While the cherry blossoms will soon grace Japan, it’s intriguing to unveil five special cherry trees classified as great cherry trees in Japan, known as Nihon Godai Zakura. Designated as national treasures by the government in 1922, these magnificent trees hold not just age-old branches but also stories deeply rooted in Japanese history and culture.
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Yamataka Jindai Zakura (山高神代桜), Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture
Measuring about 10.3 meters in height, with a trunk width of 11.8 meters, and boasting an estimated age between 1,800 and 2,000 years, this magnificent specimen holds the distinction of being among the oldest large trees in Japan. Notably, it was accorded the prestigious title of the nation’s first Natural Monument. In contrast, the enveloping temple, providing a sanctuary to this ancient marvel, dates back approximately 650 years. The Yamataka Jindai Zakura is classified as an Edo higan zakura, representing one of the oldest breeds of wild cherry trees in Japan.
The history of the Yamataka Jindai Zakura intertwines with various historical figures. According to lore, the valiant warrior prince Yamato Takeru, a revered figure in Japanese folklore, is credited with planting the tree. Additionally, in the 1200s, the esteemed priest Nichiren, founder of the Nichiren school of Buddhism, reportedly encountered the tree in a state of decline and fervently prayed for its revival.
In the contemporary era, this revered tree has become an emblem of longevity. Seedlings derived from it have been transplanted to diverse locations in Japan and globally, including the sacred grounds of Vatican City. Notably, its seeds embarked on a celestial journey into outer space. Upon their return to Earth, these seeds were utilized to cultivate a new tree in proximity to the Yamataka Jindai Zakura. Following the calamitous Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, seeds from the resulting “Uchu Zakura” (Space Cherry Blossom) tree were strategically planted along the tsunami’s reach, symbolizing resilience and regeneration.
Miharu Takizakura (三春滝桜), Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture
The Miharu Takizakura stands acclaimed as Japan’s most enchanting cherry tree, captivating observers with its awe-inspiring beauty. Nestled in the heart of Miharu, a town in central Fukushima, the name “Takizakura” translates to “waterfall cherry tree” in Japanese. This nomenclature proves fitting as the majestic tree, standing at 12 meters in height, boasts wide, drooping branches that stretch over 20 meters from east to west and 18 meters from north to south, creating a breathtaking resemblance to a cascading waterfall. With an estimated age surpassing a millennium, the tree’s trunk measures an impressive 9.5 meters in girth.
Annually, around mid-April, the Miharu Takizakura enters the pinnacle of its flowering season, drawing hundreds of thousands of admirers who journey to witness the spectacle of its cherry blossoms. Despite the substantial influx of visitors, meticulous crowd management ensures a smooth and delightful experience as enthusiasts navigate around the tree.
Ishitokaba Zakura (石戸蒲ザクラ), Kitamoto, Saitama Prefecture
Situated on the premises of Tokoji Temple, the Ishidokaba zakura tree stands as a cherished arboreal wonder with a history spanning approximately 800 years. Cherry blossoms have held significant esteem since the Edo period, and writings from that era provide diverse accounts of their significance. Notably, Takizawa Bakin’s “Gendo Hougen” delves into the history and dimensions of Kabazakura, as recounted by a local elder. Accompanying this historical narrative is a captivating illustration of Kabazakura, capturing its erstwhile grandeur.
The moniker Kabazakura derives from Minamoto no Noriyori. Noriyori, the elder sibling of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura shogunate, achieved notable success alongside his younger brother Yoshitsune in the pursuit of the Heike clan. However, Yoritomo’s unfounded suspicions led to Noriyori’s exile to Shuzenji Temple in Izu, where he is believed to have met his demise. Legend has it that Noriyori, evading his pursuers, reached Tokoji Temple and planted his cane in the ground, miraculously giving rise to the Kamazakura. Botanically classified as an independent Japanese species named “Kabazakura”, it is recognized as a natural hybrid of the wild varieties Edohiganzakura and Yamazakura. Notably, the Kabazakura at Tokoji Temple is the sole naturally occurring specimen, adding to its rarity. The optimal time to marvel at the Kabazakura’s beauty typically falls around April 10th when its petite, white blossoms adorn the landscape.
Usuzumi Zakura (淡墨桜), Motosu, Gifu Prefecture
Nestled in the scenic mountains of Gifu Prefecture, Usuzumi Zakura graces the picturesque Neodani Valley in Neo Village, Motosu, approximately 30 kilometers from Gifu City. This venerable tree boasts an impressive age, surpassing 1,500 years, with the historical lore that it was personally planted by Emperor Keitai, the 26th emperor of Japan, during the 6th century.
The name Usuzumi Zakura translates to “pale grey cherry blossom”, a fitting description for the tree’s blossoms, which exhibit a very light grey hue just before gracefully descending. In Japanese, “usu” or “usui” denotes pale or weak, while “sumi” refers to the ink used in calligraphy. Notably, this unique cherry tree undergoes three distinct phases in its bloom cycle. It begins with pale pink flowers, transitions to pure white in full bloom, and culminates in a delicate pale grey before gracefully descending to the ground.
Fondly referred to as the “Grand Old Lady”, Usuzumi Zakura remarkably retains its vitality despite its age, supported by several wooden poles. As you encounter this majestic tree, its special aura will captivate you, a poignant reminder of the ever-changing world.
Kariyado no Gebazakura (狩宿の下馬桜), Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture
This magnificient cherry tree holds historical significance, as it is believed that Minamoto no Yoritomo made a stop at this location in 1193 during his hunting expedition on Mt. Fuji. Alternatively known as “Komadome-no-zakura”, this ancient tree earned its name from the legend that horses were once tethered to its branches. With an age exceeding 800 years, this venerable cherry tree graces the surroundings with its blossoms in mid-April.
Notably, the panoramic view of Mt. Fuji visible from this cherry tree has been included in the prestigious list of “100 Sceneries with Mt. Fuji” released by the Ministry of the Environment.
Unfortunately, the tree has experienced a decline in vigor due to the impact of frequent typhoons, signaling a period of weakening. Despite these challenges, the tree stands as a testament to the enduring connection between nature and historical legacy.