Name: The Giant Ginkgo of Jouzou Temple (浄蔵寺の大イチョウ) Type: Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba) Height: 28m Trunk Circumference: 11m Age: >300 years Location: 群馬県太田市堀口町 (36° 15′ 11″N 139° 19′ 40″E) Date of Visit: 2013-03-23
Jouzou Temple is a Shingon Buddhist temple established in the Kamakura period. It’s southeast of the main town of Oshima (now a part of Ota City).
Nowadays, the Tone River (利根川) flows about 1.5km south of here, but it used to flow to the west of here. The present day Haya River is a trace of that former route.
According to temple lore, in Genkou 3 (元弘３年, 1333 CE) (Shokei 2, 正慶2年, if you prefer Northern Court era names, but then you’d be wrong because the Northern Court did not possess the regalia BUT I AM RAMBLING), Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞), on his way to attack Kamakura, before crossing the Tone River, he and his troops stopped at this temple to rest and to pray for victory.
At that time, this tree wasn’t yet here, I don’t think. Nevertheless, it does command a view of the old road.
Its trunk has suffered some lightning damage, apparently. Despite that, the tree appears to be in great health with all the tiny twigs everywhere. By the way, this is a male tree, so it doesn’t fruit.
Number: 66 Name: The Giant Nutmeg-yew of Kakujouin (覚成院のカヤ) Type: Nutmeg-yew (Torreya nucifera) Height: 17m Trunk Circumference: 6.2m Age: 500 years Location: 栃木県芳賀郡茂木町茂木 (36° 31′ 38″N 140° 11′ 02″E) Date of Visit: 2012-8-2
If you were to walk 500m southeast from Mooka Railway‘s Motegi Station, at the base of a mountain you would find Kakujouin. The temple was allegedly founded by Kakuban (覚鑁) on a spot traditionally used to pray for rain.
The nutmeg-yew stands on a flat area along with the temple’s main hall and other buildings (including the home of the priest and his horrible little dog that barked at me the entire time I was there, nonstop). There’s no fence around this tree, but there is a broad shrubbery circle that, I imagine, is suggestive of the temple’s desire that one not approach the tree too closely.
According to the information board, this was two trees planted closely together and as they grew larger, they became joined at the base, and to look at them, it’s very plausible. Both of the trees are female, and thus it’s probable that the ground is littered in berries every year.
Number: 69 Name: The Giant Zelkova of Anraku Temple (安楽寺のケヤキ) Type: Zelkowa serrata Height: 17m 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 :/