Views Japan’s Ancient Giants of the Forest
Venerable Blossoms: The Yoshitaka Sakura in Chiba

Takahashi Hiroshi [Profile]

[2017.03.29]

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.

Variety: Yamazakura (Cerasus jamasakura)
Location: Yoshitaka 930, Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, 270-1603
Trunk circumference: 6.85 m; height: 10.6 m; age: over 300 years
Inzai municipal natural monument
Size ★★★★
Vigor ★★★★★
Shape ★★★★
Crown spread ★★★★★
Grandeur ★★★

Leading the list of Japan’s biggest cherry trees is the edohigan variety, a hardy, long-living breed that is famed for blossoming around the vernal equinox. True aficionados of ancient sakura, though, will certainly rank the Yoshitaka cherry—a specimen of the yamazakura, or mountain cherry, variety—among the aged kings of spring.

This relatively young tree, at around 300 years of age, is located in the Hokusō area in northwestern Chiba Prefecture. It can be expected to flower for centuries more to come, as the upper age limit for yamazakura is around 1,000 years.

The yamazakura are notoriously difficult to predict, although they often blooming close to a week later than the more common somei-yoshino variety. The leaves and blossoms of mountain cherries appear nearly at the same time, whereas with many other breeds, flowers precede foliage. This means that they appear in their full pink glory for just a handful of days before foliage appears. This brevity has earned the plants the moniker of “miracle” cherries, for it can be rare to see them in peak bloom. For this reason it is not unusual during hanami season to see hordes of photographers making daily trips to check the progress of the flowers.

The Yoshitaka sakura sits alone in a field with robust, broad-reaching limbs extending from multiple trunk sections, forming a nearly perfect half-sphere crown. When the tree is in bloom, it presents the image of a flower-laden hillock. The plant’s isolation likely contributed to its rounded shape by enabling it to stretch sunward in all directions, unimpeded by competitors. When in bloom, the tree’s curved pink form combines with its abundance of richly colored blossoms to create a distinct and deeply beautiful scene vividly different from somei-yoshino.

The Yoshitaka sakura is stunning from any viewpoint, a condition that is enhanced by the surrounding field of vibrant yellow canola flowers. The surrounding environment of the tree is carefully tended, and visitors can enjoy hanami while strolling along an earthen path that circles the plant. While a newcomer where ancient cherries are concerned, the yamazakura of Yoshitaka will be certain to please blossom fans for generations to come.

(Originally published in Japanese on March 21, 2017. Photo and text by Takahashi Hiroshi.)

  • [2017.03.29]

Photographer of old-growth trees. Born in Yamagata Prefecture and grew up in Hokkaidō. Began photographing ancient trees in 1988 and has shot over 3,300 to date. His works include Kamisama no ki ni ai ni iku (Meetings with Trees of the Gods), Nihon no kyoju (Japan’s Giant Trees), and Sennen no inochi: Kyoju, kyoboku o meguru (A Thousand Years of Life: A Pilgrimage to Ancient Trees). Works as a guide at the Okutamamachi Forest Center, manages the Ministry of the Environment’s database on old-growth trees, and heads an association of large-tree lovers in Tokyo.

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  • Spring Immemorial: Ancient Trees in a New Season of GreenAs 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.
  • Venerable Blossoms: Daigozakura in OkayamaThe 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.
  • Venerable Blossoms: Miharu Takizakura in FukushimaIn 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.
  • Venerable Blossoms: Three of Japan’s Most Revered “Sakura”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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