A good friend, Jon of the “As I See Japan…. from LA” blog, who goes by Tornadoes28 online, has posted some sad and surprising news.
See his blogpost here: Story behind the famous Tsurugaoka Hachiman tree
As I Google it now, I see that he is far from the only one to have posted about it…
A very large and prominent tree, standing just to the left of the main staircase at Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine in Kamakura, Japan, said to be at least 1000 years old, worshiped as kami (a sacred tree, a tree representing the manifestation of a particularly strong concentration of sacred energies), and with particular historical or legendary significance, has fallen in a storm.
My photo of it, taken April 2008, at right.
It’s hard to imagine that such a thing would happen in our lifetimes… a tree which has stood there for 1000 years, to fall right at this moment, and not to hold on another 50 or 100 years. I suppose in the end, one day is just as likely as another. If it had fallen 100 years from now, it’d just be some other guy blogging about how he can’t believe it happened in his lifetime.
In any case, the story goes that this was the tree behind which Minamoto Kugyô hid on that fateful day in 1219, when he leapt out from behind the tree to assassinate Minamoto no Sanetomo, the third shogun of the Kamakura shogunate. Some accounts have him simply stepping or leaping out from beside the stairs, with no mention of the tree, but nevertheless, the legend has come to incorporate the tree. Now, I can imagine you reading this and thinking “big deal. I’ve never heard of Sanetomo or the Kamakura shogunate or any of this.” Yeah, you’re right. Kamakura’s not the most famous of shogunates, Sanetomo’s not the most famous of Kamakura shoguns, and the incident, the assassination itself, is hardly more than a footnote in most accounts of Japanese history. But, within the context of Kamakura history, and the history of the shrine – a most prominent and famous shrine I have visited so many times I’ve lost count – it is a pretty big deal.
So many things happen, so many little things change here and there while we are gone. One day, I look forward to telling my students, and my children, about how I visited Tsurugaoka Hachimangu when the tree was still there. That I attended plays at the Kabuki-za – admittedly not the original one, but the original postwar one, which is being knocked down next month, April 2010.
The official Asahi Shinbun article (in English) will not be there long, as they don’t archive their articles for some reason, but I’ll link to it anyway.
Lonely Planet Travelblogs has some quite good pictures of the tree fallen, before it was taken away.
Farewell, tree. Rest in peace. You shall be missed.