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Hibakujumoku Translation: “The Tree Doctor of Hiroshima”

「広島の木」 cover

Front cover of Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees

In my search for information on hibakujumoku, I cracked open Yūko Ishida’s book Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees (広島の木に会いにいく) and was immediately engrossed. I want to share the book’s stories, both of trees and of people, through a series of translated excerpts on this blog. There are more installments to come!

Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is published by Kaisei-sha (偕成社). Excerpts are posted with the permission of the author. Translations are my own, as an individual.

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The Tree Doctor of Hiroshima

The first person I talked to when I began collecting information on hibakujumoku was Arborist Chikara Horiguchi. Hiroshima City certifies that the hibakujumoku bear wounds from the bombing through inquiring with experts and using photographic data. There are currently 161 hibakujumoku of various kinds registered by the city. The trees’ characterics and stories vary, and one can’t understand all of them immediately. However, a tree doctor who has spent many years caring for these trees probably knows a great deal.

Horiguchi-san gives the impression of a quiet, gentle person. When I first met him, he was sunburned, perhaps from so much outdoor work, and wearing jeans that allowed for plenty of movement. I heard he was 67 at the time, but he certainly didn’t seem his age. I first asked Horiguchi-san about his work as a arborist.

“The majority of a tree doctor’s work is checking to make sure the trees are healthy and treating weak trees. Trees are living things, like humans and animals — they can get hurt and sick. They have a time when they sprout from their seed and steadily grow, but as they get older they also become weaker.”

Horiguchi-san is the type to make sure to use polite language when he speaks. My interest in him grew, and I asked why he set his sights on this line of work.

Jōmon Sugi

Jōmon Sugi

“I was born in 1945 and grew up in Miyazaki Prefecture. When I was a fourth-year university student, lost as to what to do in the future, I went to go see the “Jōmon Sugi” on Yakushima, which had been discovered the previous year. The Jōmon Sugi is said to be 2,000 years old, the oldest tree in Japan. It’s covered in moss, the upper part of the tree has other trees growing from it, and many creatures live in symbiosis there. There’s so much life in this Japanese cedar that one tree feels like a whole forest. I was deeply moved when I saw it. I decided I liked trees and would find work related to them.

“When I graduated from university and found work as a gardener in Fukuoka, at first my seniors laughed because I didn’t know anything about trees; I was embarrassed. I used my first pay to buy an illustrated reference book on trees and shrubs, and I studied like mad. The following year, I joined a landscape gardening company in Hiroshima thanks to a connection there. My job was planting trees in Hiroshima City every day. At the time I thought I wanted to work in a traditional Japanese garden, and so I told the company director, ‘This is different from the work I had in mind.’ The director replied, ‘Planting trees in Hiroshima is part of the peace industry.’ Until that moment I hadn’t been aware of the connection between ‘peace’ and ‘trees.’ From then on, planting trees in Hiroshima City became incredibly important to me, and I gave my work my all.”

“Peace industry” could perhaps also be said as “working for peace.” Thanks to the efforts of Horiguchi-san and others like him, the verdant Hiroshima we all know exists today.

“About three years after that, I was helping a man named Tadahiko Yamano, who came from Osaka to treat trees. He said to me, ‘You seem to have a lot of love for trees, so how would you feel about looking after Hiroshima’s trees that survived the atomic bombing?’ That’s how I came to be involved with the hibakujumoku. Yamano-san taught me to ‘listen to the trees’ voices.’ At the time I wondered why he said that to me, since trees can’t speak. However, from then on ‘listening to the trees’ voices’ has become a theme in my work.

Horiguchi-san

Horiguchi-san, giving a presentation on hibakujumoku

“Many new roads and buildings were constructed in the period of economic growth after the war. People only focused on new things, and efforts were solely concentrated on planting trees. Old things like the hibakujumoku were forgotten and not cared for. But I thought there was something wrong about that, that the a-bombed trees are a part of Hiroshima’s history. However, if just one gardener says that, the world won’t lend its ear. In 1991 I knew an arborist organization had been created, and the following year I took their test. I became an arborist because I thought being a qualified tree specialist would help me protect the hibakujumoku.”

On days off from his landscape gardening job or after work, Horiguchi-san makes time to check up on and treat the hibakujumoku. In the 30 years since he began working with these trees, Horiguchi-san has watched over the hibakujumoku as some regained their health, while others withered.  

“I’m glad when a tree recovers; I think, ‘Thank you for becoming healthy.’ But when things go badly, I often wonder what happened: Did I do something wrong, or did the tree just lose its vitality?”

When I question Horiguchi-san about how he feels when a tree dies, he thinks for a moment, then replies, “Saen nō.” “Saen” is Hiroshima dialect for “no good” or other expressions of regret. When Horiguchi-san faces a tree, is he listening to its voice? I asked Horiguchi-san once again for more details about his work.

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「広島の樹木医さん」, 石田優子の『広島の木に会いにいく』、 31-37ページ

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