ONTD Political

Serial tree killer poisoning ancient sacred trees at Japanese temples

2:19 pm - 12/31/2012

Scattered across the landscape of Japan are Shinto shrines of various shapes and sizes. In many of the larger shrines you’ll find one or more especially old trees known as “goshinboku,” which means “sacred tree.”

Sacred trees are usually massive in size and centuries old with some reportedly over 1,000 years old. You can usually tell them from the “shimenawa” wrapped around their trunks.
A shimenawa is an extremely thick rope which encloses something holy and wards off evil from outside.

These age-old trees are beautiful specimens of nature’s strength and longevity and add an extra level of serenity to their shrines. However, in the past month, someone or some group has been killing off these sacred trees of shrines in five separate prefectures in Japan.

The So-Kawachi Daimei Shrine in Ehime Prefecture sits in the tiny remote village of Namegawa nestled in the mountainous outskirts of Toon city. It is home to a pair of sacred hinoki (Japanese cypress) trees each over 500 years old.

In September, strange holes were found around the base of their trunks and substantial withering was taking place throughout the trees. A subsequent police investigation found traces of chemical used an “arboricide” or tree poison.

After long consideration, the shrine determined on Dec 26 that the considerably weakened trees posed a risk of collapse and needed to be cut down.


The day before, the head priest and townspeople held a ritual to pray for the safe removal of the trees. The priest gave a Shinto prayer known as a norito to thank the trees for their protection of the shrine from the elements for so many years.

“For many years, these trees and I have watched over this shrine. With the trees gone, there is only emptiness,” said the head priest in a eulogy fused with frustration over someone deliberately killing these landmarks of his shrine.

He then faced the trees one last time and gave an offering of rice and salt so that their souls may be calmed. The following day, after half a millennium, the two trees came down.


As a result of this incident, the Forestry Agency conducted an emergency survey for sacred trees that died by human hands. What they found was a string of sacred tree poisonings across several prefectures west of Aichi.

Kochi Prefecture was hit the hardest with seven sacred trees killed off at shrines located in sparsely populated areas. Tokushima saw three trees die and Wakayama and Aichi prefectures each had one death. Including the twin trees in Ehime Prefecture, the toll comes to 14.

In each case, holes were drilled into the trunks at a depth of about 4 cm and a tree killing chemical was injected. The chemical could then travel up the trees’ xylem which act like veins and delivers the poison throughout the plant.

Authorities speculate that the trees were poisoned and killed in an effort to get their “sacred” lumber that would fetch an extremely high price as a building material.


The Forestry Agency sent out warnings to all local law enforcement in an effort to better coordinate and track the tree killer or killers.

Considering the punishment for stealing 10 yen from a temple, there’s likely a hefty punishment for destroying ancient holy trees at shrines in Japan. Even if whoever killed the trees isn’t caught, they’re definitely racking up “bachiatari” (bad karma) by the truck load.

source: Japan Today
furrygreen 31st-Dec-2012 10:04 pm (UTC)
There's a ... sacred tree serial killer? It takes all kinds, I guess.
skellington1 31st-Dec-2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
Or as a friend of mine likes to say, "It doesn't take all kinds, but we have them anyway."
biting_moopie 3rd-Jan-2013 11:20 am (UTC)
I will be using this from now on.
anaralia 31st-Dec-2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's terrible.

I hope they burn the trees or something so the tree killers can't get their hands on the lumber. Small victory I know. :(
rayiroth 1st-Jan-2013 02:34 pm (UTC)
MTE. I hope that the ashes then gets scattered in ways that they couldn't be sold either.
ultrasushi 31st-Dec-2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
That's so sad. Poor trees. :(

I hope they find those who did/are doing this!
myrrhmade 31st-Dec-2012 11:06 pm (UTC)
Ugh awful.
romp 31st-Dec-2012 11:20 pm (UTC)
I hope they catch the person. Something similar is done where I grew up: you can't cut down oak trees so some landowners poison a tree or injure it fatally so they then have a legal reason to take it down. >:/

It's cool that the Shinto beliefs have survived in a time when people are increasingly cut off from nature. This isn't helping.
harumi 1st-Jan-2013 12:34 am (UTC)
I know that it is "just" a tree, but I'm actually surprisingly upset by this news. This is awful.
fenris_lorsrai 1st-Jan-2013 01:14 am (UTC)
There's a surprising number of crimes involving large, famous trees or groves of trees.
dixiedolphin 1st-Jan-2013 06:12 am (UTC)
Yeah, there was the asshole arsonist who burned down the Senator cypress tree in Florida last year. It broke my heart, but at least I got to see it whole and intact before I left for California.

Then the guy who poisoned the old oak trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, AL. An Bama football fan run amok (football is SRS BZNS in Alabama, but that was ridiculous.. and made me ashamed of my fellow Bama fans)

Why the violence against trees? I dunno, but sometimes I wish they'd fight back. Kinda like saguaro cacti ( http://www.snopes.com/horrors/freakish/saguaro.asp )
zeonchar 1st-Jan-2013 02:17 am (UTC)
This is so sad. :(
angelofdeath275 1st-Jan-2013 03:23 am (UTC)
What the fuck? It's reminding me of that one article about someone killing off scared animals from some native American tribe or something?

Like whoever is doing is obviously trying to hurt the folks who believe in Shinto.
tabaqui 1st-Jan-2013 03:48 am (UTC)
Well, that's fucked up. Sheesh.
celtic_thistle 1st-Jan-2013 03:57 am (UTC)
This is really sad :(
tsu_ 1st-Jan-2013 04:13 am (UTC)
what kind of asshole harms trees?
dearmisterecho 1st-Jan-2013 06:17 am (UTC)
Douchebags. They're going to fuck with the wrong kami one of thee days and feel the consequences.
homasse 2nd-Jan-2013 10:30 am (UTC)
It reminds me of the fuckwits who shot one of the sacred deer in Nara with a crossbow and left the poor thing to die. Those deer are damn near tame; I can't wrap my brain around someone doing that. :(
dearmisterecho 2nd-Jan-2013 12:44 pm (UTC)
I literally gasped reading this...my god, how could they ;_;
homasse 2nd-Jan-2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
People are assholes. :(
swanwitch 3rd-Jan-2013 05:06 pm (UTC)
The Ents will march.
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