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The Giant Maple Tree of Oihara

The Giant Maple Tree of Oihara

It’s still early and I leave Tokyo before sunrise. I take the long tunnel and the Aqua-Line bridge to the other side of Tokyo Bay, then follow a small mountain road that loses me somewhere in the heart of Chiba prefecture. The only clue is there. My GPS coordinates point to the other side of the river, so I park the car and head down to the water.

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The giant maple of Oihara

I expected there to be a bridge, a trail, or at least no actual river, but the only solution is to wade over. So I take off my shoes, socks, pants, as if it were summer. It’s not very deep, but it’s slippery underfoot and the water is freezing.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, people

The giant maple of Oihara

On the other side I look left, right: disappointingly there’s nothing! You’d have to climb up the steep mountainside to reach the trees above, as these are where the coordinates lead. Hesitatingly, as it seems impossible for the tree to be growing up there, I start to climb.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature

The giant maple of Oihara

The tree cover seemed very dense from below but I discover a forest dotted with pines clearly intended for commercial use, as they’re all straight and aligned. I search in vain around the GPS signals but what stands out most is this pile of dead trees. I’m looking for a tree, but is it really that one? It was part of an ancient village with stone walls, but I don’t see any ruins here.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, people

The giant maple of Oihara

I walk around the forest in all directions, then climbing further up I come across a group of monkeys, a little lake … but nothing else. About to give up, I spot this little bridge. It can’t be there for no reason can it, right? ?

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature

The giant maple of Oihara

I cross over and find myself on what looks like an old path. The scenery changes, the forest brightens. I’m being taken along a birch-lined track covered with leaves. Everything smells distinctly autumnal.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, people

The giant maple of Oihara

A 90 degree turn and again, the scene changes. The sunrise, the play of light and shadow are magnificent. My excitement is intense because I know that, inevitably, something has to be at the end of the track.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, people

The giant maple of Oihara

Here we are! This old cemetery belonged to the village of Oihara (黄和). There are a dozen family graves, now abandoned. The little village, lost in the middle of the forest, must have been quite lively!

asia, cemetery, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, people

The giant maple of Oihara

I take a look at Google Maps – it’s incredible, Oihara really was lost in the middle of nowhere, in the forest and in the mountains. But where on earth is this village? I look around: there had been a huge landslide and there no longer seems to be a direct connection to the village.

abandoned, asia, cemetery, chiba, forest, haikyo, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, ruin, urban exploration, urbex

The giant maple of Oihara

Down, up again and … here I am at the entrance! And lurking in the background …

abandoned, asia, chiba, forest, haikyo, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, people, ruin, urban exploration, urbex

The giant maple of Oihara

like a demonic hand springing from the ground …

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, tree

The giant maple of Oihara

OH YES! The giant maple of Oihara! I finally caught up with the little rascal! I really didn’t think I’d find it, especially as I’d nearly given up on three occasions.

The giant maple of Oihara (追原の大楓)

Here is the abandoned tree, the haikyo tree as I like to call it, clinging onto a little wall. Oihara having been a living village until the late 1950s, the maple was there in its midst. It must have been the village chief, emblem, god, the spirit of the forest and probably also a playground. All the local people’s stories still flow through its sap.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, people, tree

The giant maple of Oihara

I stay there an hour gazing at the tree. I don’t find anything particularly remarkable nearby – an old sheet-metal shelter and the village well, a huge gaping hole extremely deep and dangerous.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, tree

The giant maple of Oihara

The whole area was supposed to be submerged in the 90s for the construction of a dam. Fortunately for our tree, the project was strongly boycotted by the local community.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, tree

The giant maple of Oihara

I think about climbing the old maple but resolve to leave it alone. Let it continue to reign in peace in this beautiful forest.

asia, chiba, forest, japan, japanese, kanto, natural, nature, people

The giant maple of Oihara

Retracing my steps along another path, I take my time, savouring the fact of having found this tree that I’d dreamed of seeing for years. I’ll be back.

  • dlm208

    Bonjour ! “Smush it” (great btw) which I use to build the website for my paintings sends me to your site. I immediately clicked on “maple tree”. I like the atmosphere and the greens. Makes me want to paint…

  • dlm208

    Bonjour ! “Smush it” (great btw) which I use to build the website for my paintings sends me to your site. I immediately clicked on “maple tree”. I like the atmosphere, the moss and greens. Makes me want to paint… Merci pour ce partage.

  • dlm208

    Bonjour ! “Media Cleaner” plugin (great btw) which I use to build the website for my paintings sends me to your site. I immediately clicked on “maple tree”. I like the atmosphere, the moss and greens. Makes me want to paint… Merci pour ce partage.

    • It’s not often that people using my software actually end up visiting my website but that’s lovely when it happens 🙂 This place is definitely inspiring, I will go again with a friend for portraits. And if you ever make a drawing, please come back and share it here, that would be awesome to see!

      • dlm208

        Hi, Thanks for your reply to my comment here and on WP plugin rating system. I find that rating is the least I can do when I use a tool that I appreciate, esp. the free version. I followed the link to your site because it was in the wp admin when I updated the plug in. In fact my sister is very connected to Japan and one of her Japanese friends is visiting her right now, so I thought it was a ‘link’ from the universe… I was right because I then got a chance to see your photos and I really like them. I did not dare to ask if I may paint them but since you say you are interested to see if I draw them, I will take that for an authorisation and one of these days I will have a go ! Thanks again for your kind messages.

        • You can 🙂 But please share it here, because I am pretty sure many people will want to see what you can paint 🙂

          • dlm208

            Sure. I promise. But paintings take longer than photos so please be patient! Best regards.

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Who Am I

azalea, drone, flower, japan, japanese, kyushu, natural, nature, saga, spring

I am Jordy Meow, I am a French photographer living in Japan. My interest is to discover and share information about offbeat and lesser known locations for foreigners coming or living in Japan. I published books and now preparing new beautiful series of guidebooks.

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