2024/07/24 00:50

The riches of nature right in the heart of Tokyo

Meiji Jingu
The riches of nature right in the heart of Tokyo

photography by Tadayuki Naito / text by Kyoko Tsukada

An 80-year-old artificial woodland looks reminiscent of an ancient forest, but it was created by people with a vision for the future 100 years from now. The people of Japan have planted trees in this way since the Jomon period (10,000-300 BC).

Pass under the torii gate and you are surrounded by a world of tranquility. The deep, lush forest of Meiji Jingu makes you forget that you are in the midst of a megalopolis. The dense, broad-leafed evergreen forest, which many believe to be one of the few natural forests remaining in Tokyo, is actually man-made woodland created by 110,000 volunteers who planted more than 100,000 donated trees in 1920.

Meiji Shrine
The dense green of the forest surrounding Meiji Jingu makes it an oasis against a backdrop of skyscrapers. The gravel-strewn entrance path symbolizes purification and the evergreen trees towering above it seem to cover the sky, creating a feeling of purity and serenity.

Records from the early 20th century show that the site planned for construction of the shrine was mostly barren fields. It is clear that the Harajuku Station area, where Meiji Jingu now stands, was nearly treeless 80 years ago.


It was designed by outstanding scholars such as Dr. Seiroku Honda, the father of afforestation in Japan. He and others had a 100- to 200-year vision that the forest would pass to future generations.

The woodland must regenerate itself without human intervention. It was created as the first "eternal forest" in Japan, based on the most advanced practices of afforestation that Honda learned while studying in Germany.

In spite of the common belief at the time that a shrine forest should consist of trees such as cedar and cypress, Honda chose broad-leafed evergreens like shii (chinquapin), kashi (evergreen oak) and kusu (camphor) for the primary trees. The ultimate ideal of forest creation is natural regeneration using the conditions inherent in Tokyo. During the 80-some years since the launch of the original plan, the forest has grown more rapidly than Honda expected and has already begun to attain the appearance of a natural forest. It has been steadily growing into a state of perfection.

The shrine staff says in unison, "Rather than meddling with the forest, all we do is keep watch over the trees as they grow naturally on their own."

That the forest, left to natural regeneration, has grown to this scale in just 80 years clearly shows that Japan is blessed with a rich natural environment and mild climate. However, it is certain that the biggest reason why this forest has remained and flourished is that the area is protected by the revered shrine, with every one of its trees considered sacred and venerable.

Seiroku Honda Seiroku Honda, who studied in Germany, planned the Meiji Jingu forest using the most advanced forestry practices of his time. He designed his planting scheme based on a philosophy of "renewal of nature," and he installed trees according to a very detailed prognosis of forest development, beginning with a primary forest made up largely of conifers, through a fourth-stage forest 200 years out consisting mostly of broad-leafed evergreens.

(quoted from the website http://int.kateigaho.com/spr05/forests-meiji.html)