Shinto Tree Planting Ceremony


Shinto Tree Planting Ceremony

Abbotsholme School

125 year Anniversary | October 1st 2014



Shinto – An ancient Japanese belief in the bond between man and nature. Shinto is about communicating with nature and giving thanks for the gifts that we receive, such as a glorious morning sunrise presenting us with a new day, or the beautiful blossoms that  adorn the branches of the Japanese Cherry tree in spring.


bigFo1 The team at Ornamental Trees were lucky enough to be invited to a traditional Shinto tree planting ceremony at Abbotsholme School, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire yesterday, to join the celebration of 125 years since the founding of the school.We received the invitation, as Ornamental Trees were the chosen supplier for the Prunus Sargentii Rancho and Prunus Pendula Pendula Rubra trees, bought by the first Japanese pupil to attend the school, Tsuyoshi Ogura, in order to be planted in a Cherry Tree garden at the school.The garden, situated in a large field measuring roughly 30 x 70 metres, contains 68 Japanese Cherry trees altogether and was donated as a token of gratitude by Mr.Ogura to commemorate the time he spent at Abbotsholme and his recognition of the importance of international education.
Next to the new Cherry garden, an altar was fashioned to conduct the ceremonial Shinto planting. The ceremony itself consists of thirteen stages, all holding a different symbolic meaning within Shinto.The ceremony began with Japanese court-music playing during the entrance of Dr. Paul de Leeuw, a Shinto master from Holland, flown in especially to conduct the service. As Shinto traditionally believes that nature has a soul, it is important to ensure that the ceremonial site is purified to allow kami, the forces of nature, to visit the site.The Shinto priest cleansed the alter by first bowing and clapping during song and prayer, to make himself visible to the kami.  This was followed by the waving of paper streams, to purify the surrounding area and attendants.3 2The altar contained several different bowls of food including fruit, vegetables and eggs to be used as part of an offering to the kami.The second part of the offering involved evergreen sprigs and was carried out in three stages, welcoming up different groups of representatives from the school to participate. These included pupils, Steve Fairclough, the Headmaster and Mr.Ogura to offer the branches, before praying for the successful planting of the Cherry trees.The planting of the Cherry trees was then completed by these representatives and the ceremony ended with the Shinto master, along with the Head Boy and Head Girl, Mr.Fairclough and Mr.Ogura, sharing traditional sake rice-wine in a ceremonial toast to the Shinto tradition.
Derek Sederman, the event organiser, then welcomed Tsuyoshi Ogura to say a few heartfelt words about his donation and what the school means to him.Mr.Ogura spoke fondly of his time at Abbotsholme, focusing on how his experience at the school, ‘expanded [his] view of the world’. The former pupil described how he holds human connections as his number one priority in life, and by donating the Cherry trees, he has created a living monument to represent the mutual friendship he feels between Japan and Britain.Mr.Ogura specifically chose the Cherry blossom for his gift, as this holds a huge significance in Japanese culture, representing beauty and youth and he hopes that future Abottsholmians will be able to share in the happiness each spring, when the trees are at their most beautiful. 6

Following the Shinto service, we were welcomed to continue the celebration with a short concert held in the school chapel. Aisa Ijiri, an award winning pianist from Japan, and Llywelyn ap Myrddin, a globally recognised conductor from Wales, were the stars of the show, performing three exquisite pieces of music.

Myrddin introduced the recital with a brief explanation of the inspiration behind the music; the first piece, Sakura attempts to embody the Japanese Cherry blossom and the way in which the wind swirls the beautiful blossoms around, as if they were snow, blanketing the city of Kieoto during Cherry blossom time. Myrddin likened the music sequence to the art of calligraphy; when one line is practiced over and over until a natural style is achieved. Both of these themes were easily recognisable within the music, as the speed and pitch of the notes varied dramatically and playfully like gusts of wind capturing the blossoms; and the piece repeated the same section several times, linking back to Myrddin’s reference to calligraphy.

The concert concluded with a duet, described by Aisa Ijiri as the interpretation of spring and autumn. She again mentioned the importance of the Cherry tree to the Japanese culture, considering it to be symbolic of the beauty of life, and how, even when the blossoms have fallen, they offer us a memory in which to share how beautiful the blossoms once were.


After the performance, Mr.Sederman presented an emotional Mr.Ogura with an engraved, ornamental glass bowl to thank him for his generous donation to the school. The guests were then invited to join the school alumni in afternoon tea; however, this was the end of our day out, as we were needed back in the office.



Our team at Ornamental Trees would like to sincerely thank Mr. Sederman and Abbotsholme School for allowing us to share in such a wonderfully insightful celebration of culture and history, and we are incredibly excited to see the Japanese Cherry garden in all its blossoming glory next spring.

Japanese Cherry Blossom treesWe understand that acquiring a Shinto priest for a planting ceremony is not the easiest of tasks, however, we would like to emphasise the significance of choosing a Japanese Cherry Blossom tree for a celebration or memorial. Like Aisa Ijiri described, the beauty of this tree lasts long after the blossoms have fallen, as they are blown all around us; spreading the memory of what the tree once was and giving us something to celebrate when they return the following spring.

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