Yamataka Jindai Zakura

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This magnificent cherry blossom tree at Jissoji Temple in the highlands of Yamanashi’s Hokuto region is one of the “Three Great Sakura Trees” of Japan. About 10.3 meters tall, 11.8 meters wide at the trunk, and estimated to be between 1,800 and 2,000 years old, the tree is thought to be one of the oldest large trees in Japan and was designated the country’s first-ever Natural Monument. In contrast, the temple that surrounds the tree is thought to be roughly 650 years old. The Yamataka Jindai Zakura is an Edo higan zakura, one of the oldest breeds of wild cherry tree in Japan.

The Yamataka Jindai Zakura’s long history connects it to several historical figures. According to legend, the tree was planted by the warrior prince Yamato Takeru, one of Japan’s most popular folk heroes. It is also said that in the 1200s, the priest Nichiren, founder of the Nichiren school of Buddhism, found the tree dying and prayed for its survival.

Today, the tree is considered a symbol of long life and seedlings grown from it have been planted elsewhere in Japan and around the world, including Vatican City. Its seeds were even sent into outer space. After they returned to Earth, the seeds were used to plant a new tree near the Yamataka Jindai Zakura. After the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, seeds from this Uchu Zakura (Space Cherry Blossom) tree were planted along the line reached by the tsunami water as a symbol of regrowth.

A favorite subject of painters and photographers, the Yamataka Jindai Zakura blooms in early April. Its branches frame the mountain range in the distance, with a clear view of Mount Kaikomagatake. Around the same time, 30 Somei-Yoshino cherry trees and 80,000 trumpet daffodils also bloom, making a beautiful contrast between the yellow below and the pink above.

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