Nature in Japan

Nature is one of the great wonders of Japan. In that you wonder what happened to it all.

But look around. The hillsides of Kyushu terraced with rice paddies, fields of Hokkaido lavender as far as the eye can see, and deserted white sand beaches on remote Okinawan islands. There’s definitely some nature in Japan, still.

Japanese School Daze

So I was working at a Japanese middle school recently, dozing off in the teachers’ lounge, when a cockroach the size of a cat skittered across the floor. Michiko-sensei screamed. That’ll wake you up in a hurry. Then the Vice Principle screamed. He used to be a wrestling coach, so that was a little alarming. Then the old lady who makes tea screamed, and nothing scares her. Then I looked down and screamed too. I mean, have you seen a Japanese cockroach? Terrifying, really. And in a flash, Saito-sensei turns to me and says, “Oh Ken, you’re such a city boy.”

And I was like, “Whaa? Why me? Is this a white thing? And it’s ‘Seeroi,’ by the way. I was just screaming to be a team player.”

But I can understand why you might mistake me for an urbanite. I mean, with stylishly slim trousers, a manly man bag and two meticulously trimmed eyebrows, Ken Seeroi is the very picture of hunky metrosexual perfection.You’d never guess he was, at heart, a mountain man. But you, my friend, would be wrong.

Ken’s Life of Adventure

If you took all the nights I’ve spent in sleeping bags—not trying to brag, if only because homelessness is a tough thing to pride oneself on—and added them all up—in the snow, rain, forests, deserts, under pickup trucks and in ship bunks, in tents, lean-to’s, and under the stars—it’d probably come to a couple of years. In that time, I’ve woken up face to face with skunks, been prodded awake by deer, had bears, porcupines, and raccoons stroll into my camps, and spent nights tormented by coyotes, mountain goats, flying squirrels, scorpions, and gila monsters. Oh, people love to romanticize “the great outdoors.” Mostly people indoors. But it’s pretty clear why humankind started building houses—i.e., to keep random bugs and animals from murdering us in our sleep.

The Japanese Version of Nature

So I know a bit about nature. Now, here’s nature in Japan.

It’s last autumn, and Yoko and I are in a restaurant. It’s a beautiful, sunny, Friday afternoon. In California, we’d be sitting out at a table under a red umbrella, sipping wine and watching the waves roll in. Instead, despite being within viewing-distance of both sea and mountains, somehow this restaurant has no windows. But that’s almost every restaurant in Japan, so I try not to get too excited. Japan’s all about shutting yourself up indoors and not getting too excited.

But Yoko is, if not excited, then mildly pleased by a full-color glossy flyer she hands me, advertising “Fall Leaf Viewing.” Three days later, we’re on a bus with forty Japanese people, heading into the countryside.

So here’s the deal. Every spring, the sakura trees bloom. And in cities that don’t get a lot of tourists, armies of old men with ladders and saws head out and cut all the limbs off the trees, which saves them from having to sweep up the fallen petals. Then every fall, different trees, but same thing. They saw off entire limbs to keep from having to rake the leaves, resulting in long rows of sad, amputated trees.

If you’re thinking that’s a senseless and cruel thing to do to a lovely tree, never fear. The Japanese have engineered a fine solution.

Remember the sakura trees? Well, they take the remaining stumps of tree limbs and zip-tie plastic branches with plastic sakura flowers to them, so from a distance they once again resemble beautiful cherry blossoms. Maybe even better, like fake tits for trees. Then when the season is over, they cut off the zip ties and stuff the plastic flowers in a bag for next year, like so many tinfoil Christmas trees.

Autumn in Japan

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em

– Joni Mitchell

The autumn trees, however, don’t get the same prosthetics. That’s where the “Fall Leaf Viewing” comes in. Since Stumpy the Tree hadn’t any brightly colored leaves left for us to see, Yoko and I joined swarms of other Japanese and rode the subway. Which took us to the bus. Where we lined up for an hour, then rode for another hour into the countryside.

