The Naganen No Burazā, an ancient bonsai tree, is growing to epic proportions, leading people to believe it is imbued by the power of a god.
Kyoto, Japan – One of the oldest bonsai trees in Japan, the 900-year old Naganen no Burazā, has seen a sudden surge in attention. Visitors from around the globe have been flocking to the Nejireta Ki temple south of Kyoto in hopes of standing in the shade of the ancient tree.
You read that right: Tourists hope to bask in the shade of a bonsai tree.
Bonsai, a Japanese craft, is the meticulous art of growing and shaping a miniature tree in a vessel known as a “bon”. Normally, bonsai trees are decorative and small enough to be kept indoors. The Naganen no Burazā, however, has proved to be quite the exception. In the past decade, the tree grew from a mere half a meter display piece to a ten meter monster.
Under normal circumstances, a bonsai tree is trimmed at regular intervals and kept in a pot to restrict its growth. This particular beast has defied even the efforts of Master Kunio Kobayashi, a venerable artist who has won the prestigious Prime Minister Award four times. It soon grew too large to be kept at Shunka-en, his nursery.
Despite his best efforts, the tree grew at an unimaginable rate, often as much as an inch a day. Only by constant clipping was Kobayashi able to keep the tree to a manageable size.
“It became an insurmountable task,” he claimed. “Trimming the tree had transformed into a full-time job. I began to neglect my family and the other trees under my care.”
Kobayashi estimates the tree will double its size in the next five years if left unchecked.
Some believe the unnatural growth of the tree has spiritual implications, including the Shinto priests at Nejreta Ki who convinced Kobayashi to allow them to plant the Naganen No Burazā in the temple’s courtyard. Tourists and pilgrims alike have arrived in droves to visit the temple in south-central Japan, calling the giant bonsai the Inochi no Ki, the “Tree of Life.”
While in western Christian mythos, the Tree of Life is the representation of immortality, the everlasting presence of the soul, in Japanese culture it suggests a different kind of presence, the heart of a god. Such trees are normally marked with a special plaited rope called a shimenawa to ward off evil spirits.
“You can just feel the power pulsing in its shadow,” said Anja Naaktgeboren, a Norwegian student who took a leave of absence from her studies at the University of Oslo to make the pilgrimage halfway around the world. She waited fifteen hours for the privilege of standing under the tremendous bonsai for five minutes.
The long lines of visitors like Anja have not come without a cost. The priests at the temple have reported a large increase in garbage – mostly soda cans and potato chip bags – littering their lawns, as well as numerous incidents of vandalism, including a Banksy-esque graffiti etching depicting Buddha hanging from a Roman cross.
Indeed, despite the legends surrounding this tree, the influence of the West is more than evident in those who visit Nejreta Ki. Anja held up her one souvenir of the experience, a single leaf that fell while she stood in its shade. Priests at the temple consider the rare falling leaf a blessing granted by the god of the tree to the person under its boughs.
With a wide grin, she said, “This will net me a small fortune on Ebay.”