyway, it’s nice to think that maybe it was this tree that led Yamato Takeru to make his observation.

Ω3: The Giant Camphor of Kawago
There were children playing near a pond filled with carp and a pair of swans waddling hither and yon. A water wheel click-clacked in the background and the tree just stood there majestically as it has since the fall of Troy and the founding of the Zhou Dynasty.

Giant Tree Files: Ω2 The Ancient Sakura of Yamataka

Ω2: The Ancient Sakura of Yamataka
It’s not pretty, but it has its own unique appeal.

Name: The Ancient Sakura of Yamataka (山高神代ザクラ)
Type: Double Weeping Rosebud Cherry (Prunus Pendula)
Height: 13m
Trunk Circumference: 10.6m
Age: 2500 years
Location: 山梨県北杜市武川町山高 (35° 46′ 49″N 138° 22′ 03″E)
Date of Visit: 2013-03-23

In Taisho 11 (大正11年, 1922 CE), on October 12, , well-known sakura trees around the country were the first National Natural Monuments to be designated. It’s not known who first used the term, but among these sakura trees were three referred to as The Three Great Sakura (日本三大桜) (Japan loves 三大○○-type lists).

Ω2: The Ancient Sakura of Yamataka
A twitter friend of mine referred to this tree as “The Ms. Havisham of sakura trees”.

Among those Three Great Sakura, this, the Ancient Sakura of Yamataka, was one. (The other two are the Miharu Taki Sakura in Tamura-gun, Miharu Town, Fukushima [same variety as this, but only 1000 years old], and the Neo Valley Usuzumi Sakura in Motosu City, Gifu [again, same variety, 1500 years old]).

According to legend, when Yamato Takeru (日本武尊) was on his eastern expedition to such places as Mino, Omi and Kai Provinces (Gifu, Shiga and Yamanashi, to use their modern names), he planted this sakura tree. Because it is on the grounds of a Nichiren Buddhist temple, there are also legends that Nichiren himself planted it. From within the temple grounds, this ancient sakura can see the Southern Alps in the distant sky.

Ω2: The Ancient Sakura of Yamataka
The stone wall, etc., was all within the area covered by the straw bedding, which is really quite close for a tree of that size.

With a trunk circumference measuring more than 10m, at first you are overwhelmed by its girth. Over the centuries, this tree has come to resemble more of a lump of stone than anything plant-based. However, sometime in the past its massive trunk was lost from the top, which has given rise to its current stumpy look. As such, it is not as powerful looking as it must once have been. Ten years ago, the temple had erected a roof over the main trunk to keep water out of a hollow in the top of it, but that roof seems to be gone. Perhaps the hollow has been filled in with whatever it is that tree surgeons use to plug such holes. The outer branches are propped up with braces to help take strain off the trunk.

It is the case that, maybe a decade or so ago, there were great stone walls and sign posts and other such trappings of historical sites littered around the site, but in the interests of allowing the trees roots space to grow and spread, they’ve all been removed, replaced with a light fence and shallowly planted notice boards. Perhaps it is due to that that the tree is now healthier-seeming than it was in this 2004 report I have in front of me.

Ω2: The Ancient Sakura of Yamataka
If you’re ever in the area for sakura season, you should totally check out this tree. Also the other two — the one in Gifu is a reasonable drive from this one; the one in Fukushima not impossibly far away.

Both the Miharu Taki Sakura and the Neo Valley Usuzumi Sakura were quite ill in the 90s, but similar efforts along with regular care by trained professionals has seen them return to good health, so it is probable that this is what has happened.

Giant Tree Files: Ω1 The Giant Ginkgo of Jouzou Temple

Ω1: The Giant Ginkgo of Jouzou Temple
There it is, all tall and twiggy.

Name: The Giant Ginkgo of Jouzou Temple (浄蔵寺の大イチョウ)
Type: Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba)
Height: 28m
Trunk Circumference: 11m
Age: >300 years
Location: 群馬県太田市堀口町 (36° 15′ 11″N 139° 19′ 40″E)
Date of Visit: 2013-03-23

Jouzou Temple is a Shingon Buddhist temple established in the Kamakura period. It’s southeast of the main town of Oshima (now a part of Ota City).

Ω1: The Giant Ginkgo of Jouzou Temple
I imagine in summer it would be ridiculously bushy and lush.

Nowadays, the Tone River (利根川) flows about 1.5km south of here, but it used to flow to the west of here. The present day Haya River is a trace of that former route.

According to temple lore, in Genkou 3 (元弘3年, 1333 CE) (Shokei 2, 正慶2年, if you prefer Northern Court era names, but then you’d be wrong because the Northern Court did not possess the regalia BUT I AM RAMBLING), Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞), on his way to attack Kamakura, before crossing the Tone River, he and his troops stopped at this temple to rest and to pray for victory.

Ω1: The Giant Ginkgo of Jouzou Temple
What a neat tree~

At that time, this tree wasn’t yet here, I don’t think. Nevertheless, it does command a view of the old road.

Its trunk has suffered some lightning damage, apparently. Despite that, the tree appears to be in great health with all the tiny twigs everywhere. By the way, this is a male tree, so it doesn’t fruit.