Name: The Giant Camphor of Kawago (川古のクス)
Type: Camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora)
Trunk Circumference: 21m
Age: 3000 years
Location: 佐賀県武雄市若木町川古 (33° 15′ 07″N 129° 59′ 35″E)
Date of Visit: 2013-03-25
This giant camphor tree stands on the grounds of Hinoko Shrine (日子神社). However, these days the grounds around the tree are more commonly known as Kawago Giant Camphor Park, and is maintained by the town. It’s difficult to feel that this is a shrine. In fact, the actual Hinoko Shrine? I didn’t see it at all when I was there.
The trunk circumference is 21m. In a Heisei 1 (平成元年, 1989 CE) survey of giant trees by the Ministry of the Environment, the root circumference was found to be 35m, and even 2m above the root/trunk boundary, the trunk was still a hefty 12.5m in circumference. At 4m above the root/trunk boundary, it’s still 11.4m around. Because of the very gradual taper of the trunk, anyone coming face to bark with this tree will undoubtedly be left with an impression of great bulk.
On the south side of the trunk there is a great hollow, which is now filled in with whatever synthetic compound tree surgeons use for such purposes, with a tiny space for a wee shrine. Formerly, where is now a filled-in-hollow, there stood a statue of Kannon said to be carved by Gyoki (行基). It wasn’t carved and then placed into a pre-existing hollow, no no. This image of Kannon was carved directly into the in situ heartwood of the tree. (This doesn’t present as large a problem as it seems at first, as the heartwood doesn’t perform life-sustaining functions, merely structural ones).
In the early Meiji period, there was an anti-Buddhist movement in the country (Haibutsu kishaku, 廃仏毀釈, literally “abolish Buddhism and destroy Shakyamuni”), and during this period the statue was beheaded. By Showa 60 (昭和６０年, 1985 CE), the region around the statue had started to rot, including the outer layers, which presented a real danger to the tree. The remains of the statue were removed and the resulting hollow was filled. The statue now resides in a nearby (but apparently well-hidden, as I didn’t find it) Kannon-do.
Even without the statue though, a magnificent tree such as this is naturally going to inspire feelings of devotion and spirituality.
In the Record of Hizen Province (肥前国風土記), it is said that Yamato Takeru (日本武尊, who also made an appearance in the history of the Ancient Sakura of Yamataka) observed that camphor trees flourished and were of particularly good quality in this region, and so he called the place Saka no Kuni (栄国); it is said that this is the origin of the present day name of Saga (佐賀).
Though this tree would have been 1000 years old when Yamato Takeru was here, and perhaps it’s all just a legend anyway, it’s nice to think that maybe it was this tree that led Yamato Takeru to make his observation.