Name: The Giant Zelkova of Anraku Temple (安楽寺のケヤキ)
Type: Zelkowa serrata
Trunk Circumference: 6.3m
Age: >600 years
Location: 栃木県芳賀郡茂木町北高岡 (36° 30′ 52″N 140° 09′ 58″E)
Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
This tree stands in front of Anraku Temple. According to temple lore, it was first opened in Tempyou 9 (天平９年, 737CE), was revived in Ouei 13 (応永１３年, 1406CE), and received an Imperial Scroll (勅額) in Keichou 14 (慶長１４年, 1609 CE). The hall up on the hill was built in Empou 7 (延宝７年, 1679 CE), which makes this the oldest temple in this region. Inside the hall is a statue of the Amitabha Buddha, coming in at a height of 273cm, made in the late Kamakura Period, and designated a prefectural cultural asset. This is a famous temple with a long history. The above-mentioned age is assuming that it was planted during the Ouei Era revival.
Normally, natural monuments and cultural assets are both designated by local Boards of Education. Either the municipal or the prefectural one (unless the object is deemed to be of national importance). Here, the tree follows suit, as the bodies in charge of naming it a natural monument are the Motegi and Tochigi Boards of Education. The statue of the Amitabha Buddha, though, is a cultural asset designated by the Environment Agency. What?
In the surroundings are many fields, and indeed, an irrigation ditch comes through the grounds and to the zelkova. Planted here and there are flowering daikon and other flowering plants, which serves to soften the severe temple atmosphere. This zelkova has grown on a slant. The information board suggests that most of the branches it has lost were on the building-side of the tree, and were lost in connection with a fire, but it certainly seems as though many branches were lost on the non-building side as well.
These days, it looks like most of the branches were ones that were cut off in the past and have re-sprouted. It’s kind of harsh to keep cutting back such a vigorous tree. As it is an old tree, the insides have surely started to hollow out, but I think that, barring any strange happenings, this tree will continue to be a sight to behold for a long time to come.
I was chased away from this tree by a couple of suzumebachi before I could get as many pictures as I wanted :/