I happened upon a tiny village shrine today. I noticed it because of the giant tree that was located at the center of the site. As I approached the area I slowly took in the size and complexity of the tree. It is enormous, and has so many branches growing from it’s trunk – one in almost every direction. I wish I could have found out how old it is! It has begun to rot away on the inside, but is supported on its outermost branches by posts that have been anchored into the ground (the Japanese are serious about saving their ancient trees).
I am going to halt my description, however, as there are no words that could do this magnificent tree justice.
The shimenawa that is wrapped around the tree clearly marks it as sacred. Most of the trees of Japan have been logged at some point, so to see any ancient tree is almost a guarantee that it is being protected and is believed to be sacred.
There was a small sign near the tree that identified it as Mukunoki (ki in Japanese means “tree”). Its Latin name is Aphananthe aspera. Some information I came across regarding Mukunoki trees:
The Mukunoki tree is in the Elm family. It tends to spread out wide, and the trunks of older trees are usually buttressed at the base. Mukunoki fruits are soft, berrylike, and tart and delicious when ripened into a deep blue-black color. These trees are very common in native woodlands.
I spent plenty of time taking pictures, deciphering signs, and trying to understand the branching pattern of the tree. A few locals gave me quizzical looks when they realized how entranced I was by this fantastic tree. If I spoke more Japanese I might have asked if there is any specific folklore associated with this site. I have something to work towards!
Local blogger Jake Davies has many more intriguing photos and stories of shimenawa – adorned trees: http://ojisanjake.blogspot.com/2010/02/shimenawa-trees.html