There, the local folks were holding a festival! I love festivals. A dozen food stalls were set up, selling fried noodles, octopus balls, and beer. It’s a bit hard not to see the whole thing as a scam by poor farmers to raise cash by bringing rich city folk to see their leaves but hey, did I mention they had beer? So once we’d eaten some food on sticks and powered down a couple frosty beverages, we were free to meander beside the rice paddies until Pow!—there they were: actual trees. With leaves. Hundreds of Japanese people jockeyed their iPhones for the best picture angle, that being the one featuring the fewest number of other Japanese people.

Then after a few minutes of capturing nature’s glory, we lined up for another hour to get back on the bus, rode back into the city, took the subway, then marveled at how clean our neighborhood sidewalks were. Not a leaf in sight.

This book kinda talks about the same stuff

Oh sure, there’s some nature left in Japan, but mostly it seems accidental, like the wrecking crew of Japanese civil engineers and Yakuza dropouts just hasn’t gotten around to improving it yet. So here’s an easy question: How do you improve upon a green hillside full of hardwood trees? Seriously, come on, you know. At least every Japanese resident knows. You hack down all the trees, then pour concrete over the entire hillside. That’s the Japanese way.

Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not hating on Japan, or saying other countries don’t do the same or worse. Donald Trump. It’s just that I can’t shake this image—I don’t know where I got it—of Japan as a place in harmony with nature, where people love the outdoors. In my mind, it’s a land of tea farms and bamboo forests. I blame David Carradine. But in real life, it’s miles of pavement and webs of black power lines. City parks with one rusty swing set set atop a dirt lot. Now sure, I haven’t been to every prefecture, only half. Maybe all the nature’s hiding in the remaining fifty percent. I’m sure they’ve got glorious parks and a booming cafe culture in, uh, Ehime. Probably a regular Paris over there.

The Great Outdoors

Now, I’m not saying Japanese folks hate nature, because that’d be unfair and judgmental. So maybe I’ll just think it.

Like think of the rivers dammed, dug up with backhoes, then paved in concrete so the water could flow, I dunno, better. Think of hiking to the top of a remote mountain, on trails helpfully fitted with miles of stairs and ropes, to reach a stunning vista, and gazing at the distant mountains with feminine curves, adorned with a jewelry of cell towers and windmills. Think of the pristine sea shore piled high with massive concrete tetrapods to block the waves. Amidst them you can feel free to chuck your unwanted stereos and television sets into the ocean. Hey, nobody wants to pay three bucks for a recycling sticker. We Japanese value our money, not like you foreigners.

Nature in Japan

So after the cockroach incident and teaching two more English classes, I headed out on the bike. I finish up school early a lot, which presents something of a problem. If it were San Diego or Seattle, I’d find a cozy outdoor table, order a beer, and study some Japanese. But in Japan, you’ve mostly gotta wait till six, then sit at some smoky counter with a glorious view of the grill. But not today. Ken Seeroi was determined to make a change.

There was a little wooded hillside I’d passed before, with overgrown stairs leading into some undeveloped land. It looked promising, so I swung by the 7-Eleven, picked up a couple of tall malt liquors and these rice cracker peanuty snacks, and headed up into the woods. After about a hundred meters, it leveled out, and there was an old wooden bench. Perfect. I couldn’t believe my luck. Of course, it felt a little weird. Somehow I’d gone from dining out at upscale eateries to sitting alone in the woods with cans of malt liquor. Well, whatever, at least it was trees and nature. And that’s when they emerged from forest. I lasted exactly two swigs of booze before thousands of horrible flying things, subtly, almost imperceptibly, and then suddenly in great numbers, covered every inch of my skin.

They bit into my neck, legs, arms, and kept coming. I swatted like mad, but the air buzzed like it was filled with a thousand mosquitoes. Probably because it was, in fact, filled with a thousand mosquitoes. They’d been waiting weeks for some delicious white guy to stumble into their trap. I grabbed a malt liquor in each hand, jumped up, and took off running. Smack into a tree. Where the hell was the trail? My eyes were swelling shut. I ran back to the bench. Agh, more mosquitoes. I inhaled a mouthful. Anaphylactic shock setting in. I stumbled through the brush leaving a trail of rice cracker peanuty snacks. I knew if I tripped, I’d be devoured alive. Gotta lift your knees, that’s the key.

The Great Indoors

By some miracle, I made it to the bike, then rode like Stevie Wonder back to 7-Eleven and checked the damage in the bathroom. The face in the mirror was that of a 16 year-old boy with horrible acne wearing festive red sleeves and tights on his arms and legs. Thank God I had on a watch. Not because it protected my wrist, but because I could see it was finally six p.m. I rode straight to the first izakaya I could find, sat down in the wonderful air-conditioning and ordered a shochu, water on the side, which I believe is standard treatment for malaria. The barman handed me a white hand towel and a small bowl of spinach with fish flakes on top. I wiped my face with the cool, wet towel and was never so glad to be back in civilization. So much for nature in Japan.

66 Replies to “Nature in Japan”

  1. You have got to be kidding me. What about the Izu Peninsula, JP Alps, Wakayama? As for the mosquitos, carry some Picaridin spray from Amazon. Geez.

    1. Nope, not kidding you.

      There’s a difference between nature and the attitudes of people toward nature. Nature has simply existed until now, and I agree that what remains is quite beautiful.

      What’s concerning is the way Japanese people relate to the nature they’ve inherited. They mostly seem dead-set on either turning it into a tourist attraction, or burying it with concrete. It’s rare to meet anyone who actually enjoys being outdoors.

      With the millions of balconies in this country, when was the last time you saw someone sitting out on one?

        1. Yeah, that and for storing your recycling in anticipation of trash day. Nothing like enjoying a fine glass of wine surrounded by hanging undies and bags of cans. Seriously, there’s nothing like it.

      1. interesting and valid perspective. i make a point of not associating with Japanese people who don’t share at least the barest version of my love of nature, so yeah, I’m not unbiased. But, that said, I do think a fair number of educated Japanese love nature in the “western” (i.e. Lord of the Rings way, where the bears and wolves exist in harmony with the elves [you’re not an elf]) way. But, they understand Japan is relatively small, narrow at the least, and lacking in Himalaya-type elevations.

        For what’s it worth, my girlfriend entertains my fixation on trekking elevation and four seasons, but her soul screams Hawaii and Ishigakijima. We’ll see what happens, my hilarious American brother.

        PS: play Nier:Automata, and imagine you are Kusanagi in Ghost for the Shell. All will be well.

        1. I’m drunk, that’s why it reads for rather than in the Shell. So much for a GRE Verbal Score of perfect.

  2. “It’s rare to meet anyone who actually enjoys being outdoors.”
    You’ve got to be kidding me. Take any train on a Saturday morning (before 8am) that’s leaving the big city and it’ll be nearly as full as a weekday morning rush hour with people of all ages heading to the various mountain hiking destinations all decked out in the latest Mont Bell gear, trekking poles, backpacks, and the works. They’re not all going to the sanitized confines of Mt. Takao or whatever concrete covered “nature” you’ve been to that was listed in the brochure that dumb-girlfriend-of-the-month picked up. I like most of your stuff but this is just dead wrong.

    1. Nope, still not kidding.

      No one’s doubting that Japanese people love gear. I remember one time I was all set to go hiking, and when my girlfriend showed up and found me wearing old boots and a pair of worn-out shorts, she shamed me into changing into something more presentable. I naively thought we were just going for a walk in the woods. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

      Hiking is the latest fashion trend to hit Japan, and it’s big business. It’s all the rage now to gather at the station, everyone in thousands of dollars’ worth of color-coordinated Mont Bell or North Face Gore-Tex, and ride the train out for a stroll in the woods.

      Hell, I was a member of a Japanese hiking club for a couple years. Every week I’d show up with a water bottle, sack full of onigiri, and a large trash bag in case it rained. I’ve seen people carrying crampons, ice axes, stoves—for a half-day hike in August.

      Having a Ferrari doesn’t make you a good driver. The fact that some Japanese people worship tons of expensive gear doesn’t mean the society as a whole has a decent relationship with nature.

        1. It’s no accident you mentioned it, and that was on point. Japan’s really good at appearing one way while being another.

          There’s a literal distinction here between inside and out. You don’t simply move freely between the two. When you come home, you take off your shoes, wash up, gargle, maybe change clothes or shower. Now you’re “in.” Hope you don’t need to go back out any time soon, because there’s a whole other set of steps for that.

          This applies to houses, restaurants, and people as well.

          1. That explains why 15 minutes after arriving at home we can’t go out again because it will take my wife at least an hour to get ready….

    1. It sounds great. I’ve heard good things about India.

      Although to be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t beautiful nature in Japan. Some wonderful places still remain. Rather, I’m calling into question the relationship of the Japanese people with that nature, and the outdoors in general. The nation seems far more concerned with progress and expediency than with preservation (although the same might be said of many countries). And, except for the periodic picnic/festival/excursion, much of the population seems to shun the outdoors.

      Not a lot of open-air dining in Japan.

      1. I haven’t spent enough time on the mainland to chime in but Hokkaido has decent hikes and lots of (older) locals going up everyday. Also, parks in Sapporo are filled with wafting fumes of grilled meats on weekends when the weather is nice. With all the Coleman chairs out, it feels very much like…Canada.

    1. Maybe a little bit. They’re big and slow. If you live in the countryside, you see them around once in a while, but they’ll leave you alone if you do them the same courtesy. Unless you work in an orchard picking a lot of fruit, you probably won’t get stung accidentally.

      In normal, daily life they’re not something you’d really worry about.

  3. Another dismal outlook of Japan Ken, keep them coming as I plan to go to Japan soon! I don’t want to be disappointed so it’s best you set the bar very low…

    Completely off topic here: Takuma Sato just won the Indianapolis 500 car race today, I’m guessing this will be front page news in Japan tomorrow.

    Are you at all interested in the car (or motorcycle) culture of Japan? I’d like to know what they drive over there. I’m assuming small but fast; go karts with lights. I’d also like to know what kind of car you drive and any driving experiences you have had so far. Maybe you go up in the mountains and go drift car racing with the locals. I’d like to plan my trip around the F1 race at Suzuka, have you been?

    Thanks for the stories and look forward to your reply,

    1. I checked two Japanese newspaper sites (NHK and FNN). It wasn’t really what you’d call “front page news.” Here’s the English version of today’s paper. I think you’ll see what I mean:

      I did see it mentioned on the front page of NHK’s Sports section, however. One sentence. You can check out the extensive coverage for yourself:

      Maybe they’ll have more later.

      Not to add to your disappointment, but I’d probably sum up the car culture as nonexistent. I think you want America for that. Cars here are small but slow—lots of shrunk-down minivans. The whole “drifting” thing is largely a fabrication of the Western media. If you got into a fender-bender here it’d be a major problem, so people tend to drive slowly and carefully.

      I knew one guy out in the boondocks who had a race car that he said he drove on a track. Seemed mostly to just sit in his garage however.

      F1 does seem to have many fans though, many of whom are female, so that might be a good thing. I’ve never been to the race at Suzuka, so perhaps if you go, you’ll tap into a whole other sub-culture I’m unaware of. No doubt that like a lot of things, the more you look, the more you’ll find.

      1. I’d still like to know what kind of car you drive along with your driving experiences in Japan compared to the West. There must be some interesting adventures and antics involved. I suppose that could make it’s own topic though and I would look forward to reading about it in more detail.

        Please put that in your “topics to do” list, I get the feeling this would make a fun read.

        1. All right, those are pretty fair questions, so done. The next post I write will be about cars and driving in Japan. Gimme a couple of weeks, okay? But thanks for the kick in the ass.

          1. Awesome, this should be hysterical. I feel somewhat honored that you would consider my request and look forward to your continuing demystification of Japan. I shall wait with bated breath…

            1. Well, we’ll see what happens when the typing starts, but anyway it’s a good topic. Thanks for suggesting it.

    2. You sometimes see skid marks on corners of mountainous roads in the middle of nowhere, and occasionally cars held together with tape that didn’t make it through whatever turn they missed, so it is going on.

        1. And it’s probably worth noting that the frequency of Japanese cars with superfluous plastic spoilers and oversized tailpipes correlates pretty closely with their proximity to American military bases.

  4. “Nature” is a construct, an idea, a concept, mostly developed by people living in cities around the world. It has varied over the centuries in Europe, and it’s way different in Japan than it is in Western countries. An elderly Japanese friend has a garden with topiarized trees whose bubbles of neatly-trimmed leaves remind me of the pompoms on poodles – yet for her, it is more “natural” than Western gardens.

    Seventy per cent of Japan is mountainous, and mostly Japanese folk don’t live on mountainsides, so it’s possible to get off the beaten track, away from the tourists and heavily populated hiking trails. Not so easy for those living on the Kanto Plain (Tokyo to Osaka), however.

    1. Absolutely. I’m not saying there isn’t nature that still exists. Rather, I’m questioning the attitudes of the populace toward the nature they come in contact with.

      Do a Google Image search for “Japan concrete rivers” or just “Japan concrete” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

      1. Okay, I did an image search for “Japan concrete”, and I have to say that the images looked a lot more exciting than “USA concrete”. Lots of cutting edge architecture in Japan using concrete.

        It’s true that there are the hillsides stabilized with a concrete grid, but it must be known that Japanese hillsides are mostly just big piles of dirt, not rocks. Every time that there is some major rainfall, some of them collapse in landslides—one of the reasons that Japanese people avoid living on hillsides. If they are next to roads, they need stabilization.

        The Western admiration for wild nature is really quite recent—dating back to Romanticism around the start of the nineteenth century. That’s when folks started climbing mountains and admiring vistas just for the sake of it. Before that, nature was a place to be tamed, brought under human control. The Japanese view is more nuanced. Control of and appreciation of nature coexist in a way that makes Westerners feel uncomfortable.

  5. Totally agreed. You could add one more thing to this human jizzing over nature thing; the wood-look-alike-fence around every park and ponds. They put up these concrete fences that look like wooden logs and could fool anyone, until you go and tap one. They have these intricate grooves and are colored brown to give wood feeling. Harmony with nature, my ass!!
    I hope you get what I am ranting about. It is difficult to paint a picture with literary capability of a retarded crow, but I tried. If nobody understands this, I will try to take a picture on my way home.

    1. Concrete logs. Yeah, who thinks of this stuff? I know exactly what you mean. Those things are everywhere.

      The other thing I love are the wooden floors, doors, and trim in so many Japanese apartments. Really gives that authentic harmony-with-nature feel. Just like wood, only more perfect…I assume those are our recycled plastic PET bottles at work.

  6. Another great post Ken!
    I remember when I first came here and I was living among the rice paddies and mountains of Nagasaki – a really beautiful place. One time, the locals invited me to help put posters up for an upcoming matsuri. We spent the day working along the main road between two small villages. During a break we all had can/bottle of something to drink, and when it was time to get back to work I asked the nearest guy what I should do with my now empty bottle. I clearly remember him smiling, taking the bottle off me, and throwing it into the roadside bamboo forest. When I looked closer, the ground of the forest was littered with cans, bottles, old tv’s, dirty futons…
    The funny thing was, on another occasion while out to sea on a fishing trip, the same guy fishes a plastic bottle out of the ocean, takes one look at the Korean writing on the label, and then acts all disgusted and says, “pft, Koreans have no respect for nature.” Gotta love dat duality.

