|Atsuta Jingu Shrine houses the Kusanagi no Trurugi, the sword of Kusanagi, which is one of the Imperial Regalia of Japan – the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan. The shrine has a long history of 1,900 years, marked in 2013. According to Kojiki, the god Susanoo discovered the Kusanagi sword inside the body of the fearsome Yamata-no-Orochi, an eight-headed serpent, when he defeated it. When you enter the shrine gate and walk into the front approach, you feel clean air, different from outside, and energy radiated from the trees. Inside the shrine grounds, giant camphor trees are enshrined as sacred trees, including a one planted by Kukai, a Japanese monk (774-835). Camphor trees are found from Chubu area to Kanto area in Japan. At shrines, giant camphor trees are often bound by white “enclosing ropes”. These ancient camphor trees mean a lot to me as they are in my childhood memory and are the origin of my relationship with plants.
In the mountains and forests of Nagasaki, my hometown, there are many huge camphor trees. I saw the largest camphor tree in Nagasaki prefecture, from in a front of a window in my room. In my childhood days, I used to climb up there and play.
When you smell camphor leaf, it smells like insect repellent. Camphor is used in insect repellents, and is made from the camphor tree. Additionally, almost all the Buddhist statues in Asuka period (592-710) were made from camphor trees, for example, the wooden statue of Miroku Bosatsu , a National Treasure, housed in the Chugu-ji temple in Nara.
Camphor trees have an unlooked-for side effect.
“In May when camphor trees finish sprouting fresh leaves, they drop old leaves. That is just about the time when you scatter seed rice. When you pick up old camphor leaves and mix with soil as you cast seed rice, the rice begin to sprout all at once, but weeds don’t grow quickly because camphor leaves have a chemical that can suppress budding exclusively of dicot plants. As the seeds grow into rice seedlings and when you finish transplanting rice seedlings into the rice fields, then you can float some old camphor leaves on the paddy water in order to prevent the rice seedlings from becoming infested with bugs. In older times, without chemical herbicides and agricultural chemicals, these were some mysterious uses for camphor leaves.” (Quated from Kami no ki Ikeru ki tazuneru by Toshiro Kawase and Kazunobu Mitsuda)
Because of its wonderful medicinal properties, the word,camphor, Kusunoki in Japanese, is said to be derived from “Kusuri no ki (tree of medicine)”, or “Kusushi no ki (tree of wonder)”
In this way, camphor trees have been useful and familiar to the lives of Japanese people since ancient times. When I look up at a magnificent camphor tree, I see an eight-headed serpent wriggling, and I feel awed.
『五月、新しい葉をひろげおえた樟は、たくさんの古葉を落とす。ちょうど稲の種籾を蒔くころである。これを拾って土にまぜて種籾を蒔くと、ふしぎなことに稲はいっせいに芽を出すが、雑草は芽生えが抑えられる。葉には双子葉植物にかぎって、その発芽を抑制する物質が含まれているのである。早苗に育って、無事に田植えも済めば、少量の古葉を水に浮かべて、虫が早苗に近づくことを防ぐ。除草剤、農薬などなかった時代、これは樟の神秘的な霊能であった。』（「神ノ木 いける・たずねる」川瀬敏郎 光田和伸著より引用）