From the red pine in a kabuki play to tulip trees where children play
Section 2 is a 10-kilometer route from Hiroo to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The first symbolic tree that we visit is the 300-year-old Japanese red pine at the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center. Originally planted in the private mansion of the Hotta clan, of the Sakura Domain (Chiba), it has been popular since the Edo period (1603–1868) for its association with Sakura Sogo (born Kiuchi Sogoro), the main character of Higashiyama Sakura Zoshi, a kabuki play based on the true story of a peasant uprising. The pine is artistically bonsai-esque in form and tremendously handsome.
We take the path along the shrine at Kokugakuin University toward one of Tokyo’s rare shrines of wooden construction, Shibuya Hikawa Shrine. With its mass of fine plane trees and zelkovas, it’s easy to see why the site as a whole is protected as a conservation forest. “Large trees and old trees are preserved only in temples and shrines,” points out Mori. Street trees live a riskier life as it is up to individual localities to preserve them or not. We pass through Shibuya and make our way to Meiji Jingu. On the lawn by the west gate of Yoyogi Park, we stop by the Japanese honey locust. Having received resuscitation for 10 years or so, it recovered from the brink of death to its present condition. The many saplings growing inside the hollow trunk are quite moving.
The highlight of Section 2 is Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The site was the private mansion of the Naito clan, of the Takato Domain (Nagano). It was completed as an imperial garden in 1906, and opened to the public as a national garden after World War II. Situated in the heart of Tokyo amid the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, the garden is home to 140 endangered species published on the environment ministry’s red list.
Our goal here is the majestic three tulip trees estimated to be 120 years old and standing 35 meters tall. A group of grade-school children are running around in the shade created by the enormous branches. They must have been drawn to the aura of stability emanating from the trees. Before we know it, the tulip trees are enveloped in the soft pink of the sky—it’s magic hour. Ikeuchi and Mori watch through the branches as the sun sets beyond the large trees.
• Japanese Red Cross Medical Center
• Shibuya Hikawa Shrine
• Konno Hachimangu Shrine
• Yoyogi Park
• Meiji Jingu
• Togo Jinja Shrine
• Hatonomori Hachiman Shrine
• Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden