Thursday, March 11, 2010

A once in a thousand years weather event

Spotted some sad news in the papers today.

Kamakura has a famous old ginkgo tree in front of the main temple in the middle of town. It is quite a spectacle late in the year when the leaves turn brilliant yellow. It is reputed to date from the era when Kamakura was the capital of Japan, and be the site of a famous murder which wiped out the last heirs of the ruling Minamoto shogun family at the time (the story goes that, following the untimely death of his father and previous shogun Yoriie, Kugyo blamed his uncle Sanetomo for usurping his rightful position, so hid behind the tree and killed Sanetomo when he came to pray one night. Kugyo was caught and killed, leaving no more male heirs.) Actually according to Masuda-san, the tree is not old enough to have been around at this time, but it's a nice story.

Anyway, the tree is no more. On Tuesday night, it was snowing as we walked home through the temple grounds. And at 4:40 am on Wednesday, it was windy....and the tree blew down. Story here. Interesting that the Yomiuri is happy to repeat the myth about the tree's age as if a fact, even though Masuda-san says it has been tested and shown to be false.

Strange really as it did not seem all that windy (neither was the snow heavy), and the tree survived a direct hit from a typhoon a few years ago that even knocked off some of the larger branches and so should perhaps have made it less vulnerable to a gale.

Actually, it occurs to me that the Japanese do a lot of tree transplantation, so I wonder if they will try to save it?


Unknown said...

The source of my information about the age of the tree was a TV program aired in 2005. The summary (in Japanese) is still here . It says that scientific investigation by Kanagawa Prefecture government revealed that the age was 500 years. Curiously, all news web pages yesterday which ever mentioned the age of the tree said that it was "said to be" more than either 800 or 1000 years old. Perhaps the journalists did not ask the regional government about that.

The tree was diagnosed as unrecoverable by an expert (Prof Hamano of Tokyo University of Agriculture), as the local edition of Yomiuri says (in Japanese).

James Annan said...

Ah, that report also refers to the wet ground...but it's hard to imagine this was really a one in ten year event let along one in 500 or 100 years. Better not let on that we were among the last people to see it standing, or we might be suspects.

As for myths, well I suppose the story is sometimes more important than the truth. We have relics such as the Stone of Scone in the UK, and of course the Turin Shroud may be the most famous of all.

jules said...

...possibly in the last hundred people to see it don't you mean? We passed by around 8pm and it didn't fall down 'til 4am...and there were quite a few fresh tracks in the snow - although I suppose all the tracks could be the security guard doing his regular round....?! :o

James Annan said...

Well in Japan 100 people would be positively was a nasty night and we were well after the evening rush, so I doubt there would have been many visitors after us.

Anonymous said...

Hmm - myth as fact in Japan, who would believe it in the land born from the Sun Goddess?