The second installment of my translations from Yūko Ishida’s Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is about the eucalyptus located in the Hiroshima Castle grounds.
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The Winding Eucalyptus
There’s a eucalyptus along the castle’s moat, near the willow. It has grown quite large and has a thick trunk — a splendid tree. With long branches blowing in the wind and supported by a number of posts, it looks as if this eucalyptus is using a cane. Photos after the bombing show the eucalyptus had lost most of its branches and leaves. The trees around it had all died, so this remaining one stood out starkly. Since that time, the eucalyptus has grown large, and its abundant long, thin leaves wave in the wind. I admire this eucalyptus’ resilient vitality.
“Come take a look at this.” Horiguchi-san called me over, and I ducked under the branches and leaves to get close to the tree. Horiguchi-san pulled a leaf closer and showed it to me.
“This kind of eucalyptus has both round leaves and long, thin leaves in just one tree, which in an unusual characteristic. The new leaves are round, and the old ones have a long, thin key shape. It’s rare to see a tree in Japan with different shapes of leaves like this. Eucalyptus are resistant to fire since they come from Australia, where bush-fires are common. Even if the leaves burn up, eucalyptus can quickly put out new buds.”
Horiguchi-san pointed to the thick base of the trunk, where a slightly protruding section looked as if its portion of trunk had been stripped away.
“Very few parts of the trunk visible in photos from the time of the bombing are left. Just this.”
This eucalyptus has met with a harsh fate even after the bombing. In 1971, a huge typhoon bent the trunk 2.5 meters up from the base. It was thought that the tree was finished, but after a short time new shoots emerged from the north side of the trunk. After that, the trunk was bent by a number of other typhoons, but it kept growing new trunks from the shoots until it reached its present size. The bent original trunk most likely became hollow, with only the parts near the outside surface remaining, and with time that part died too and splintered bit by bit, until now only one thin piece is left.
Keiji Nakazawa, author of Barefoot Gen, wrote a manga featuring this eucalyptus. In Under the Eucalyptus Trees, Nakazawa drew the eucalyptus when its bent trunk still remained; looking at the tree now, I could see the change in its appearance.
“Although this eucalyptus has been in critical condition a number of times, it continues to grow with a powerful vitality even now. I was surprised when I noticed that the eucalyptus’ roots were growing so strongly they pushed away the stones of the castle moat. The tree’s branches grow in a winding pattern, and recently an investigation has begun as to whether that’s an effect of radiation.”
Are winding branches really the effect of radiation? What could this tree be telling us? The eucalyptus’ long, hanging foliage swayed slowly, rustling.
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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.