American buys tree on Nagasaki island to stop it from being felled

January 19, 2022
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For Nicholas Sutton, a banyan tree he passed by on his daily stroll on Fukuejima islet here is more than just an old piece of timber.

Touching the smooth bark, Sutton, 38, an English teacher, feels as if he could extract power from the massive tree, which stands on a narrow path in the local community with its boughs extending in all directions.

The American saw the tree on his daily walks on the islet in the Goto island chain off Nagasaki Prefecture, as well as when jogging around his neighborhood and going to and from the English school where he works.

In December last year, Sutton heard a cracking sound from the banyan while on his way home from a language class. He quickly turned the corner and found thick branches of the tree being cut down by heavy machinery.

Sutton asked the worker using the machinery “how much of the tree will you cut down,” and he learned that the property owner who resides outside of Nagasaki Prefecture wanted it completely chopped down.

Under the plan, an old nearby home would be torn down alongside the tree so that the land could be cleared.

Sutton jumped instantly in front of the banyan, shouting, “I will save it by any means, so please stop.”

Sutton first encountered the tree in 2016, when he and his wife, a Fukuejima native, moved to the island from Tokyo after he had been enchanted by the local scenery.

The tree, known as Ako in Japan, stands by a road 300 meters from his rented home and is more than 10 meters tall.

When its seeds sprout on other kinds of wood, the tree’s roots spread from the areas. The banyan’s roots reached another tree on the opposite side, creating a tunnel-like structure over the path by blocking sunlight.

Sutton, who had traveled all over the world, believed the tree that spreads out over the ground with its roots is something special.

When Sutton was unable to sleep soundly at night because of the tough screening process to obtain a home mortgage on Fukuejima, he put a hand on the banyan in prayer for everything to go well. Sutton felt the tree told him that things would be “OK.”

Contemplating how to stop the important partner from being hacked away, Sutton contacted the president of the firm entrusted with toppling it. The company head told him that, “I also do not want to cut down such a magnificent tree.”

The president asked that Sutton pay only the cost of the work already completed and stated that he did not need to bear any other expense.

In the next step, Sutton talked over the phone with the real estate agency that commissioned the tree removal work to explain his desire.

As he did not have any detailed plans, Sutton was asked by the agent “what will you do with the tree” and replied that he “will go on a picnic with my family” under it.

After they talked at cross-purposes for a while, the realtor suggested, “if you will buy the tree along with the land and the residence soon, we will sell it to you.”

Though he had just had his home mortgage approved, Sutton quickly replied, “I will.”

He paid several million yen (tens of thousands of dollars) from what little remained in his savings. The necessary paperwork and documents were completed in April this year, making Sutton the tree’s new owner.

Currently, Sutton visits the banyan with his 5-year-old daughter, who was born on the island. Imitating her father, the child touches the wood and says, “Toto (dad), power, power.”

“I felt like I had been linked to the tree when going by the road that day,” recalled Sutton. “It must have been fate.”

Estimated to be 250 years old, the banyan is his respected senior, friend and beloved offspring at the same time. Nicholas named the banyan, which an arborist believes will live for another 300 years, Acholas after himself.

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