Kosugi no Osugi isn’t just cute, it’s sacred too.

Once you’ve watched anime classic My Neighbor Totoro, it’s hard to see woodland scenery in Japan and not be reminded of the lovable Studio Ghibli mascot. That mental connection is particularly strong, though, in Yamagata Prefecture’s Sakegawa Village.

As a rural town, Sakegawa doesn’t have a lot of sightseeing attractions, but it does have one claim to fame in its Kosugi neighborhood: a tree called Kosugi no Osugi (“The Great Cedar of Kosugi”). It’s also known by another name, though, the Totoro Cedar, because…well just look at it!

With a roly-poly lower section tapering into a pair of ear-like points at the top, the Totoro Cedar bears an uncanny resemblance to Hayao Miyazaki’s cuddliest character.

The effect becomes even more striking after sundown, when shadows smooth out the contours of individual leaves, and once the silhouette becomes pitch-black, you’d be forgiven for thinking the anime character himself was coming to pay you a visit, like he did on that moonlit night when he planted garden seeds with sisters Mei and Satsuki.


Speaking of moments from the movie, many visitors to the Totoro Cedar bring along an umbrella, even on sunny days, so that they can recreate some of the atmosphere of the scene where the sisters and Totoro are waiting at the bus stop.

Recently, the Totoro Cedar has been getting a wave of attention online thanks to a new time-lapse video showing it on a starry night.

But in contrast to the anime’s events, this 20-meter (65.6-foot) tall tree didn’t instantly spring up by magic. Estimates place its age at roughly 1,000 years old, and its not just its age and anime resemblance that make it special.

For starters, the trunk is split into multiple shafts. Cedars that exhibit this characteristic are called fufu sugi, meaning “spouse cedars,” since the two sections of the trunk are joined in union, and are seen as imparting a blessing of happy romantic bonds upon lovers who visit them. The Totoro Cedar, though, has a three-pronged trunk, which some locals say symbolizes two parents and a child, making it even more auspicious.


However, some say that as the third prong has grown, it’s changed the appearance of the tree, making it look less “Totoro-like” than it used to, and wonder why the city doesn’t trim the third trunk section.

It turns out there’s a good reason: Japan’s indigenous Shinto religion teaches that there is divinity in nature, and the Totoro Cedar, like many trees of advanced age in Japan, is considered sacred. The city is thus reluctant to trim it for purely cosmetic reasons, and asks that people instead interpret the fuller dimensions caused by the third prong as a sign that Totoro is just a little plumper than he used to be.

Tree information
Kosugi no Osgui (Totoro Cedar) / 小杉の大杉(トトロの木)
Address: Yamagata-ken, Mogami-gun, Sakegawa-mura, Magarigawa 113-2

Sources: Sankei Biz, Sakegawa Village Tourism Information website
Top image: Sakegawa Village Tourism Information website
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