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Books and Thesis
Chapter 10
The Symbiosis of Man and Nature


Japanese Home are "Temporary Shelters" That Blend Into Nature

The Calls of Insects are an Intermediate Zone Between Noise and Music

The West, Conqueror and Domesticator of Nature

From Selling Forests to Sharing Forests

The Urban Pastoral, A Garden City of Helicopter Commuters

The Communal Space for the Creation of Nature


Japanese Home are "Temporary Shelters" That Blend Into Nature

Buddhism teaches the impermanence of all things. All things in the world, including nature, are always changing, and we must awaken to the ephemeral nature of life. People, animals, plants, the rest of nature, and the Buddhas themselves are migrating within one great chain of life. Human beings, of course, exist within that ever-changing process of migration. In that context, the ideal that human beings must strive for is not to conquer nature, not to hunt their fellow animals, but to live as a part of nature, in accord with its rules.

From ancient times, the Japanese have built their homes as if they were temporary shelters, and they have adopted a lifestyle of symbiosis with nature based on the teaching of Impermanence. Yoshida Kenko, the author of the collection called Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa), says

A house, I know, is but a temporary abode, but how delightful it is to find one that has harmonious proportions and a pleasant atmosphere. One feels somehow that even moonlight, when it shines into the quiet domicile of a person of taste, is more affecting than elsewhere. A house, though it may not be in the current fashion or elaborately decorated, will appeal to us by its unassuming beauty -- a grove of trees with an indefinably ancient look; a garden where plants, growing of their own accord, have a special charm; a verandah and an open-work wooden fence of interesting construction; and a few personal effects left carelessly lying about, giving the place an air of having been liven in. A house which multitudes of workmen have polished with every care, where strange and rare Chinese and Japanese furnishings are displayed, and even the grasses and trees of the garden have been trained unnaturally, is ugly to look at and most depressing. How could anyone live for long in such a place? The most casual glance will suggest how likely such a house is to turn in a moment to smoke. NOTE 1

Since the home is no more than a temporary shelter, it won't do to take too many pains in decorating it; even when it has grown old and worn, it's better to leave it as it is and harmonize with it. In the Nampo Roku, Sen no Rikyu is quoted as advocating a simple, natural life: "Lodgings that keep the rain out and enough food to keep us from starving -- this is sufficiency."

Japanese culture is a culture of wood. We have always regularly replaced wooden structural elements in our homes and buildings as they age or decay. In addition, many Japanese buildings have been destroyed by nature's violence, in typhoons, earthquakes, and floods, and we have been forced to rebuild after each natural or manmade disaster. Perhaps the feeling that all buildings are no more than temporary lodgings is partly due to those circumstances as well.

Before modern times, water in Japan was not controlled as it presently is, by reinforcing all the banks and dikes in each drainage system with stones and concrete. In fact, the approach was just the opposite. A weak place was always built in a dike or bank at the place an overflow or flood would do the least damage. This is a natural principle akin to that of the collar bone, which acts as a defense of the neck and the back bones, and breaks in their place.

We recently dismantled the house that my grandfather and father had lived in for many, many years, in the countryside of Aichi Prefecture. It was a rush-thatched house thought to date from the mid-Edo period. It had survived the Nobi earthquake in 1891, but had suffered damage on each occasion, and when it was repaired it was added to and partly refurbished. Even so, our investigation showed that some of the timbers were from the Edo period and had been planed with the characteristic Edo-period tool, the chona, instead of an ordinary plane. The reed roof thatching, too, had been changed, on alternating sides, once every two to four years.

All of this shows how much work is involved in the upkeep of a wooden house. But the visual appeal of such natural materials as wood, tatami mats, and Japanese paper, and even their pleasant smells, are valued by the Japanese, who are accustomed to living in an environment intimately linked to nature. Perhaps we are willing to recognize the eventual degeneration and collapse of buildings and dikes as a part of the rhythm of nature.

Japanese houses exhibit a stronger tendency to merge with nature than to stand in opposition to it. The original spirit of tea-room architecture is the same. It is an architecture built by gathering things close at hand -- trees and fallen branches in the immediate environment, the half-decayed boards of boats. As a result, the tea room seems not have been designed but to have been built through a process of natural accretion.

