"Dwarf Trees" from Richard Gordon Smith's Journal

       Richard Gordon Smith (1858-1918) was an English animal hunter who earlier had spent time in France, Canada, and Norway.  He had a falling out from his wife of eighteen years and, as divorce at the time was neither desirable nor respectable, he left to travel full-time, first-class.  Throughout his travels he kept a series of eight large leather-bound diaries emblazoned with exotic illustrations and filled with momentoes from all over the world.  After Ceylon and Burma, he arrived in Nagasaki harbor on Christmas Eve 1897.  He left Japan in February 1900, heading back to England via New Guinea and Fiji, but he came down with a fever and abandoned the trip, returning to Japan instead.  Gordon Smith did go back to England briefly in 1903, returning to Japan that year via Singapore and China.  Later he left from Kobe, again to England via Ceylon, in early 1905.  He was back in Kyoto by the year's end.  Transcribing folktales and myths ever more in his diaries, he also collected some mammals for the British Museum.  In 1908 his Ancient Tales and Folklore of Japan was published, but was not successful.  His last diary entry was in September 1915, his health undermined by beriberi and malaria.

      Travels in the Land of the Gods (edited from the previously unpublished diaries which he had kept):

      [In Tokyo, Jan. 3, 1898] I next went to the Maple Club, a place in itself which defies description.  The place is a club but such is its beauty that visitors are allowed the privilege of going over it by taking off their boots and paying ten cents.  the house is very large for a Japanese one but no doubt there are many members.  All the rooms are for tea or dinners or other entertainments of Japanese order...  There is nothing to see and yet there is everything to see.  So clean and so absolutely artistic in every detail that you are left in wonder and to wonder to yourself, are you the civilized Briton, really civilized at all?  What is your house or your club in comparison to this?  The whole looks as if it ought to go under a glass case... Of ornaments there are hardly any, and those there are, are as simple as they are artistic.  Either a dwarfed cherry or plum tree, two feet high, with a wild aesthetic appearance, or a single twig of the same put into a vase and placed by itself.  How much better this than what we call a bouquet -- I shall always laugh when I see a bouquet now.  (pg. 34)

      Saturday, December 31st [1898, Tokyo].  ...At breakfast I got an invitation to dine at our Legation from Sir Ernest Satow.  I thought it so particularly kind that I went to thank him in person and he entertained me for some time about things in Japan, especially the pruned trees [bonsai], which strike me so curious...  (pg. 25, which also has three hand-colored drawings: a dwarfed potted white plum, a pine, and a peach tree.  Five insects have been illustrated around these trees)

      Sunday January 24th [1904, Kobe].  Very cold again.  Fukojuso [Adonis amurensis] bloomed today.  This is a particularly weird yellow flower which is planted in every shochikubai [a planted container] kept in all households around the New Year, comprising always an old pine tree, small bamboo, a plum tree and a plant with red leaves called naten [the sacred bamboo, Nandina domestica].  Each of these plants are emblematic of what may be called the very first signs of nature coming to life again. (pg. 114, with color illustration from Gordon Smith's diary)

      Thursday September 20th [1906, Kobe].  ...I started off to see, for the first time, the great pine of Karasaki or Karasake-mo-Matsu...
      The tree of Japan is quite an impressive one, in fact, the most impressive pine tree I have ever seen.  But, like Niagra Falls, it is a thing for study because, at first, it is difficult to imagine it being one tree owing to the vast number of [wooden] supports -- 380.  Its height is nothing; here are the particulars: height 72 feet; circumference of trunk 37 feet; widest extension of branches, east to west, 240 feet, and from north to south, 288 feet.  It is the 'father' of all Japan's dwarf mushroom-shaped trees [sic].  Botanically Pinus thunbergii, it dates from the reign of Emperor Jomei (629-41), in which period Ushinaro Koto-no-natachi planted it in the courtyard of his residence at Karasaki, and called it Nokiba-Mo-Matsu (the pine tree growing by the eaves of the house), so small was it when first planted...
      ...but curious to relate, the pine needles, instead of growing in pairs as before [it had been legendarily rejuvenated many years ago], grew mostly singly, and to this day only one in every four grows as a pair of needles.
      Today, great attention is paid to the tree: the central stem is roofed over and holes in its branches are carefully stopped with plaster.  One man is employed exclusively to look after it and is in daily attendance. (pp. 206-207, with two wide angle colored photos showing front and back of tree) 1