    1. Yeah, litter in Japan is a curious thing. Hey, if a TV or fridge falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? Apparently if no one’s around, freaking anything goes.

      I’ve had the same experience working on farms. Old guys finishing their lunches, then hucking the plastic bags into the forest. Love that respect for nature.

      1. Most visitors to Japan remark on how the city streets are free of litter or graffiti. Patrols of white-gloved civic-minded citizens circulate, methodically collecting what little litter there is.

        Unfortunately, bamboo groves and the like have in the past been seen as “soto”—outside the area to be kept clean, and so fair game to dump anything. I think this attitude is changing, and once the collective Japanese commits to the new idea, those bamboo groves will be spotless.

  7. One thing I find amusing is how overly dressed up a lot of Japanese and Koreans will get, even for short 2-3 hour hikes. I rode my bike up to Daisen a while back, and some people were practically appalled by some guy riding up on a dirty cyclocross bike, then taking a quick walk up to the summit in shorts and a dirty cycling jersey. Or maybe I just smelled really bad, which was definitely a possibility.

    Also, Ehime does have some pretty nice parks. If you get the chance, try riding the shimanami kaido. Might want to splurge on the more expensive rentals though. The $10 bike I tried just about fell apart.

  8. Ken, you really need to start a new topic titled:

    “Other Then the Awesome Food, Here Is Why You Need to Visit Japan”

    I’m assuming it will be one of your shorter posts, maybe a paragraph or so written exclusively about alcohol.

    I also don’t think you should apply for a job at the Japanese Convention & Visitors Bureau, that might be a tough interview if any of the HR people read this blog.

    Keep up the great writing please, it really does make for a great read.

    1. Now this was darn funny. I love Ken’s posts. For the life of me, though, I cant figure out why he is there? Perhaps guessing why would make a good drinking game. Convenient convenience stores = +1 guzzle malt liquor

      1. All rightee, let me do two posts to address comments this time around. I’m going to deal with the “cars in Japan” thing first (because it’s easier, and I always do easiest first just in case I die), and then get around to why I’m still bouncing around these islands. But yeah, okay, the short answer is convenience stores, chicks, and malt liquor.

        1. I agree with you on everything, except I’m a bit dubious on the the ‘chicks’ part. If you’re talking based on looks, then I 100% agree. Personality, then it’s a very mixed bag, but you can expect that anywhere in the world.

          Maybe I’m just complaining because I’m dated some super dodgy Japanese girls in the past…

          1. Ah, you’re right. It really is just the convenience stores and malt liquor.

            Good ol’ booze. Never lets ya down.

  9. Oh man, this blog post is going to be rockin. I ponied up my malt liquor donation, for the sake of creativity. Where is the go fund it page for Ken’s airline ticket home?

    1. I feel like I’m taking about the Canadian Oil Sands, and you’re saying “Yeah, but look how lovely Whistler is.”

      Let me provide a few pictures. This is what I’m talking about:

      Seriously, scroll through that for a minute.

      Now I get where you’re coming from, and I agree. There’s a ton of wonderful nature in Japan. (Nice site you’ve got there too, by the way.) But what I’m saying is—contrary to the image of the Japanese being some simple barefoot people in harmony with nature or whatever—there’s a shit-ton of illegal dumping, a wanton use of concrete, and a general aversion to outdoor seating, or in many cases, even windows. (I don’t live in the city, by the way.)

      You must have seen these big yellow and red signs: 不法投棄 –no illegal dumping. They’re everywhere, in all sorts of wooded areas. Video cameras are even set up to catch offenders in the worst places. Hell, there’s even a Wikipedia page about it.

      I also gotta laugh a wee bit, because I couldn’t help but notice the first paragraph of the first post on your site reads: “This area was an important source of copper for the Japanese government from the Meiji era right up to the 1970s, when operations were ceased. It suffered many environmental disasters along the way, and the landscape at the head of the valley is still deeply and visibly scarred by this history.”