The Calls of Insects are an Intermediate Zone Between Noise and Music

Another important feature of the Japanese house is its openness. The post-and beam construction of the Japanese house produces a building with no need for walls. If the sliding paper doors and outer rain doors are opened, the house has a complete openness, with the engawa acting as an intermediate space between interior and garden. Japanese architecture even incorporates surrounding scenery and nearby mountains into its gardens, through the technique known as "borrowed landscapes," or shakkei. One type of fence that is used in Japan to encircle a home is the ikegaki, or hedge. Here, living bushes serve the architectural function of the wall. But a hedge is different from a stone wall in that it doesn't completely block out the outside. The outside can be seen through it, and while it protects the residents' privacy, it also is continuous with the surrounding natural environment, and it displays a Japanese type of semi-seclusion.

The word ne (roughly translated as sound, but slightly different in meaning, as well shall see below) is another important key word for explaining the continuity that the Japanese feel with nature. Ne, however, describes not a visual but an aural continuity. The word for music in Japanese, ongaku, means to enjoy sound (on is another way to pronounce ne, and gaku means to enjoy). Neiro, or sound color, means the nature of quality of sound. And when things don't work out well and we are reduced to desperate straits, we "raise a cry" (ne o ageru).

In Japanese homes and restaurants, the custom of keeping insects in cages so that guests can listen to their cries and be reminded of the season still exists. To the Japanese, the cries of insects are not noise; they are the ne of the insects, a natural music. The single word ne comprises the music created by human beings and the music of nature, the cries of insects. Ne is an intermediate zone between simple sound and music. And this is further evidence that the Japanese prefer to live as friends with nature, linked intimately to it.

The West, Conqueror and Domesticator of Nature

In contrast to Japanese architecture, which merges with nature and favors continuity with the natural surroundings, European architecture stands in opposition to nature and emphasizes its own independence and separateness.

European cities separated themselves from nature by building castle walls. The stone walls of European homes, too, separate the inside from the outside, and the more they tried to assure their solidity, the smaller windows and doors became. At the base of his clear and thoroughgoing division of space into inside and outside is the European philosophy of the dualistic opposition of humanity and nature. The relationship between humanity and nature is one in which human beings conquer, tame, and use nature. European gardens, in particular those from the Renaissance through the Baroque period, are extremely artificial and geometric. They are mostly comprised of lawns, like huge green carpets. We can describe them as highly idealized versions of nature. To walk through them is a sign of mankind's victory over nature, his domestication of nature.

What a contrast this presents to the traditional Japanese garden, which attempts to create a simulacra of nature as an abstraction. The main pleasure to be had from a Japanese garden is not obtained from walking around through it but from opening an imaginary world while quietly gazing at it. Of course, many famous Japanese gardens also allow one to stroll through them. But in most cases, the path is limited to a sharply circumscribed area. Even those Japanese gardens built specifically for strolling through are designed for viewing the garden at various stops in the course of the stroll.

From Selling Forests to Sharing Forests

In their relationships to their forests, the Japanese and the Europeans also show striking differences. Most European forests have been planted by man and fostered over a long span. They are, in other words, a tamed version of nature. They are comprised of broadleaf deciduous trees and there is little undergrowth. They are quite bright. They are even incorporated into city life as a manmade living space that people may enter freely and with little trouble. In Europe there are many children's tales about the forest: the stories of William Tell, Robin Hood, and Snow White were born from life in the forest.

In Japan, on the other hand, forests are mostly comprised of evergreen conifers. The ground is thickly covered with brush. There are many snakes, centipedes, and other insects, and it is extremely damp. Most Japanese forests are mountain forests, and they are not very accessible. As a result, from ancient times there has been a strong tendency in Japan to worship the mountains themselves, in an animist sense. They were regarded as sacred places, the dwelling place of the spirits, a grave site, the dens of great serpents or white serpents. The only human being who would live there was a hermit or a defeated warrior in hiding. They were not a part of life's daily activities, but for looking at from afar. This was nature as a spiritual support.

This Japanese relationship with nature has remained fundamentally unchanged to the present day. The mountains ringing Japanese cities are not incorporated into urban living space; they exist in symbiosis with the city as "borrowed landscape." Japanese do not enter the forest of their own will as Europeans do.

In fact, this is a major problem as far as the preservation of nature in Japan is concerned. Since the Japanese have no direct relationship with nature in their daily lives, they have no awareness of the need to protect the natural environment. The traditional Japanese attitude of symbiosis with nature stands in direct contradiction to the relationships we are presently engaged in with our natural environment. The truth is that the natural environment in Japan is on the verge of doom.

