Happy 400th Birthdays Sugi

Four centuries ago exactly, the second Edo Period Shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada, ordered the planting of sugi (Japanese Cedar, Cryptomeria japonica) along both sides of Tokaido to shade travellers as they made their way around the shoreline of Lake Ashinoko towards Hakone Checkpoint. 420 of these magnificant specimens remain, towering straight, fat, and proud into the Hakone sky along Cedar Avenue.

Fuji and Lake Ashinoko from Cedar Avenue
Fuji and Lake Ashinoko from Cedar Avenue

Sugi is integral to Japanese life. 70% of Japan’s land area is forested, an astounding proportion for any country, let alone a smallish, highly industrialised nation with a massive population. Most of these forests are plantations established shortly after World War II. Sugi and Hinoki are the two main species planted, as both have been Japan’s main timber species for centuries.

Ceder Avenue, Hakone
Ceder Avenue, Hakone

Unfortunately these sugi plantations get a lot of bad press, as the copius pollen they produce in spring is the cause of hay-fever grief to many Japanese. Weather forecasts at this time of year also have a “pollen forecast” for the unfortunate sufferers.

But sugi is an incredible tree. The eldest tree on Japan’s mainland is the two millennia Old Camphor at Kinomiya Shrine in Atami. But Japan’s eldest tree is a 2,500 year old sugi on remote Yaku Shima (Yaku Island), south of Kyushu. In this sense sugi is a little reminiscent of redwood (Sequoia). Understandably, the Yaku Shima sugi has a lot of spiritual meaning for Japanese people, and presumably is excused the hay-fever blame.

A walk along Cedar Avenue is included in Hakone Hachiri Tour.


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