The fourth installment of my translations from Yūko Ishida’s Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is about the ginkgo located in the Anrakuji temple grounds. This is a long excerpt, so please click “continue reading” to read on.
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The Former Chief Priest of Anrakuji: Kōji Toyooka-san’s Story
I wanted to hear more from people with knowledge of the bombing, so one day in June of 2014 I inquired at Anrakuji, which is home to the oldest ginkgo in the city. Anrakuji, situated 2.2 kilometers to the northeast of the hypocenter in the Ushita neighborhood, near where Kanda Bridge spans the Kyōbashi River, is an ancient temple with almost 500 years of history. The large ginkgo next to the temple gate is quite tall and can be spotted even from a distance. With its wide and elegant trunk, this tree is a symbol of Ushita.
The first time I saw the ginkgo’s thick branch passing through the roof of the temple gate, I admiringly exclaimed, “Woah, amazing!” Trees growing in cities have their branches cut if they get in the way of electrical lines or buildings. It’s thought that hurting the trees in order to prioritize people can’t be helped. However, this ginkgo is treated with great care. The carpenter designed a magnificent gate, and the tree is clearly growing unimpeded. The branches, growing long and round, were in full, verdant leaf.
That day, I joined third-year elementary school students from Hiroshima City to hear former Chief Priest Kōji Toyooka-san’s personal story of the bombing.
Toyooka-san, wearing the black robes of a Buddhist priest, met us. His expression and figure seemed kind, giving the impression that he was part of the calm atmosphere of Anrakuji itself.
After waiting a little while, we heard children’s energetic voices coming from the street. The ginkgo was probably also happily welcoming its small, lively guests. About 70 kids entered the main hall, sat politely, and quietly waited for Toyooka-san’s story.
The third installment of my translations from Yūko Ishida’s Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is about the ginkgo located in front of Hōsenbō’s main hall.
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The Scarred Ginkgo: Hibakujumoku Tilt?
We visited a temple called Hōsenbō in Hiroshima’s Teramachi neighborhood that was 1.13 kilometers from the hypocenter. As the name Teramachi (literally “temple town”) would suggest, there are many temples in this area, including one nearby that houses a hibakujumoku crepe-myrtle and Japanese sago palm.
If one stands in front of Hōsenbō, an atomic-bombed ginkgo, thought to be 150 years old, rises tall in front of the temple’s main hall. When viewed as a whole, the building’s shape and the ginkgo give a unique impression. The stairs leading up to the main hall circle the ginkgo in a U.
“This tree has a scar remaining from the atomic bomb. The upper part of the trunk has a fissure on the side facing the blast’s hypocenter. If you look closely, bark on that side of the tree is different from the rest. Other parts are robust and plump, but bark on the side exposed to the blast is more close-textured. Because of that, this tree tilts slightly toward the hypocenter. The trunk is growing straight, so it’s quite easy to see the tilt. Fifty years after the war, when it was decided that the main hall would be rebuilt, those connected with the temple met to discuss what was to be done about the tree, which was so close to the building; they decided on this shape for the stairs.”
“You advised them during that process?”
“Yes. The roots used to be surrounded by plates of iron grating, but that might have damaged the roots and trunk as the tree got bigger, so I’ve been removing them. If possible, the fallen leaves shouldn’t be thrown out; they should be allowed to accumulate around the tree and turn into fertilizer. When the stairs were built, holes were put in the wall surrounding the tree to allow wind to pass through and improve ventilation.
“People who walk near here probably notice the building’s shape and can see that the tree is being treated with great care. They may ask the temple, ‘Why is that?’ Then the people here will be able to tell them, ‘This ginkgo endured the atomic bomb and survived.’ That’s why I’m glad the tree remains here in this shape. I think this tree, in silence, evokes various things.”
When I too asked if I could talk with the people of the temple, Shōko Togashi, wife of the chief priest, kindly agreed to speak with me.
“I’m told the ginkgo is my dad’s birth tree. My dad was born in Meiji 13 (1910), and it seems the ginkgo was planted in front of the main hall right around that time. In the summer of 1945, even the gardener had gone off to be a soldier, and there was no one to prune the tree; the branches grew as much as they could, and the leaves flourished. When the atomic bomb was dropped, this tree protected the main hall from the heat of the explosion, so the building wasn’t burnt as severely as one would expect. The tree had plenty of leaves, and ginkgo hold lots of moisture too. Although the hall wasn’t burnt, it still collapsed from the blast. My father’s younger brother was crushed by the main hall and died, and so did a cousin who was in the kitchen at the time. Around a month after that, my grandfather and aunt also died from the a-bomb sickness.”
