Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bonsai Nature

It's not a new idea. Many people have noticed that "nature" in Japan seems a bit man-made. A walk in forests in the Kanto area can easily give this sense. Some of it is obvious---platforms on top of popular mountains with trees trimmed and cut away so that those who have braved the climb up (often at least partway on stairs) can have a convenient view to ohhh, ahhh, and sugoi before taking the standard photo with the old cellphone. Some areas, such as certain ski resorts, even provide loudpeaker announcements, blaring music, and bright lights to help one enjoy a more natural experience.

At other times it is more subtle. As one walks through a forest there is a very convenient opening in the woods just at the point of some special view. Don't be surprised to see a bench there either. In some areas---such as parts around Nikko---you will notice that all the trees are planted in straight lines and are amazingly almost exclusively the same type for acres and acres. The type happens to be the cedar tree which bureaucrats decided to plant for lumber years ago with out figuring out how to harvest it economically.

More than an interest in nature or wildness, there seems to be more emphasis on the famous spot. Folks will walk though the woods ignoring everything until the reach the spot marked on their map which is officially scenic, beautiful, and famous.

There is a park near my house with a waterfalls which shuts off every evening before closing time. I just saw a falls in Kyoto with a nice concrete bed in the shape of stairs which certainly ruined the effect for me. For some reason, I think of nature as a place where the obvious, intentional impact of, and manipulation by man is less common. Stairs up a hill, music, trees lit up at night with lights, woods partially cleared for a view of the ugly city below, or for a view of a nearby hill sort of cheapen the experience. I rarely feel the urge to bring a radio along to blare at full blast as I hike or camp either.

Donald Ritchie recently reviewed a book on Japanese gardens which got me this subject again.

Two attitudes toward nature are everywhere possible: you confront it or you accept it...

[In Japan] Nature is thus not only accepted, it is also naturalized. Just as the flowers in ikebana ("living flowers") are presumed to be more flowerlike than any natural bloom (even though those seen in ikebana are, having been picked, either dead or dying), so the Japanese garden is to be more natural than nature...

Yes, man-made synthetic nature is more natural than nature. I understand. I just wonder where the wildlife is in this version of "nature." Recorded birds sounds?

I enjoy Japanese gardens, but sorry, they are neither nature nor natural. There are a pretty, but lessor imitation of the real thing. If you want to see nature in Japan, you can find it, but you gotta get far out in the sticks where the going is difficult enough to discourage most people from going, and others from "improving" it.

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