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).
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.
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.
Number: 49 Name: The Giant Ginkgo of Soukou Temple (宗光寺のいちょう) Type: Ginkgo biloba Height: 21m Trunk Circumference: 5.6m Age: >300 years Location: 栃木県真岡市長沼字寺ノ内 (36° 21′ 32″N 139° 55′ 55″E) Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
Soukou Temple lies to the east of Naganuma Junior High School. It forms, along with Kita-in (喜多院) in Kawagoe and Kanasana Temple in Kodama-gun (both in Saitama), the three great centers of Tendai Buddhism (天台宗) in Kanto.
According to temple lore, in Kashou 1 (嘉祥元年, 848 CE), by the desire of Emperor Ninmyo (仁明天皇), Ennin (円仁) began the process of founding this temple. Thereafter, it had a relatively easy, uneventful existence. However, in Tenshou 19 (天正１９年, 1591 CE) Tagaya Shigetsune (多賀谷重経), lord of Shimotsuma Castle (下妻城) in Hitachi Province (常陸国), caused its destruction. It was later rebuilt by Tenkai (天海).
The ginkgo lies 150m south of the temple. It’s on the grounds of a small shrine to Yakushi. It’s difficult to spot in summer, as it blends in with the rest of the grove in which it stands, if you look from a distance, but once you approach it, it’s clear that it’s not ordinary tree.
This tree has lots of branches. LOTS of branches. It’s clearly a very healthy, vigorous tree. I wonder if it looks as spectacular in its autumn yellow?
Number: 38 Name: The Giant Ginkgo of Shiroyama Park (城山公園のいちょう) Type: Ginkgo biloba Height: 15m Trunk Circumference: 6.2m Age: unknown Location: 栃木県小山市本郷町 (36° 19′ 09″N 139° 47′ 59″E) Date of Visit: 2012-7-28
First, I should probably note that this tree has an official English name, that being “The Big Ginkgo Tree of Gion Castle Site”. But meeeeh.
On a piece of high ground on the left bank of the Omoi River (思川), the remains of Gion Castle (祇園城) stand. These days, part of the castle ruins have been made into a park and thrown open to the people. There are many flat open areas punctuated by dry moats with bridges crossing them. It’s a nice place to go for a walk. I arrived just after noon on one of the hottest and most humid days of the year (heat index: 45C), and so there were only a few people at the park.
It is said that, at the fall of Gion Castle, when the princess threw herself into a dry well to kill herself rather than be taken, her soul transformed into this ginkgo. That is why, so the story goes, this tree does not fruit. Of course, people in the past didn’t realize that ginkgo are dioecious, and this is a male tree and that is why it doesn’t fruit.
Stories involving tragic deaths that explain why male ginkgos don’t bear fruit, or why ginkgos have pendulous aerial roots and look creepy are plentiful here. I’m reminded of a story about The Giant Ginkgo of Hida Kokubunji, in Gifu. In the Tempyou Era (天平, 729-749CE), when the seven-storey pagoda was being built, the head carpenter accidentally cut the pillars too short. He was distraught over his mistake, but his daughter (I think, Yaegiku) suggested the addition of blocks at the top of each pillar to correct their length. Thanks to this idea, the pagoda was completed successfully.
But as the reputation of the magnificent pagoda, and the head carpenter rose, he felt he had to protect the secret of his mistake. To this end, he killed his daughter so she couldn’t blab. He buried her on the temple grounds. It is said that the soul of the girl, whose life had been cut short, flowed into the ginkgo and thereby she achieved a life much longer than that of her father. There too, though the stories say that the soul of a girl resides in the tree, the tree itself is male.