|Man praying at a camphor tree at a Shinto shrine in Japan. [Photo via Dara in Japan]|
Sometimes you see a person engaging the spirit of a sacred tree. They approach the tree, clap their hands together twice, and then lean towards the tree and stand for a while with their hands pressed against the bark. Having watched these people and become curious, I have tried it myself. People laugh at tree-huggers, but there is no denying the sense of power and calm that comes from touching a great old tree.[Dara in Japan.] You may recall a somewhat similar scene of revering the 神 kami [god-like spirit] that dwells in these ancient trees from My Neighbor Totoro.
|Engaging the spirit of an ancient camphor tree's kami in My Neighbor Totoro. [Via Thirteens Atlas]|
We have our own stand of these revered trees in Eagle Rock, on Shearin Avenue:
|Camphor trees along Shearin Avenue|
The camphor tree is native to China south of the Yangtze River, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. [Wikipedia.] The Chinese character used for the tree in China, Taiwan, Japan (and older Chinese-character based versions of Korean and Vietnamese) is 樟 or 楠 (pronounced zhang or nán in Mandarin, jeong or naam in Cantonese, 장 [jang] or 남 [nam] in Korean, nam or nêm in Vietnamese, andくす [kusu] in Japanese).
Beyond its status as a sacred tree host to kami, the camphor tree holds a special place for the Japanese, as a symbol of survival:
[C]amphor trees are not only long-lived, but they are also astonishingly vigorous and capable of surviving even the worst that man can throw at them. A specimen at the Sanno Shrine in Nagasaki was designated a natural monument by that city on Feb. 15, 1969, because it had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Aug. 9, 1945. Then, on Nov. 3, 1973, the camphor tree was made the official tree of Hiroshima to commemorate those trees that not only survived the U.S. atomic bombing of the city on Aug. 6, 1945, but then recovered quickly and gave inspiration to the people trying to rebuild their lives.[Japan Times.]
|Under the camphor canopy|
|Ivy climbing and coating camphor tree|