Kyoto’s Annual Neutering of the Trees
Neutered Gingko Tree with its fully-clothed friends towering in the background -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 38 mm — 1/1250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500 — full exif
Neutered Gingko Tree
with its fully-clothed friends towering in the background

It's that time of year again in Kyoto where the trees turn beautiful colors, and the City of Kyoto races to erase them from the face of the earth.

Walking Along A Barren Wasteland of Trees stripped clean by the City of Kyoto the previous day -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 200 mm — 1/640 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500 — full exif
Walking Along A Barren Wasteland of Trees
stripped clean by the City of Kyoto the previous day
Tale of Two Sides of the Street neutered on this side, lush greens and yellows on the other -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 65 mm — 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500 — full exif
Tale of Two Sides of the Street
neutered on this side, lush greens and yellows on the other
Prior to Neutering but their day will come, likely tomorrow -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 200 mm — 1/160 sec, f/11, ISO 560 — full exif
Prior to Neutering
but their day will come, likely tomorrow
Naked -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 200 mm — 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500 — full exif
Naked

Several miles of street in this area are lined with Ginkgo trees, and each year the city strips them naked like this, working down one side of each street, then up the other. I've heard that this is done because stripping the trees like this is easier than cleaning up the leaves. I dunno. Seems strange.

Long-Abused Veteran retaining, for the moment, one last shred of dignity -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 135 mm — 1/400 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500 — full exif
Long-Abused Veteran
retaining, for the moment, one last shred of dignity

All but the first shot above are from yesterday. The sun was out a bit more today, so I brought the camera when I picked Anthony up from school.

Caught in the Act yeah you, buddy -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 70 mm — 1/1000 sec, f/8, ISO 500 — full exif
Caught in the Act
yeah you, buddy
Too Lazy to spend the extra 10 seconds to cross at the crosswalk -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 29 mm — 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 500 — full exif
Too Lazy
to spend the extra 10 seconds to cross at the crosswalk

The guy crossing the street without apparent regard for his life wanted a sprig of yellow leaves, and when he got it, returned to the car he had parked illegally near where I was standing.

Equal Number of Gingko on Either Side of the Street but it certainly doesn't look like it -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 28 mm — 1/1600 sec, f/8, ISO 500 — full exif
Equal Number of Gingko on Either Side of the Street
but it certainly doesn't look like it

When the light turned red I stepped out into the street a bit for the shot above, but stepping the other way to the sidewalk and looking the same direction, you see what a wonderful effect the trees – the trees with their leaves – have...

Tunnel of Nature amidst the concrete jungle -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 170 mm — 1/1000 sec, f/8, ISO 500 — full exif
Tunnel of Nature
amidst the concrete jungle

Ever year at about this time, crews work their way down one side and then up the other, putting the bulk of each tree into a garbage truck.

Tree Hearse and attendants -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 42 mm — 1/1000 sec, f/8, ISO 500 — full exif
Tree Hearse
and attendants
Yesterday's Handiwork -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 170 mm — 1/1600 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500 — full exif
Yesterday's Handiwork
Tomorrow's Victims (the trees, not the Kyoto University students and the police officer) -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 32 mm — 1/500 sec, f/13, ISO 500 — full exif
Tomorrow's Victims
(the trees, not the Kyoto University students and the police officer)
Wall of Yellow -- Higashioji Street -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 50 mm — 1/2500 sec, f/4.8, ISO 500 — full exif
Wall of Yellow

The road leading to this slight curve is straight for a mile or three, and you can see the wall of yellow straight the whole time.... at least until the crews get there.

(This last snapshot doesn't have much going for it except the ability to illustrate the scene, but in an attempt to put lipstick on a pig, I used the virtual version of a gradient filter (mentioned in a comment yesterday) to “paint” some lower exposure and lower contrast onto the clouds so that the sky retains some detail. Without it, it's a massive blog of white. I tried to have a light touch, but it still looks sorta' fakish...


All 11 comments so far, oldest first...

This is so sad. Back in England everyone seems obsessed with blowing and hoovering the leaves away to keep their green lawns tidy and start cutting down the offending crunch leaf-dispensing trees 🙁

Sure they can be a pain when they’re wet and soggy, but isn’t that part of the thrill of life? Stripping nature away from it’s very trunk seems like some kind of corporate buzzword that’s taken on a life of it’s own. I for one will be campaigning for the keeping of the crunch leaves in England!

Glad you managed to capture them before and during removal- in a concrete jungle such as Japan’s cities a splash of natural colour does wonders for the mind 🙂

— comment by David on November 19th, 2008 at 9:36pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

There may be the factor of municipal convenience, but I wonder if the work of strip the leaves off the tress is actually more time-consuming ad costly than cleaning up after they’ve fallen.

