Number: 46 Name: The Sacred Zelkova of Nakamura Hachiman Shrine (中村八幡宮の神木) Type: Zelkowa serrata Height: 33m Trunk Circumference: 5.5m Age: 800 years Location: 栃木県真岡市中 (36° 24′ 50″N 139° 57′ 13″E) Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
On the left bank of the Kinu River (鬼怒川), about 1.5km east of the Mooka Kinu Park Golf Club, on a bit of high land you’ll find Nakamura Hachiman Shrine. It is a shrine that is blessed with a grove full of huge trees.
According to the information boards, in Bunji 5 (文治５年, 1189 CE) upon his triumphal return home from taking part in Minamoto no Yoritomo’s (源頼朝) subjugation of the north, local feudal lord Nakamura Tokinaga presented a Gunbai (軍配団扇) to the shrine. At that time, this zelkova was planted. The age above is based on this story being true.
This is a stern, bumpy tree, and the shrine folk say that this is appropriate given the story of its planting.
Number: 45 Name: The Giant Nutmeg-yew of Henjou Temple (遍照寺のかや) Type: Nutmeg-yew (Torreya nucifera) Height: 28m Trunk Circumference: 6.1m Age: 800 years Location: 栃木県真岡市中 (36° 24′ 32″N 139° 57′ 24″E) Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
On the left bank of the Kinu River (鬼怒川), in the corner of the remnant of Nakamura Castle (中村城跡) lies Henjou Temple. According to documents at the temple, in Ryakuou 4 (暦応４年, 1341 CE) (this is the era name for the Northern Court — if you prefer to think of the Southern Court as being the legitimate one at this time, well you’re wrong, get out), the temple was officially opened in the nearby neighbourhood of Kayazutsumi. It seems to have been a major temple, complete with a five-storied pagoda. In the Tenbun Era (天文年間, 1532-1555), Nakamura Tokinaga (中村時長) undertook a restoration of the temple, and moved it to its present location. However, it was shortly thereafter lost to a fire. It was rebuilt in the current location in the Tenshou Era (天正年間, 1573-1592 CE).
Nakamura Munemura (中村宗村), founder of the Northern Date Clan, is said to have planted this tree in Bunji 5 (文治５年, 1189 CE) upon leaving for the territories awarded to his family by Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝) for their service in the subjugation of Oshu. The tree age given above relies on this tale being true. If it is true, then this tree was standing here for some 400 years before the temple was built at this location.
Whether the story is true or not, this is a strong, wonderful tree.
Number: 47 Name: The Giant Zelkova of Daidouizumi (大道泉のケヤキ) Type: Zelkowa serrata Height: 20m Trunk Circumference: 5.2m Age: unknown Location: 栃木県真岡市大道泉 (36° 22′ 08″N 139° 555′ 28″E) Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
North of the east end of the Daidouizumi Bridge, where Prefectural Road 44 (The Tochigi-Ninomiya Line) crosses the Kinu River (鬼怒川), below the raised bank lies Sekison Shrine (石尊神社). Here lies the grave of Kouno Morihiro (河野守弘), compiler and writer of the Shimotsuke Kokushi (下野国誌), that is, a history of Shimotsuke Province. Kouno spent his entire adult life on this project, and died utterly penniless. Then, 53 years after his death, on November 10, Taisho 4 (大正４年, 1915), as part of the Emperor’s enthronement, Kouno was posthumously honoured with the court rank of Shougoi (正五位).
I reckon this tree was probably around before Kouno Morihiro was born. I’d guess that the tree was revered long before and long after Kouno’s death.
But no more. I had a heck of a time finding this tree. The roads are very difficult to understand in the Daidouizumi neighbourhood, and my navi wasn’t much help. In fact, I had to go under the ramp up to the riverbank to get to this place. Several times I ended up on top of the riverbank, driving right by this place, and not tweaking to the fact that this was the place, because there was no giant tree.
The source that sent me there had visited in February 2007. At that time, the shrine was smaller, red-roofed, the area poorly maintained. In May 2011, the fellow at the above-linked website took that photo of the tree, seemingly healthy and strong with the renovated shrine. But when I visited in August 2012, it wasn’t there. Only this stump remained. I have no idea what happened, and no one in the area I spoke to could give me any details. It is a mystery.