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 hibakujumoku were affected by the bombing through inquiring with experts and using photographic data. There are currently 160 hibakujumoku of various kinds registered by the city. The trees’ characterics and stories vary, and one can’t understand all of them immediately. However, an arborist 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 tanned, perhaps from so much outdoor work, and was wearing jeans that allowed for plenty of movement. He was 67 at the time but certainly didn’t seem his age. I first asked Horiguchi-san about his work as an arborist.

“The majority of an arborist’s work is checking to make sure the trees are healthy and treating ones that are weak. 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 chooses his words carefully 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. As a fourth-year university student, lost as to what to do in the future, I went to go see Jōmon Sugi on Yakushima, which had been discovered the previous year. 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 seems 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 superiors 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 here. My job was planting trees in the 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 city of Hiroshima 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 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, 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 concentrated solely on planting trees. Old things like hibakujumoku were forgotten and not cared for. But I thought there was something wrong about that, that the trees that survived the atomic bombing are a part of Hiroshima’s history. However, no one would listen if just one gardener said that. In 1991 I heard an arborist organization had been established, and the following year I took their test. I became an arborist because I thought being a qualified tree specialist would help me protect hibakujumoku.”

  On days off from his landscape gardening job or after work, Horiguchi-san makes time to check on and treat 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 returning to good health.’ 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 ask Horiguchi-san how he feels when a tree dies, he thinks for a moment, then answers, “Saen nō.” “Saen” is Hiroshima dialect for “not good at all” or other expressions of regret. When Horiguchi-san faces a tree, is he listening to its voice? I asked him 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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