      I mean, I know that was just coincidence, but it’s still kind of funny.

      1. I was hoping you were exaggerating to some extent about the illegal dumping in Japan but it appears otherwise. Is it really that bad? If so it really would be a shame/tragedy as I thought only the Chinese and Americans (US) would trash their environment so blatantly. I really thought that “the image of the Japanese being some simple barefoot people in harmony with nature” was somewhat true (well, maybe not the barefoot part).

        I suppose there goes yet another bursting of my “Japanese Zen & Mindfulness” harmony bubble shattered. I might just burn my Kanji flash cards in protest…

        1. Burn them? That’s not very Japanese of you.

          Calm your mind. Go for a hike in the mountains. Stand at the edge of an unspoiled stand of old-growth trees. Then take out the cards, solemnly bow, and chuck them the fuck into the woods. Now that’s Japanese.

      2. The Japanese are only simple barefoot nature lovers in as much as the British all wear pin-stripe suits and drink tea with their little finger sticking out, or the French all ride bicycles and wear blue&white striped t-shirts… But I don’t disagree with you… I’ve seen everything you’re talking about, and have experienced the same frustrations from time to time about it all… and the piped birdsong in car parks at nature spots, and all the rest of it… And the good stuff too… This website is your piece of virtual real estate, Ken, and I certainly don’t wish to come in here and dilute your rant, so knock yourself out 🙂

        Give me a shout if you ever feel the urge to climb something and need a partner… I’d be very happy to take you up a rock climb if that’s a side of Japan that might interest you. All the best! Tony

        1. Yeah thanks man. If I ever get the urge to climb a scary, icy Japanese mountain, yours’ll be the first number I dial.

  10. “They saw off entire limbs to keep from having to rake the leaves, resulting in long rows of sad, amputated trees.”

    Is that the reason they chop all these trees back? I haven’t been able to figure this out. The temples are filled with beautiful lush foliage yet walking down a promenade you get a great view of all the concrete. And it’s unbelievably hot. Gotta find my man parasol.

    1. Yeah, it’s certainly one reason. Teams of old men do it throughout the nation. It’s twisted.

      I’ve heard the man parasol is an actual thing in Tokyo, although every time I mention it to a Japanese woman, she’s always like Eeeeu. Apparently a gal in a short skirt can shade herself, but a man in a full suit’s just expected to sweat in silence till he passes out. Man, Tokyo in the summer is hot as eff.

  11. Such a misleading article full of ignorance. Japan has plenty of wild nature, apparently, you just didn’t bother to look for it and judged purely on what you saw close to urban areas. Yes, some trails are maintained very well, maybe more than necessary, but then it means that even older people (and let’s face the truth – this is a nation of old people) can hike there without risking breaking their neck. But I’ve hiked in many places where it was just that – wild untamed nature and a small trail path.

    And yeah, the Japanese people love outdoors and especially mountains accessible by public transport are always packed with people during the weekend. And I’m not even talking about Takao. Take the Tanzawa or Okutama area around Tokyo, for example.

    By the way, I am curious who told you about cutting sakura branches so that they wouldn’t need to clean the streets afterwards? I asked my Japanese colleague and he said he’d never heard of such a thing. I also thought it was strange and so not Japanese. Of course, I understand that maybe they do it somewhere but at least please don’t make it sounds like a common thing.

    1. Okay, let’s put some numbers around it.

      Of the thousands of restaurants you’ve seen in Japan, what percent have outdoor seating? Far less than 1%, for sure.

      Of the thousands of houses and apartments here, how many times have you seen someone sitting in their yard or on their balcony enjoying a cup of coffee or glass of wine? I’m gonna have to go with never.

      Except for farmers, Japanese people don’t spend much time at all outdoors. I mean, they might actually get a tan.