In the international market, Japanese forests are no longer successful commercial ventures. That has resulted in a severe shortage of forestry products in Japan, and pushed Japanese forests to the brink of disaster. To make matters worse, Japan's regional cities are undergoing the same sudden urban sprawl that has so expanded Tokyo. In other words, large residential tracts are growing up on the outskirts of these cities. Since most people in these regional cities want to own their own home, the rise in population of these cities has been accompanied by a wide-scale conversion of farm and forest land into housing tracts.

This phenomena is unlikely to occur in Europe, because Europeans are accustomed to the proper use of the natural environment. Since they know nature and have directly experienced its use, they feel strongly about defending it. In the future, the Japanese will have to move beyond their abstract spiritual feeling for wilderness and link their forests with urban space, creating forests that can be properly used. To do that, the Japanese will have to change their most basic ways of thinking about reforestation and the forestry industry. Up to now, lumber that grows quickly and sell at a high price -- evergreens such as cedar, cypress, and pine, especially -- has been given the highest priority in Japan's forestry industry. Now we must designate zones for planting deciduous trees and create brightly lit forests that can serve as resort areas. We must restore the symbiosis of humanity and nature in daily life by changing our strategy from one of forests for sale to forests for sharing on a national scale.

The parks of Frankfurt and Dusseldorf are filled with birds, squirrels, and all kinds of insects. The symbiosis of the people of these cities with nature -- with subways stations and highways nearby -- is an impressive sight. Places such as these, places where human beings and nature can exist in symbiosis, must be built in our cities.

The Urban Pastoral, A Garden City of Helicopter Commuters

The symbiosis of man and nature is not only a symbiosis with trees, birds, small animals, and insects. The things manufactured by human being also become, as time passes, part of nature. We must recognize not only manmade lakes, canals, and forests, but even our cities and our technology as a part of nature. The binomial dualism that what god made is nature and what human beings have made is artificial and therefore opposed to nature no longer holds.

When most Japanese were born and raised in the countryside, the majority of city dwellers were people who had been born in the country and migrated to the city. Their memories of the countryside were still strong and dear to them. It was only natural that they viewed the city as something in opposition to nature. But today some eighty percent of all Japanese are born in cities. Just as naturally, today most children, born and raised in the city, have neither memories nor experience of nature. When you ask some children where dragonflies and beetles and other insects come from, they're likely to answer, "The pet shop in the department store." It is hardly surprising in these circumstances that we have raised a generation which experiences the city as a part of nature and concrete as a kind of earth. The time may well come when the city and its technology are indeed a part of nature.

I have a feeling that the twenty-first century will see a dynamic symbiosis of the city and nature such as that hinted at by Sontag in her "urban pastorale" or Frank Lloyd Wright's futuristic vision of a "garden city" crisscrossed by commuters' helicopters. In both we see a move away from city or nature to city and nature, in coexistence. Edo, by the way, was a completely artificial city. Noboru kawazoe, in his book Tokyo no Genfukei (The original appearance of Tokyo), relates that though Edo was a city without public greenery, it was dotted with plant markets, its citizens nurtured their own bonsai trees, and the streets and alleys were filled with the blooms of morning glories and flowering gourds. NOTE 2 The citizens of Edo were able to nurture a rich imaginative conception of nature through their artificial fragments of it, bonsai potted plants.

The realization of the city where people live in symbiosis with technology, animals, birds, and insects, and potted plants and bonsai and manmade forests, too, is not so far in the future after all.

The Communal Space for the Creation of Nature

Environmental protection must be more than a cry for the preservation of the forests of the countryside; it must include the creation of new forests in great cities like Tokyo.

As in the case of the National Trust of Great Britain and the environmental protection and cultural preservation movements of Europe and the United States, protection must start from the contributions of individuals dedicated to protecting our natural and cultural environments. Whether it be to preserve certain cityscapes, or cultural treasures, or historic buildings, any such preservation movement must start with the contributions, however small, of the people who are committed to preserving the site or building, and from there develop onto a large-scale movement.

In Japan, however, these things start from the top down, with a group of "experts" calling for the preservation of nature or cultural monuments and making a loud protest against "development." But those same experts make no efforts to raise the funds needed for preservation. Or they demand the protection of the greenery surrounding the cities, the farm and forest land. But farms are places for growing rice and vegetables, and forests are the sources of lumber and wood products. At a time when these very industries are in trouble and losing money, it is irresponsible to insist that farms and forests be preserved without at the same time contriving some form of economic assistance to make them commercially viable for their owners.

