Japan’s Ancient Giants of the Forest

Japan’s woodlands account for 70% of the nation’s land area and boast a rich diversity of trees that have grown over the centuries to awe-inspiring height and girth. In this series we visit several of the Japan’s most famous “kyoju”—the ancient giants of the forest.

Autumn Crown of Gold: Three Ancient Japanese Ginkgo TreesTakahashi Hiroshi

Ichō (ginkgo) provide spectacular late autumn leaf viewing, putting on vivid displays of golden foliage. Japanese have long valued this unique, hardy species of tree, and impressive old-growth specimens are found across the country in such settings as Shintō shrines, public parks, and along roadways. Below we visit three ancient specimens decked out in their seasonal yellow splendor.
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Ancient Colors: Three Old-Growth Trees in AutumnTakahashi Hiroshi

In autumn, Japan’s wooded areas delight the eyes with a vibrant display of seasonal colors. Old-growth giants, known as kyoju, also join the spectacle and frequently steal the show, brightening shrines, public parks, and roadways with their stunning foliage.
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Wind and Rain: Three Ancient Trees in Typhoon SeasonTakahashi Hiroshi

Autumn brings stunning shades of foliage. But it is also the bearer of typhoons, those age-old and ruthless scourges of the forest. Ancient trees in regions where storms frequently pass have over the centuries girded themselves against the tempests by sending their roots out broad and deep and strengthening their limbs against the wind and rain. In our ongoing series on old-growth trees, we visit three venerable specimens that have been shaped by typhoons.
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Islands Apart: Three Ancient Woodland “Castaways”Takahashi Hiroshi

Japan’s far-flung islands are home to an impressive number of kyoju, or old-growth trees. Like the famed Jōmon Sugi on Yakushima, these sentinels of the forest have flourished in the warm climate and fresh ocean air, spreading root and limb over centuries to become burly giants. Below we visit three of these ancient titans.
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Deepening Summer: Ancient Trees in the Season of HeatTakahashi Hiroshi

As the summer sun beats down, the broad crowns of Japan’s old-growth trees cast long, cooling shadows across the forest floor. The shade of kyoju offer a welcome respite from the season’s heat, soothing the body and spirit. Below we visit three woodland titans during the peak of summertime.
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Early Summer Dew: Three Ancient Trees in the Season of RainTakahashi Hiroshi

In our ongoing series on Japanese old-growth trees, naturalist Takahashi Hiroshi visits three kyoju at the height of the rainy season. Tsuyu is an important time for these ancient plants, bringing respite after spring’s exacting renewal and nurturing rainfall ahead of the heat of summer.
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Spring Immemorial: Ancient Trees in a New Season of GreenTakahashi Hiroshi

As the pale pink hues of cherry blossom season pass, spring deepens as wooded areas come alive with newly sprouted foliage. In a timeless ritual, ancient kyoju—Japan’s venerable old-growth trees—return to life, adorning their aged limbs in youthful coats of leaves. Standing beneath these giants, one is filled with eagerness for the coming days and months.
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Venerable Blossoms: Daigozakura in OkayamaTakahashi Hiroshi

The Daigozakura stands sentry atop a hill in northwestern Okayama Prefecture. An edohigan tree, the strain famed as the largest of all the sakura, this specimen is revered by local residents, who maintain its hill in a state of natural splendor to showcase the giant as it deserves.
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Venerable Blossoms: The Yoshitaka Sakura in ChibaTakahashi Hiroshi

Standing alone in a field in northern Chiba Prefecture, this magnificent yamazakura (mountain cherry) tempts photographers and flower-viewers, who try each year to pinpoint when its difficult-to-predict blossoms will cover its dome-shaped crown.
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Venerable Blossoms: Miharu Takizakura in FukushimaTakahashi Hiroshi

In the central Fukushima town of Miharu stands the 1,000-year-old Takizakura, or “waterfall cherry,” whose drooping branches seem to send rivers of pink blossoms flowing toward the ground each spring. The largest shidarezakura (weeping cherry) in the country is considered one of the “three great cherry trees” of Japan.
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Venerable Blossoms: Three of Japan’s Most Revered “Sakura”Takahashi Hiroshi

Roughly 80% of cherry trees in Japan are somei-yoshino, a relatively recent breed. There are numerous, much older sakura, though, that over centuries have grown into giants renowned for their spectacular displays of blossoms. These venerable plants are truly awe-inspiring when in full bloom.
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