Another factor I see is an ingrained cultural determination to control every possible aspect of nature: which is why I view Japanese gardens not with pleasure anymore, but with a shudder.

— comment by Bob on November 19th, 2008 at 11:19pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Very strange indeed. I had never heard about this before but it does make some morbid sense. This way they don’t have to clean up a lot and don’t have to prune again in spring. For some reason I do like the shape of the left-over skeletons. They look sad and hopeful at the same time.

— comment by Jao on November 20th, 2008 at 12:30am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I’m with Jao on this!

I agree it looks a bit barbaric, yet street trees do often need pruning, and ginkgos, especially females, are messy trees (the fruit, as you no doubt know, smell appallingly of cheesy socks). Yet the trees look to be thoughtfully pruned and quite striking as skeletons afterwards. Perhaps you can find a street somewhere of unrpruned trees for comparison. I know there are narrow-crowned selections of ginkgo, but these may not be, in which case it makes some sense to prune and tidy in a single operation. The trees should be all the bushier next spring!

— comment by Peter on November 20th, 2008 at 4:48am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I was wondering if anyone would bring up the foul smell of the dropped fruit. Peter had the most polite description of it I’ve ever seen…most people just say “Dog Poop.
And I always considered Gingko a fuller tree, but these seem to be pruned to resemble a stumpy Liquidamber. And they don’t appear high enough to interfere with the electric lines. If you ever learn to reason, Jeff, let us know. It may even be reasonable.

— comment by Grandma Friedl on November 20th, 2008 at 8:11am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Well, I found myself next to the cleanup crew at a stoplight this morning, so asked them. Their look made it clear within the first second that they had no idea why, beyond their boss having told them to do it. After a few moments of thinking, one said sheepishly (as if he’d never considered the “why” before)…. “like a haircut”.

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on November 20th, 2008 at 9:50am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I have always been sad to see this happening here in Akita too. It’s not just the ginkgo trees – they also trim weeping willows along the river very severely every year.

But the fact is, the next spring and summer they grow back with such a vengeance that it’s hard to believe they were ever pruned at all (like Peter mentioned above). Searching on the Internet, it seems that perhaps that is the reason for the severe pruning.

That said, I’ve also read (I think it was in Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons) that the reason for the autumnal trimming is indeed to get rid of the leaves before they fall, and that it is apparently (at least partially) caused by residents calling their local authority to complain about the mess made by falling leaves.

I don’t know enough about trees to have an opinion of whether pruning is good or bad, but I strongly agree with you that pruning them at the peak of their beauty is just plain wrong.

— comment by Thorf on November 20th, 2008 at 11:16am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Consider the location – An accumulation of leaves on the street and sidewalk would represent a safety hazard for vehicles and pedestrians, especially when wet. Do they prune trees that are not located near streets and sidewalks in the same manner?

Having grown up in Ohio where trees seem to multiply their leaves 10-fold as they shed them, I can assure you that they’re not a particular “safety hazard”. There are plenty of city-owned Ginkgo trees that line streets that they don’t prune. —Jeffrey

— comment by Carl on November 21st, 2008 at 1:28am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I’m afraid this morning’s experience makes me agree with Carl. Last night’s fallen leaves were sitting on the sidewalk, but not directly on the sidewalk. Last night’s rain formed a nice slippery layer in between the two.

Eleven years ago it was on a street with no sidewalks, and I was riding a bicycle instead of walking, so the nice slippery combination put me in hospital for 10 days and a wheelchair for around 40 days. Today fortunately I injured my other knee not the same one, so the injury probably isn’t as bad. We’ll see how it feels later today.

— comment by 和葉葉葉葉葉 on December 10th, 2008 at 8:14am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Lots of people agree with Carl. For the past week, people were showing their displeasure by exaggerated movements and glaring, especially on trains, because rain and leaves on a sidewalk had made my knee unbendable.

I’ve been reminded that the injured knee is the same one as 11 years ago, not the opposite one. Today I can bend it as long as it doesn’t have any weight on it.

— comment by 和葉葉葉葉葉 on December 18th, 2008 at 12:26pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I have a 100-ft tall female ginko tree in the front yard of my Brooklyn New York home. The stench of literally thousands of ripe ginko berries is beyond terrible. How, other than cutting down this tree, can I control this yearly mess?

I don’t think you can. It’s truly horrid. I’ve heard that the trees can sometimes switch gender (!)… if you could get it to do that, it’d be fine. Only one gender of the tree has the smell. —Jeffrey

— comment by James Randall on June 14th, 2016 at 9:35am JST (1 year, 6 months ago) comment permalink
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