After a 2 ½ hour bus trip from Kitakyushu, I finally arrived at the Garden. The original tree that the Tokutomi brothers planted fell victim to a typhoon but the descendant trees thrived well. The Kumamoto City homepage had photos of two catalpas from; l) nearby Idegawa river bank and 2) Hishigata Elementary School, 'Uekimachi.' Both are sibling catalpas more than 100 years old. In particular, the Hishigata School catalpa is 18 meters high and the trunk measures 336 centimeters in diameter and is noted as the tallest and widest tree in the report filed by Junji Imamura, a tree doctor, contracted by the voluntary group of Hishigata School students, supported by parents and teachers.
Now the mystery is of how Reverend Joseph Niijima, founder of Doshisha University, came into possession of catalpa seeds. In the late 1860s, I read that there was a kind of catalpa craze that spread from New England, Ohio, Texas to California that seemed to be associated with the railroad industry. Reverend Niijima studied at Amherst, Massachusetts and he must have seen school children planting seedlings. Catalpa today is regarded as somewhat invasive, but back in the last century, not so. In less warm states, like New England, people had to take extra care and I read they rejoiced when catalpas were resuscitated under harsh conditions, likening catalpa as a phoenix.
Getting back to Hishigata Elementary School, the school slogan is, "We have the No. l Catalpa of Japan, the symbol of the Niijima/Tokutomi bonds of friendship between teacher and students. We will strive to be No. 1 in sports, in greening of the school and soaring high as we enter society." Hishigata School Baseball team won the local baseball competition in 2013.
Here is a note I received from my friend Don:
I received a question on trees which are in USA and Japan. I am gathering information. They seem to like warm, wet weather and are not prevalent in the cold northern climates. I will check with my friend in South Carolina. Meantime I am also checking out an American city named AZUSA near Los Angeles. I believe it is a tree, similar to what Yokohama has for its main street, ISEZAKI-cho.
The history says Japan used it for the bow of the Samurai. In America, we do not have info on usage. But ISEZAKI tree is much like AZUSA word. And the BOW was very important with Algonquin (“Are Kan Quayn" to be the bow and flint arrow point - the original name for America before Columbus).
The Catawba tree had fruit that natives used for fish bait because they resembled worms. It is also called a "fish bait tree" in the Carolinas.
Near Alabama the Indians had an area named TUSKEGEE. The history says it may have meant "warrior". I think it relates to TSUKA in Japanese for "a mound". These people were also known as "mound builders" and these mounds of earth are seen in many places throughout the Midwest. It would be "Mound trees---Tsuka Ki ga".