Green City Japan Tourist Attractions

Tokyo Oldest Ginkgo Tree

tokyo oldest gingko tree

For the last year I crossed Tokyo’s Azabu Ward at least two times a day, but often didn’t leave the underground. It changed, when I read the story about a „Great Survivor” in a local newspaper. Using long break between classes at university I decided to pay him a visit. I was simply amazed by what I saw.

Tokyo oldest ginkgo tree

Zenpuku-ji Buddhist temple in Azabu Ward, Tokyo, was established in 824, almost 1200 years ago. Since last 800 years its premises (to be precise: its cemetery) is a home of the „oldest living thing in Tokyo” – the oldest ginkgo tree. Despite the long life and its miracle survival of the Second World War’s air raids the tree grows naturally until now without any help by human and any „life-prolonging” treatment.

oldest gingko tree

Ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba, also known as „maidenhair trees”) are well know for their longevity. They were one of the first leafy trees which appeared on the planet Earth – parts of ginkgo were found in fossils dating back 270 million years! Ginkgo trees are either male or female, and their distinctive fan-shaped leaves change from light green to bright yellow in autumn. This ginkgo tree is a „male-type” (it doesn’t produce seeds), which makes it the oldest man in Tokyo 😉


The name „ginkgo” is believed to be a misspelling of the Japanese gin kyo – „silver apricot”. In fact ginkgo is written in Japanese with the use of kanji 銀杏 (銀 – silver, 杏 – apricot), but the reading of this characters is different – ichō.

Najstarszy mieszkaniec Tokio

The local legend says that the tree didn’t grow from the seed. It used to be a travel cane that noble Buddhist monk Shinran stuck in the ground of the Zenpuku-ji temple. For this reason some people call it „Cane Ginkgo Tree”.

Upside-Down Gingko

Upside-Down Gingko (逆さ銀杏, Sakasa Icho) is an official name of the tree. The name comes from the mysterious shape of the branches growing downward („aerial roots”, also called „roots like women’s breasts”). It is common for extremely old trees to grow stalactite-shaped branches. I happened to see similar stalactite branches when I visited Icod de los Vinos on Tenerife Island. There’s a tree called Dracena Millenaria (El Drago, Dragon Tree), which is said to be one thousand years old (that’s why it is called „millenaria”).

Najstarszy mieszkaniec Tokio
„Aerial roots”

A few years ago, when a fire prevention water tank was set up at Zenpuku-ji, it was discovered that the underground roots of the tree reaches a depth of 10 meters.

Najstarszy mieszkaniec Tokio

A witness to history

The tree was designated as a „Natural Monument of Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty” already 90 years ago (in 1926). Unfortunately the Second World War didn’t help to preserve the beauty of already 750 years old tree, burning everything to the ground. In 1945 Tokyo was heavily damaged during the American air raids. The Great Yamanote Air Raid campaign, which started on May 25, burned down most of the urban area of middle and West part of Tokyo. The fire in the Azabu Ward destroyed almost eight thousands wooden houses. And yet, similarly to the Phoenix trees from Hiroshima, the tree started to grow again, growing countless branches form its half-lost upper trunk. The bunts can be still seen on the east side of the tree. They look like a carbonized scars – wounds of war that will never heal.

Since a few years ago Sakasa Icho has a new „friend”. Another plant – a small palm is growing on its trunk.

Did you know that ginkgo leaf is an official symbol of the capital of Japan? The shape of the ginkgo leaf resembles the letter „T” for „Tokyo”. 20 years ago the Tokyo Metropolitan Office designated the ginkgo as the official metropolitan tree.  Ginkgo trees are commonly found along Tokyo’s streets and avenues. The best places in Tokyo to see the ginkgo yellow autumn foliage are Icho Namiki (Ginkgo Avenue), located on Aoyama Street on the south side of Jingu Gaien Park and Showa Kinen Park (Memorial Park), 10 minutes walk from the Tachikawa station.

tokyo oldest gingko tree

Azabusan Zenpuku-ji Temple

Zenpuku-ji (善福寺) is one of the oldest Tokyo Buddhist temples, after Asakusa. On the temple’s premises you can find also a monument to the Townsend Harris, the first United States Consul General to Japan. He is credited as the diplomat who first opened Japan to foreign trade and culture.

Zenpuku-iji oldest gingko tree

Azabusan Zenpuku-ji Temple, where is it?

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Tokyo oldest ginkgo tree 35.653565, 139.732826 Tokyo Oldest Ginkgo Tree


Text based on the Azabu Community Information Paper vol. 32, September 2015

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Z pochodzenia Sanoczanka, Japanofil, wolontariusz tęskniący za Afryką i etnograf-pasjonat. // Just a small town girl who always dreamed of travels and faraway places... Now Warsaw-based international relations analyst, travel blogger & folklore enthusiast, who cherishes nature, simple life & Irish traditional music. Japanophile. Addicted to haribo jellies & …red lipstick.

  1. Long time no see, Ibazela! I missed reading about your adventures. So I figure you are in Japan now? I’d love to visit it too, if for nothing else at least for seeing a Ginkgo Tree. I have never seen one. Do they grow in other parts of the world as well, or just in Asia? Very interesting article. I didn’t know that the ginkgo leaf is the official symbol of Tokyo. Thanks for returning to #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    • Anda, thanks for your warm, welcoming comment 🙂 I really missed #TheWeeklyPostcard. This time I will not promise anything, but I will try to write more often. I always enjoyed this weekly motivation to write 🙂
      I’ve seen ginkgo in Europe many times, especially in old parks and gardens of castles or old mansions. I don’t think they grow naturally in Europe, but when planted they do quite well 🙂
      Have a lovely week! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Divya Marie Kato - Artist and Author - Drawing - When in doubt draw - Tokyo - Blog - art class

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