Serial tree killer on the loose in 5 prefectures


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: NHK, 47 News via My Game News Flash (Japanese) Image: Chris Gladis – Wikipedia

Read more stories on RocketNews24. -- Expensive “Cybernetic Mumification” of Japan’s Tree of Hope Draws Criticism -- Japan’s World Heritages Fly Well Under Radar -- More Japanese Choosing Fertilizer as Burial Option

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Whomever is doing this is one sick (blank.....blank). I hope the cops get this person or persons QUICKLY.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Terrible these ancient trees are sacred and very beautifull...the person doing this is as sick as any other serial killer and deserves a life in prison.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Only in Japan?? RIP old sacred trees!

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Deserves life in prison? Get a grip. It's a childish and vindictive vandalism, but it's only a tree. If they were inconvenient, they'd be chopped down in a flash anyway, like some lovely old trees were in my neighbourhood (ostensibly for property development, but a year later, there hasn't actually been any).

-3 ( +9 / -12 )

Catch these SOBs, put them on a boat, take about 10km offshore & MAKE THEM WALK THE PLANK!

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Whoever did this wasn't the typical 'your hedges are over my property line' malcontent. The knowledge on how to do it with the poison involved took some research and effort to carry out. I wouldn't be surprised if there was an anti-Japan foreign nationalist who's disgruntled about some island chain behind this.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

I did read a Norwegian book mentioning an insane person who liked to cut down trees because they were "immortal", but, I didn't know that there are real people who do such things. There is one difference though, this serial tree killer in Japan might not be insane, but simply work on commission of someone who'd like to pay a high price for such a sacred timber. Usually everything which possesses an extraordinary symbolic value, like works of art, endangered species, sacred trees and so on, is a subject of the desire of various collectors.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I read the original NHK news in Japanese. In the article, a broker had contacted the shrine and offered to buy the weakened trees. The shrine did not notice that the trees were injected with tree poison. Of course, the broker denied the relation to the case. It is unclear how the broker could know there were weakened massive trees which need to be cut down shortly exist deep in the mountains. Now that the news spread, I think the same case would not happen for the time being.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

This is truly tragic. Who can own a tree? Consider the great Sequoias.

The person(s) responsible deserve the same treatment, a drilled hole with poison injected.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

They should install motion activated cameras on their trees. If anyone appears at a sacred tree, the camera takes a series of photos of that person and e-mails them to the owner of the tree.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Only in Japan?? RIP old sacred trees!

No, talk to the people in Alabama.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is a very sad news. After reading the above article it is clear whoever is doing this, is well aware of his job. It is not a nutcase.

I often read on Stations, "JR & Police is on high alert" In this case, Police as well as public should be on high alert. Also cameras should be installed to catch the culprit.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It would be curious for anyone to be poisoning these sacred trees just for the fun of doing so - there's nothing to be gained or achieved, unless it is some anti-Shinto individual, of course.

If, however, someone has their eye on the commercial use of what would be a very valuable wood, surely someone would be found to be going around and asking priests if their sacred trees trees are showing signs of dieing, they will purchase the trunks? I couldn't imagine very many people being involved over a relatively moderate region. Are the police doing their job properly?

1 ( +2 / -1 )


" It's a childish and vindictive vandalism, but it's only a tree "

Childish and vindictive vandalism? In 5 prefectures? Using drilling tools and specific chemicals? Come one.

In the article, you find a much more likely explanation: "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."

.... exactly. This makes a lot more sense then speculating about vandals.

0 ( +3 / -3 )


" If, however, someone has their eye on the commercial use of what would be a very valuable wood, surely someone would be found to be going around and asking priests if their sacred trees trees are showing signs of dieing, they will purchase the trunks? "

Why would they need to go around and ask? If they poisoned them, they know very well that the wood will become available. The police should investigate the lumber trade channels that deal with this. However, with well-connected businesses, guilt will be hard to prove.

Enjoy the trees as long as we have them.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

This article really disturbs me.

At the least, these reprehensible acts are crimes against nature.

Though the authorities speculate that the tree killings are an attempt to fetch sacred lumber, has anyone considered that it may be an act of irreverence against the Shinto religion? If so, then this may be not only a crime against nature, but also a hate crime against the Shinto religion.

If someone just wanted sacred lumber, why not ask the Shinto priests if they may purchase a dead or dying tree?

What does this disturbing news say about the state of the world nowadays?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

What sort trucked up loon would do this? I read about this the other day on rocketnews24 and was shocked beyond belief. What is this piece of garbage trying to prove? I am a big man because I kill trees? Weak mate! Very bloody weak!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Japan_cynic: the motive is economic. AS we've seen, bankers will stop at nothing, and indeed are willing to do anything to increase their profits. The umber industry sees these ans makes plans to derive cheap profit for minimal effort. So, they are rightly sick in the head. It would be doing the world a favor to make an example out of them, once they are caught.

Spahnmatthew: it says that we are all so sick and craven that we cannot comprehend much outside of money.

As for my own thoughts: don't sell the lumber. Purify the wood, and renovate/improve these shrines with the wood from the trees. That way, everyone wins, except the criminals. The shrine gets rebuilt with the trees that have been a part of the shrine for so long, the trees don't get sold off to the highest bidder, and the local builders get work building the shrines. the lumber industry gets nothing. See? Win-Win.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Burn the wood so no one can use it. This will stop the killing for monetary gain (if that is what it is).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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.

Preserve them and put them on display in the shrine and don't send them to the mill. Whoever did this probably has some connection to the mills that the trees go to after they are taken down.

0 ( +1 / -1 )


-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Been watching this on TV. Seems as if someone drills holes in the tree just above ground level, then the tree dies. Then in comes some company offering to take the tree down ... and then the mystery deepens. What does this company do with the dead tree? Does it use the wood as lumber, sell it for lumber? And being what kind of trees they are, this kind of wood is very expensive and rare.

Sounds like some kind of scrupulous business people who are making big money out of the tree-killing spree ...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Everything in existence is composed of matter and energy. Everything and everybody be you tree, fish, bird, human, rock have energy bodies/ spirit bodies. Everything that we can recoqnize as being conscious has one. Plants trees grass have their own form of conscious and because they are composed of matter and energy like everything else. Don't be surprised that those forms of life have their own spirit bodies as well. This is cold blooded murder.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

To be able to take down a 500 year-old tree I would think you'd need a pretty strong aboricide. That's GOT to be a controlled substance. That should limit the number of suspects, I would think.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In the UK you by or hire a portable wood planking machine, this could easily plank up these awesome trees, the planks once seasoned could be cut up into smaller pieces, and write inscriptions on the tiny pieces like “good luck” or other religious statements and the shrine keepers could sell off the charms to raise revenue for the up keep of the shrine or even bring about a prosecution of the offenders. But none of the timber should be sold to the building market under any circumstance, this way the unscrupulous person who did this can not gain from it. Hopefully the huge trees will be left all alone to carry on growing for many years to come.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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