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The Giant Trees of Tochigi: #52 The Giant Evergreen Oak of Takioka Onsen Shrine

#52 The Giant Evergreen Oak of Takioka Onsen Shrine
This is how the Giant Evergreen Oak of Takioka Onsen Shrine appeared in November 2008, and how I expected it to look this time. I was unprepared for what I found.

Number: 52
Name: Giant Evergreen Oak of Takioka Onsen Shrine (滝岡温泉神社のアカガシ)
Type: Japanese Evergreen Oak (Quercus acuta)
Height: 21m
Trunk Circumference: 6.2m
Age: 700 years
Location: 栃木県大田原市滝岡 (36° 48′ 45″N 140° 01′ 55″E)
Date of Visit: 2011-5-21

#52 Giant Evergreen Oak of Takioka Onsen Shrine
Surrounded by a broad expanse of flat rice fields, Onsen Shrine lies on a small forested rise.

Onsen Shrine is located in Takioka, near the confluence of the Houki and Momomura Rivers, on a small, tree-laden rise amidst a sea of rice fields. In the shrine grounds, there were six evergreen oaks designated as Natural Monuments. Among those, however, one tree towered above the others, such that it could be seen from wherever one was in the rice fields. In its hunger for stronger light, this tree developed a lean, peeking out from under the cover of its neighbours to drink its fill and grow to great heights.

Though this rogue tree, going its own way, was huge, that does not seem to be the reason it was named a Natural Monument.

For an evergreen oak to grow in the wild, the mean average yearly temperature must not be less than 13°C. However, nowadays, in this part of Tochigi, the average temperature has dropped to just below 12°C. So, I guess, hundreds of years ago, the temperature must have been warmer, for these trees to have grown as they did. As these trees demonstrate that climate does change, they have been entered into the Natural Monument register.

For being able to read hints about past climate merely from the existence of these trees, one imagines that scholars must have smiled when they found them.

But you may have noticed I’ve been speaking in the past tense. The Giant Evergreen Oak of Takioka Onsen Shrine was huge; not is huge.

As this tree is located relatively close to the Giant Zelkova of Sakuyama, I headed here next. Arriving in the area, at first I was confused. Surely a tree of this size should be easy to spot. Ah, I thought, it leaned off the side of the hill, that’s a good hint to help me find it!

And then I spotted it.

#52 Giant Evergreen Oak of Takioka Onsen Shrine
The Giant Evergreen Oak of Takioka Onsen Shrine lay broken on the hillside.

I’m not sure when this happened. There was no mention of it on the information board, and I could find no one nearby to ask. It happened sometime since November 2008, as that’s when the pic at the top was taken. At first, I wondered if it had broken during the quake, but I realized that, if it had, it must have been on its last legs anyway, to have broken and to be in the condition its in now.

No, this probably happened a while ago. The fallen bits appear dead, and the smaller branches that ought to be on it seem to be gone.

One hopes that the roots are still strong, and from the ruined trunk, still firmly in the ground, new shoots will bring a rebirth for this great old tree.

I try to show you my Japan. Won’t you show us your Japan?