There’s no nature in Japan

June 9, 2015

Hanzi P.

A man about my age said to me in an onsen a few days ago.

There’s no nature, that has really struck a chord with me, and I’ve been trying to work out what he meant ever since. Japan is covered from head to toe in forests, officially 70% of the land is covered in trees. Mountains criss cross the volcanic islands, occasionally a single volcano rises imposing over the surrounding area. Japan has nature trails that hikers dream about, tree lined, leafy paths winding up and down mountain peaks and around picturesque lakes, beautifully coloured flowers are a prize to be spotted between the greens. So what did this man mean, there’s no nature in Japan.

Was he hinting at the engineered nature of the countryside; 40% of Japan’s trees have been planted, and they form an incredulous patchwork quilt over the hillsides, certain types of trees are planted in seemingly unregimented but uniform areas. The effects of this are pretty strange especially in rural mountainous areas where the order strikes you as a bit out of place. Was he referring to the hiking paths which are examples of such engineering. Pristine walkways around dug out and manicured nature, but nature it is. It can seem a bit strange in the middle of nowhere.

It is interesting to me whether this youth’s idea of a barren Japan comes from a political view, where a endemic negativity from a stagnant economy, with hardly any prospects for young people to have the success that their parents saw in the mid 20th century. Is it because the industrialisation of many areas of Japan during this period – with
the shift away from agriculture to manufacturing, has made this young man unable to see the nature that’s around him? He might be the product of half a century of the Japanese mindset of economic growth being above all other considerations. Is he saying that Japanese don’t see nature anymore? Or is it the densely populated areas of flat land in between big cities.

Mountain streams that flow past the window of the local trains in Japan, strewn with boulders and rocks reminiscent of other post volcanic areas – I’m thinking of Hampi in India, are modelled in cities like Kyoto with an almost uncanny precision. In fact the vast area of slow moving stream with small, flat rocks could be either rural mountain or Kyoto central if you take it as a singular object. Streams flow all over this city with fresh, clear water.

Maybe he lives in Tokyo, and came to Kinasokionsen for a holiday, although even Tokyo has big areas of forested parks. The irony is that we were sat in the buff talking to each other, if that’s not nature then I don’t know what is. Also, we were sat in a mountain hot spring, surrounded by rocks, and a waterfall flowing down the hillside to our left. The waterfall was almost certainly engineered to be perfectly framed from the baths, maybe the hot spring wasn’t really a hot spring straight from the source. Maybe he had a point.

The language barrier restricted me from knowing what he really meant, but it definitely made my brain tick.