      And then how many times have you seen boxes of abandoned kittens, discarded bicycles dredged from rivers and lakes, or electronics, bags of garbage, and rolls of carpet hucked into the forests? Those certainly don’t look like the actions of a people in tune with nature. And if you’re not well aware of these common Japanese activities, you might want to be a little more circumspect when using the word ignorance.

      As for “who told you about” chopping off tree branches, you make it sound like secondhand information. Hell, I’ve done it. And the great thing is, you can too. Just join your local civic association. They’ll be happy to outfit you with a pair of rubber boots and a chainsaw, and set you off with a gang of old men in search of anything green.

      1. Now that I think about it, it was probably my hippee middle school teachers that sold me on the idea that Japanese are attuned to the natural world. Pretty sure none of them were ever actually in Japan.

        Funny thing, I’m reading all this while sitting in the back yard enjoying several adult beverages. A regular weekend, at least in the sumber when the constant North West rains have stopped for a couple of months. The neko (on a leash) and I spend hours enjoying “nature.” She especially loves sitting under the Japanese Maple.

        1. I, too, am a big fan of public drinking outside early in the day without judgment, which is probably why I like Japan, golf, and tailgating…

  12. Hello, Ken, it’s my first comment here. I found your blog googling something like “working in Japanese corpo and being ignored by coworkers”. It hit the post about your working experience in Japan. That was 2 days ago and if my nasty atmosphere at work contributed to me finding your blog – that was worth it. I definitely lack sleep though. So going back to the nature stuff, I think that you are right..and the wrong kind of both. I think that no other country more than Japan is full of antagonisms. Here where I live (Chita Peninsula), we have a quite splendid nature and walking in the evening may end up being bitten by the mamushi snake. Still, this is not a village; they name it “a town”. I completely agree that there is too much concrete all around. Regarding the wooden-like concrete logs, I think I’ve got a clue. You see my flat comes together with a small 2m x 7m garden. Yes, you may call me a landlord. I decided to grow some vegetables and flowers here and used tiny fences to divide this huge piece of land into smaller pieces. First I used the wooden fence. After about the month it kinda collapsed and I realized that the underground part was completely digested by termites. Lesson learned I thought. Next I got a new fence and paint to keep these bastards away. It worked! For two long months. So, now I have a plastic fence. Far from nature, but I guess it is far better for the environment that spraying pesticides directly into the ground what they do here to protect the wooden houses.

    1. Ah, thanks for the comment. I agree there is some nice nature still left here, although one of the things that strikes me about Japan, perhaps similar to where you live, is the lack of urban planning. I don’t see a lot of jogging trails connecting the villages, or rails to trails projects. There’s undeveloped land, and forests, but once it gets bought, it’s just leveled and set with houses and condos willy-nilly. There doesn’t seem to be any regulation protecting green spaces.

      I know an elderly couple who owned a traditional Japanese house next to a quiet forest. It was the most serene place imaginable, just what people envision when they think of “Japan.” That is, until a developer bought up the land beside their home and erected a massive housing complex towering over their house. So that’s another side of Japan that perhaps doesn’t get as much attention.

      Anyway, it sounds like the plastic fence is a good solution. And watch out for those snakes. Don’t whistle at night.

  13. Ken, one of your best posts!!
    I live in north Osaka and luckily, 10 mins on the Duc and I am knee deep in nature. Lived in tokyo , Shibuya and kichijoji, for 13 years in total…10 mins from those places and you are still only 10 minutes from home. Senri chuo? Totally different…ten mins and it’s mad monkeys, farmers asking me where I’m from and locals watching in disbelief as a gajin roars past at the speed of sound on something no foreigner should ever be able to afford. Gotta love Osaka. Seriously, tokyo can kiss my white , slightly hairy ass, Osaka is where the smart money is…..

    1. A lot of people speak highly of Osaka. I’ve been there a few times, and it always seems like a comfortable place. The people seem more open and less uptight. It certainly sounds like you’ve got a good situation there.

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