Togashi-san spoke as she showed me photos of her family members who had died.
“After the war, the temple grounds became considerably smaller than before due to town planning efforts to widen the roads. When it was decided to rebuild the main hall, the plan was to cut down the ginkgo to make room for the building. We spoke many times with the congregation about what to do with this tree. Some of them said, ‘We often played by this tree in our childhood,’ or, ‘When people around me died of the atomic bomb sickness, and I also wondered whether I would survive, I saw this tree putting out shoots and thought I could somehow go on living.’ My father also said he wouldn’t want to cut down the tree, no matter what; he had lost his family and the temple’s the main hall, and only this tree remained. Therefore, everyone gave their approval for the current design of the main hall.
“Although I don’t have any personal experience of the bombing, I speak to the children who come here for peace education about how this tree is treasured by the people who know of it.”
At Hōsenbō, the people affected by a single tree gathered many times, shared their feelings about it, and were able to devise a plan for how to let the tree live. Not only was the tree able to be left alive, but I think the conversations surrounding the tree are wonderful as well. If the people of the area share the desire to take care of the tree, it will be able to live a long life in this neighborhood and be respected as a living thing.
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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.
Links to previous Hibakujumoku Translation posts:
On November 4, Tokyo University of Agriculture Professor Yoichi Kunii, Kuniko Watanabe, and myself traversed the streets, gardens, hills, shrines, and temples of Hiroshima to gather data on hibakujumoku (atomic-bombed trees).
Professor Kunii plans to use his findings to visually represent the trees using 3D computer modeling. His models, in connection with University of Tsukuba Professor Masakazu Suzuki’s articles on hibakujumoku, will allow readers and students to quickly visualize Professor Suzuki’s findings. Creating 3D models of the hibakujumoku that still stand in their original location can clearly show the direction the tree is leaning, the direction of its branches and roots, and any other characteristics that may be a result of exposure to the atomic bomb. Professor Kunii hopes also to bring his students to collect data on the trees. Not only will it be a great learning opportunity for his students, but locals (for example, children at Myojyo-in Nursery, in whose schoolyard stand two hibakujumoku) will learn about the trees through interacting with the researchers.
Click “Continue reading” below for photos and introductions to the hibakujumoku we visited.
Outreach Ecology Works With Green Legacy Hiroshima In Photodocumentary Of A-bomb Witness Trees Of Hiroshima
In August of this year a team of photographers from OutreachEcology.com visited Hiroshima and worked with Green Legacy Hiroshima to produce a “spherical photodcumentary” of the a-bomb survivor trees that continue to flourish in the city.
The aim of the project was to photograph some of the A-bomb survivor trees using Google Photo Sphere on an Android smartphone to create a 360 panoramic record of fifteen of the trees in their current locations. The resulting photo is in two dimensions, but can be “warped” by a computer and transformed into a sphere to provide the panoramic effect.
The team were also keen to stress that the photos should be made available as a resource for projects relating to the a-bomb survivor trees as witnesses of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. One suggestion was that they could be used as part of a “then and now” project that places photos from the immediate post-war period alongside photographs of the same location taken today, such as the panoramic photo-sphere photos.
With that in mind, we have made available the full report as a downloadable PDF file in the Resources page of this blog. The PDF file includes a download link to the complete archive of a-bomb-survivor tree photospheres and a link to the Google streetview archive of the trees as well as many other resource links of use to reasearchers.
Click Here to go to the Resources page.
At the 76th UNITAR Hiroshima Public Session held in collaboration with ANT-Hiroshima on 23rd October 2013, it was revealed that most of the trees which survived the atomic bombing of 6th August 1945 lean towards the hypocenter.
The discovery was made by Masakazu Suzuki, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Tsukuba, Nagisa Owaki, a student at the University of Tsukuba’s Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, and Chikara Horiguchi, a tree surgeon who lives in Hiroshima.
The researchers believe that the trees lean towards the hypocenter because the cells on the side of the trunk facing the hypocenter were damaged by the heat and radiation of the bomb, causing that side grow more slowly than the other.
Fifty-six of a total of about 170 survivor trees with single trunks up to two kilometers from the hypocenter were selected for the study. Of these 56 trees, twenty-seven were excluded from the study as they had either been relocated or the trunk had been too severely burned. Of the remaining twenty-nine trees, twenty-three leaned to some degree towards the hypocenter.
The findings were covered in a report by Sakiko Masuda, Staff Writer of the Chugoku Shinbun.