Miho no Matsubara, or the Pine Grove in Miho, has long been known as a place of scenic beauty. And it is actually a nationally designated scenic area in Shimizu, Japan. The pine grove stretches about 7 km (4.3 miles) along the Miho Peninsula and has over 30,000 pieces of Japanese black pine trees.
We Japanese have an old expression, Hakusa Seishou, which literally means “white sand and green pines.” It is a term describing the beauty of pine trees lined along a white sea shore. And we can see from the term how our ancestors loved and valued this kind of natural beauty from a long time ago (well, I know some people say that the sand of Miho beach is not such “white” nowadays, but I hope you will use your imagination).
Miho no Matsubara was chosen as one of the “New Three Views of Japan” in 1916 along with Onuma Quasi-National Park in Hokkaido and Yabakei in Oita Prefecture. It is also considered to be one of the “three outstanding pine groves of Japan” along with Rainbow Pine Grove in Saga Prefecture and Kehi Pine Grove in Fukui Prefecture.
However, the recent popularity of this pine grove really came about when it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 as one of Mt. Fuji’s “component parts.” Since then, the number of tourists increased, and the city even moved the location of the bus parking lot to a distance of about 500 meters from the entrance of the beach after it was found that the exhaust fumes from large buses were causing a harmful effect on the pine trees.
Here is a question: Why was Miho no Matsubara chosen as one of Mt. Fuji’s component parts, even though they are 40 km (27 miles) apart from each other? The main reason is that “cultural connections” between them were strongly considered. The grove and Mt. Fuji have often been depicted together in various art forms, including ukiyo-e works by Hiroshige, paintings by some famous artists and Japanese traditional waka poems. In addition, there is a religious painting called “Fuji Mandala” created in the Middle Ages, and Miho Pine Grove is included in it as if it is a part of a religious pursuit to reach the sacred Mt. Fuji.
Miho no Matsubara is also known for the “legend of Hagoromo.” Hagoromo (feather robe) is an article of clothing worn by a celestial maiden in a folk tale which is considered to have been around since at least the eighth century. Although there are some variations in this folk tale, one of the stories goes like this: Once upon a time, there lived a fisherman named Hakuryo in Miho. One day, as usual, he was fishing near the pine grove.
Then he noticed a beautiful robe hanging from a branch of a pine tree. It was such a beautiful and unusual robe that he thought about bringing it back to his home. He was about to take it and head for his home when a voice called out to him to stop. There is a beautiful lady standing in the shadow of a pine tree.
She said, “I am a celestial maiden, and that hagoromo belongs to me. I have just descended here to frolic because the scenery around here is so beautiful. Please give it back to me! I can’t go back to my world above without it!” She looked sad, so Hakuryo gradually felt sorry for her. He said, “OK. I will give it back to you, but in exchange, you have to dance a celestial dance for me.” And he returned it to her.
Dressed in her hagoromo, she looked glad and began to dance gracefully. Then she started to float in the air, gradually getting higher right before his eyes, and, mixing with a spring mist, finally vanished into the air in the direction of Mt. Fuji.
Photographs: taken at Miho no Matsubara, by Koji Ikuma,
with Fuji X-T1 & Summaron 35mmF3.5 / Speed Anastigmat 25mmF1.5