In 1964, athletes taking part in the Tokyo Olympics brought with them seeds from their homeland to be planted as commemorative trees.
More than 50 years later, Japan is now searching for the whereabouts of these arboreal legacies as it prepares to host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in two years’ time.
Records kept at the National Land Afforestation Promotion Organization (NLAPO) show some 270 species from over 40 nations were brought in exchange for native species and that the organization requested arrangements for the swift processing of the seeds at customs.
No national records on where the trees were planted exist. Many are believed to have died since they grew in a different climate, although some trees are known to have survived in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park and at a school in Hokkaido.
An official of Yoyogi Park, the site where 1,100 trees were planted after the 1964 games, hopes the athletes who donated seeds will pay a visit.
A school in the Hokkaido town of Engaru has more than 150 trees from Canada and elsewhere suited to the prefecture’s environment. Some trees now reach about 30 meters.
In mid-May, children planted seeds from the trees as the town hopes a new generation of commemorative trees will grow in time for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“We would like to pass down the legacy to the next generation,” said Engaru town mayor Shuichi Sasaki.
The town is also seeking to meet the athletes that brought the seeds, in addition to having some of the trees decorate the interior of an Olympic history museum scheduled for completion in 2019 in Tokyo.
NLAPO seeks to promote the commemorative tree campaign to raise interest for the 2020 Tokyo Games, but because no centralized records exist on where the trees were planted, it has to resort to checking municipal records and asking locals who might remember.
Yamaguchi Prefecture, which received 1,700 saplings grown from seeds that it shared among local municipalities, said it has been able to confirm the location of one tree at its agriculture and forestry technology center.
Another tree was found at Kumamoto Prefecture’s forestry research facility, but the country of origin remains unknown.
“We only have about two years to go to the 2020 games,” said an official from the afforestation promotion organization. “We hope people will trace the whereabouts of the commemorative trees and build momentum for the event.”