Cryptomeria Road, Nikko, c. 1910.

1910sHistoric DistrictOutside Tokyo
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“As the day wore on in its brightness and glory the pictures became more varied and beautiful. Great snow-slashed mountains looked over the foothills [of Nikko], on whose steep sides the dark blue green of pine and cryptomeria was lighted up by the spring tints of deciduous trees.

“There were groves of cryptomeria on small hills crowned by Shinto shrines, approached by grand flights of stone stairs. The red gold of the harvest fields contrasted with the fresh green and exquisite leafage of the hemp; rose and white azaleas lighted up the copse-woods; and when the broad road passed into the colossal avenue of cryptomeria, which overshadows the way to the sacred shrines of Nikko, and tremulous sunbeams and shadows flecked the grass, I felt that Japan was beautiful, and that the mud flats of Yedo were only an ugly dream!

“… The avenue of the Reiheishi-kaido is a good carriage road with sloping banks eight feet high, covered with grass and ferns. At the top of these are the cryptomeria, then two grassy walks, and between these and the cultivation a screen of saplings and brushwood.

“A great many of the trees become two at four feet from the ground. Many of the stems are twenty-seven feet in girth ; they do not diminish or branch till they have reached a height of from 50 to 60 feet, and the appearance of altitude is aided by the longitudinal splitting of the reddish coloured bark into strips about two inches wide. The trees are pyramidal, and at a little distance resemble cedars.

“There is a deep solemnity about this glorious avenue with its broad shade and dancing lights, and the rare glimpses of high mountains. Instinct alone would tell one that it leads to something which must be grand and beautiful like itself.

“They are said to have been planted as an offering to the buried Shoguns by a man who was too poor to place a bronze lantern at their shrines. A grander monument could not have been devised, and they are probably the grandest things of their kind in the world.”

Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, by Isabella L. Bird, 1888

Cryptomeria Road, Nikko, c. 1910.

Cryptomeria Road, Nikko, c. 1910.

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Nikko, Japan c. 1910

From the wiki: “Cryptomeria are a very large evergreen tree, reaching up to 230 ft. (70 m) tall and 13 ft. (4 m) trunk diameter, with red-brown bark which peels in vertical strips. It is superficially similar to the related Giant Sequoia.

Cryptomeria (literally ‘hidden parts’) is often called Japanese cedar in English, though the tree is not related to the true cedars. It includes only one species, Cryptomeria japonica amd is endemic to Japan, where it is known as Sugi and is the national tree of Japan, commonly planted around temples and shrines, with many hugely impressive trees planted centuries ago.

“There is a recorded instance of a daimyō [provincial lord] who was too poor to donate a stone lantern at the funeral in 1616 of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu at Nikkō Tōshō-gū, but requested instead to be allowed to plant an avenue of Sugi, ‘that future visitors might be protected from the heat of the sun.’ The offer was accepted; the avenue, which still exists, is over 40-miles (65 km) long, and ‘has not its equal in stately grandeur.’

Cryptomeria japonica timber is extremely fragrant, weather and insect resistant, soft, and with a low density. The timber is used for the making of staves, tubs, casks, and for building and furniture. Easy to saw and season, it is favoured for light construction, boxes, veneers and plywood. Wood that has been buried turns dark green and is much valued. Resin from the tree contains cryptopimaric and phenolic acid.”

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