N is for Nature

Not to suggest that I don’t like the modern conveniences of living in a city, but I really do like being surrounded by nature. Living in Kyoto affords me the opportunity to not only have everything my city dwelling heart desires, but the lush, changing colors of the trees, the chirping of the birds and the occasional home invasion via weasel that my soul craves.

Japanese aesthetics are especially tied to nature and the changing of the seasons. It is a particular item of pride among Japanese people to say that they have four separate seasons. I’m not sure how exactly this came to be such a bragging point. Every place I’ve lived has had four separate seasons. I think it’s because in Japan the seasons are very vividly marked in color: in spring it is cherry blossom pink, in the summer, vibrant, lush green, in the autumn, the flaming red of momiji and in the winter, the calm ice blue of snow.

Of course, actually getting all of these colors year round depends on where in the country you live. In Kyoto where the year is dominated most by the bitter cold of winter and the impossibly hot and humid days of summer, some of the colors last for a preciously short time.

Ecclesiastically speaking, all of Kyoto’s temples and shrines incorporate nature in some form or another. Many have carefully tended gardens to instill a sense of calm in visitors. The larger temples and shrines have large, walk around gardens that guests can enter for a small fee. Places like Heian Jingu Shrine have gardens that one can get lost in for hours they are so large. Other places like Kyoto Iwakura Jissoin take such pride in the colors of the seasons that their interior decor literally reflects the changing colors. Guests aren’t permitted to walk on the black lacquer boards, but the sight from just behind them is beautiful nonetheless. Some places, such as the Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine specialize in one sort of plant or flower. Kitano specializes in plum blossoms, which can be viewed between February and March, depending on the weather. This is such a specialty of theirs that later in the year they also sell umeboshi, pickled plums, that are harvested from their garden. Mt. Hiei Enryaku-ji Temple, an important historical seat of Tendai Buddhism in Japan sits at the highest point in all of Kyoto: Mt. Hiei. It isn’t possible to see all the temple complexes sprawled across the top of the mountain, interspersed between towering cedars and beautiful cherry and maple trees. Fortunately there’s a hotel up there too, if you want to spend a couple nights to take in the whole thing. Walking Shisendo Temple Through the Four Seasons is especially delightful for me, not only because the temple is so close to my house that I hardly have to plan the trip at all, but because the open temple terraces provide a lovely place to sit and reflect on the beauty of nature.

In essence, I Love Kyoto for all that it has given me, and all that I will take away from it. It is a city in its conveniences, but at its heart, it is still very much married to nature.




24 thoughts on “N is for Nature

  1. You make it sound a wonderful place to live. While nothing like it, obviously, Glasgow has some elements in common. It has a very high number of parks and is very close to countryside. Even the name means Dear Green Place in Gaelic (Glaschu, I think – I should have had that for my G!) we, however, can often boast of four seasons in one day.

    • Four seasons in one day! My goodness how do you choose what to wear?! Your posts make Glasgow sound like a very nice place to come and visit. I’ve honestly never been anywhere in Europe, but I want to rectify that after I finish university.

    • Thank you! I’ve really appreciated you checking out the posts. 🙂 When your site comes back online, I’ll be sure to visit!

      • Ooooh! I will be sure to visit then! Maybe it has something to do with your Gravatar. You could probably switch the default, or erase the old domain off your preferences. 🙂

      • I’d suggest it, or just log into Gravatar and see if the domain somehow ended up in there. It’s really too bad! I feel like you’ve been putting all this effort into commenting on A-Z and no one can find you!

  2. I’m absolutely a country boy, these big cities have their conveniences ’tis true, but I adore the countryside.
    Here in Brittany though we have only two seasons, winter and the 15th August. (Its a local French joke, indicative of French humour i.e.. Not funny), but what it does mean is that the winters are long here. This would be when a city would be advantageous I think.
    On my short trip to Japan it was spring and the cherry blossom pink was absolutely everywhere. I was still unpacking bits of it several weeks later.
    Great post as always.

    • I used to go stay with my uncle and aunt in the country for weeks in the summer. It was a special treat for me to be surrounded by nothing but quiet.

      Vancouver has a similar joke, except, instead of winter, we say “rain”.

      I like the cherry blossom season, but the tourists make it absolute chaos. I’m nearly nailed by taxis every time I leave my house.

  3. I am a nature person who likes living in the city. Not a big city, though.
    And I’m not a fan of camping.
    Yeah, none of it makes sense.

    • I understand. I like living in the city too, but I need it to be a quiet city, or I’d probably go crazy.

      I like camping though, as long as I have some conveniences.

  4. Sounds pretty! But a lot of countries don’t have four seasons. I am not how much further south of Japan you would have to go to not have four seasons, but probably not far.

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