Name: The Ancient Sakura of Yamataka (山高神代ザクラ)
Type: Double Weeping Rosebud Cherry (Prunus Pendula)
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).
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.
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.
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.