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: 48 Name: The Giant Zelkova of Naganuma Hachiman Shrine (長沼八幡宮のけやき) Type: Zelkowa serrata Height: 30m Trunk Circumference: 5.7m Age: >300 years Location: 栃木県真岡市長沼字宮ノ内 (36° 22′ 07″N 139° 55′ 44″E) Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
About 500m east of the Kinu River (鬼怒川), near the New Daidouizumi Bridge, is Naganuma Hachiman Shrine. Here enshrined is Hondawake-no-Mikoto (誉田別命). According to the histories kept in the storehouse at the shrine, in Enryaku 14 (延暦１４年, 795 CE), Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (坂上田村麻呂) stayed here while on his journey back from the campaigns in the north, and built this shrine. Does this sound familiar? It should, because it’s been a recurring theme in the giant trees I’ve visited. “Oh, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro planted this tree”; “Sakanoue no Tamuramaro slept here and then had a shrine built”; “Sakanoue no Tamuramaro is my babydaddy”, etc. Okay maybe not that last one.
Whether the story is true or not, what can be said is that in the Bunmei Era (文明年間, 1469-1487 CE), the Naganuma Clan (長沼民) fell, and the shrine started to slide into ruin. Its revival wasn’t to come about until the Edo Period.
From the temple gate, this tree lies at the far right of the compound. This tree has a really large canopy, and it’s a really pleasing shape. I reckon it’s still growing, too — it seems really strong and healthy. There’s a thin shimenawa on the trunk, so I reckon this is probably the Sacred Tree of the shrine.
Number: 50 Name: The Giant Zelkova of Oki (沖のけやき) Type: Zelkowa serrata Height: 23m Trunk Circumference: 6.7m Age: unknown Location: 栃木県真岡市沖字本田 (36° 23′ 26″N 139° 59′ 14″E) Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
On the left bank of the Gogyou River (五行川), near the boundary of old Shika Village, you’ll find Oooki Shrine. Here, nestled among tightly-clustered homes, is a very large zelkova that is a natural monument of Tochigi.
Until sometime in the Tenshou Era (天正時代, 1573-1592CE), a temple called Fukushuu-ji stood here. When the temple was torn down, this tree was already here, and already extremely large, it is said. For a tree to get large enough to be called a giant, it usually takes at least 200 years, but if this story of Fukushuu-ji is true, then this tree would have to be at least 600 years old.
On the trunk, there are many bumps, probably remnants of old branches. Indeed, in recent years many branches have been cut off. Not because the health of the tree is in question, as it was at the Hackberry of Munakata Shrine, but rather because the plot of land is so narrow, to let the tree grow as it wishes would be troublesome for the neighbours. It’s a little sad, that.