We can not simply rely on the natural environment left to us through the efforts of our ancestors. In exchange for developing those places that should be developed, we must also work to create new, manmade nature to leave behind to our descendants. In Tokyo, for example, Meiji Shrine possesses a huge tract of forest land. It approximates primeval forest, but in fact it is manmade, created only seventy-five years ago. In the short space of a century, man can create an approximation of a primeval forest. This a vision of the forest not as a holy site or a dwelling place of the spirits, but nature as a part of the living space of the city.

In the plan for the redevelopment of Tokyo that I will describe in detail in chapter 11, I have proposed the creation of three forests in Tokyo, each ten thousand hectares in area. These forests are suggested by the Musashino forest, which in fact once existed in the Kanto region. They would be forests that could be used, mixed forests of deciduous trees that would combine in their functions and feelings two traditional types of wood in Japan: the sacred grove, which surrounded the Shinto shrine of each village in old Japan; and the village wood, planted around the homes in farm communities to protect them from the ravages of typhoons.

This way of thinking is also relevant to the symbiosis of private and communal space in the urban environment. In the city today, there is private property, owing by individuals or commercial enterprises, and public property such as roads and parks, built and maintained with public funds. But originally in Japan there was an intermediate zone between public and private -- there was communal space. In agricultural communities, water rights and common rights were a sort of communal property that all villagers shared in equally. And as we have seen, in Kyoto the street was a kind of communal property, administered by the chogumi, or district organization, made up of houses on both sides of the street. In an Edo urban district, houses were packed together with narrow frontages on the streets of a four-sided block. This district layout left an open space behind the houses. in the center, which was called the saisho, or meeting place, and this was a type of communal property, too.

The city of Nagoya was given a unique layout during the Edo period. Each district was, like the city of Edo, divided into long narrow lots facing the main streets. In the narrow, empty space behind the houses a temple or a graveyard was built, with a single narrow path leading from it out to the street. This path was called the kansho, or idle place, and was also communal space.

Nowadays, when we take one step off our own property, we are on property administered by the city or the prefecture, so we have no incentive to maintain it. If it is dirty we might call the ward office and complain, but we're not likely to clean it up ourselves. In the days of communal space, however, everyone pitched in to keep the shared area tidy, and it was also a place where children could play without parents worrying about their safety. This communal space was an intermediate zone between private property and public property.

The activities of the National Trust of Great Britain in preserving the environment and purchasing cultural treasures can also be interpreted as defending communal property. There are encouraging signs in Japan, too, recently, among them an interest in a Japanese version of a national trust and the grassroots movement to preserve the primeval forest at Shiretoko in Hokkaido.

In the renovation and redevelopment of our cities in the twenty-first century, we will have to revive communal property, that intermediate zone between private and public property, in many different forms. This will be linked to the creation of natural environments within the city. These can be little pockets of nature, or even spaces under the eaves of a building. Or, as I created in the Head Offices of the Fukuoka Bank, they might be private property that is open to the public. We must employ a variety of means to assure the symbiosis of human beings and nature in the city on the practical level of daily life.

In Japan in the past, borrowing landscapes was an excellent method for achieving symbiosis with nature. this meant incorporating surrounding nature and natural views into one's own life. The Shugakuin Detached Palace is a famous example of this technique. This was an effective method when the population density was low and rich natural landscape survived near urban areas. But today, we cannot all borrow nature. In resort areas, many borrow freely from nature's beauty but have forgotten what an ugly sight their own vacation home is. The true technique of borrowing landscapes keeps in mind that I am part of the landscape and that someone is looking at me. In other words, we must be as concerned with the landscape we lend as the one we borrow.



1. Yoshida Kenko, Essays in Idleness. Trans. by Donald Keene (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), 10. Kenko (1283?-1352) first served Emperor Gonijo as a poet and in various official posts, but at about thirty he retired from secular life to become a monk. In his forties he composed Essays in Idleness, in which he ably expressed the essence of the Japanese aesthetic. Kenko had a broad range of acquaintances, aristocratic and common, religious and lay, and including members of the rising samurai class. While his work laments the passing of courtly values, it also portends the changes that were soon to occur in Japanese society. The sensibility that Kenko formulates in Essays in Idleness combines the quiet splendor of court life depicted in The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon with the strongly Buddhist coloring of A Tale of a Ten-Foot-Square Hut to define the aesthetic consciousness of the new age.


2. Noboru Kawazoe (b. 1926) is an architectural critic and the director of the Kawazoe Research Institute. His main writings include Tami to Kami no Sumai (The Dwellings of the People and the Gods), Kenchiku to Dento (Architecture and Tradition), Seidatsugaku no Teisho (A Proposal for a Science of Lifestyle), and Toshi Kukan no Bunka (The Culture of City Space).