1     Gordon Smith, Richard  Travels in the Land of the Gods (1898-1907), The Japanese Diaries of (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1986.  Profuse illustrations and photographs of mostly unposed subjects.  Edited by Victoria Manthorpe.)
       The book's notes, pg. 222, relate that the great pine of Karasaki is dead, but a new pine is growing from its seeds.  No other reference has yet been found that this was the 'father' of all of Japan's dwarf mushroom-shaped Black pine trees;
       cf. pg. 626 of Japan, The Official Guide (Tokyo: Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways, 1933, 1941): "Karasaki [just east of Kyoto and near the southwestern tip of Lake Biwa] is noted for its venerable pine-tree, now dead but still preserved as it was in its prime.  The tree was the largest in the world in the spread of its branches, which reached 160 ft. from E. to W. [sic], and 150 ft. from N. to S.";
       Du Cane, Florence  The Flowers and Gardens of Japan (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1908), on pp. 241-42, states: "...the rain by night [one of the celebrated Eight Beauties of Omi] would have no meaning if the pine-tree of Karasaki were not there.  Probably this is the largest and most curious pine in the world; its great branches sweep outwards and downwards till they almost touch the ground, and, owing to the tree's great age, have to be supported by wooden props and stone cushions.";
       cf. Bonsai Today, No. 15, pg. 8 which has two color photos of another propped tree with this caption: "This enormous pine, called YOGO, grows in the temple of Zen-Yioji.  It is the largest and oldest in the Tokyo prefecture and, arguably, the most spectacular in Japan.  It is thought to be 600 years old.  The crown measures 98 feet (30 m) in width from east to west, 92 feet (28 m) from north to south and the diameter of the trunk is 12 feet (3.6 m) and yet the height is only 23 feet (7 m).";
       Scidmore, Eliza Ruhamah   Jinrikisha Days in Japan  (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers; 1899, 1891), pg. 218: "The greatest sight of Biwa, and one of the wonders of Japan, is the old pine-tree of Karasaki, which has stood for three hundred years on a little headland a couple of miles above Otsu, with a tiny village and a Shnto temple all its own.  Its trunk is over four feet in diameter, and, at a height of fifteen feet, its boughs are trained laterally and supported by posts, so that it looks like a banyan-tree.  The branches, twisted, bent, and looped like writhing dragons, cover more than an acre of ground with their canopy.  The tips of the boughs reach far out over the water, and the sensitive Japanese hear a peculiar music in the sifting of the rain-drops through the foliage into the lake.  High up in the tree is a tiny shrine, and the pilgrims clap their hands and stand with clasped palms, turning their faces upward as they pray.  A heavy stone wall protects this sylvan patriarch from the washing of storms and floods.  Under the branches a legion of small villagers, intimating by pantomime their desire to dive for pennies, untied their belts and dropped their solitary cotton garments as unconcernedly as one might take off hat or gloves.";
       Baxter, Katharine Schuyler   In Beautiful Japan, A Story of Bamboo Lands (New York: The Hobart Company;1904.  Copyright 1895 by the author.), pp. 294, 297: "After coming down we took kurumas to the village of Karasaki, famous for its pine-tree, whose branches, supported by a trellis, number four hundred and average two hundred and fifty feet in length.  The trunk is carefully sheltered from rain by a roof over the top, and the decayed spots are filled with plaster.  It has the reputation of being the oldest tree in the country, and has been worshipped for ages.  It stands on a sandy point protected by stone-faced enbankments, and, like the immense banyan tree in the gardens at Calcutta, is remarkable for the great area covered by one plant.  This is the place for picnics; there were benches under the tree, and a party of natives were having their noonday repast under this canopy of drooping boughs..." )

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