A few days ago we spent some time in Matsumoto, Japan, known as “The Gateway to the Japanese Alps.” It’s a great little mountain city, and actually reminds me of many other mountain cities and towns — they all seem to have a common feeling to them.
We saw many “biophilic” features while in Matsumoto. I wrote about the idea of biophilic cities a while ago, and it’s something that’s stayed in my mind ever since. It’s not necessarily about urban wildlife, but it is about bringing nature in one form or another to the forefront of city life. Matsumoto was full of such features, albeit in a highly managed, typical Japanese way (no “unkempt” fields of wild flowers here!). Beautiful!
Outside of our hotel in Tokyo we found a lovely park, complete with forested areas, lawns, flower beds, and water features. At the backside of one of the fountains we found this little pond, complete with several aquatic turtles. It looked like the pond was designed with the turtles in mind, and then stocked with them (I didn’t see anyway that these guys could have gotten to this relatively small park in the middle of downtown Tokyo on their own!). While we were watching, several people stopped to take a look, including this kid:
Greetings from Japan! We’re here for a few weeks, and I’m planning on dispatching at least a few posts. I thought I’d kick it off with a bit of background on the cultural relationship Japan has with nature (if I can speak in broad generalities). Natural themes are common in Japanese art and culture. Think of Japanese gardens, scrolls with visions of cranes and Mt. Fuji, and the highly trained, miniaturized trees of bonsai. So a nation of nature-lovers, yes. But not necessarily in the same way that many Americans love nature.
Stephen Kellert, a professor at Yale, developed a typology of attitudes towards animals back in the 1980’s (see below). At one point, he did an interesting cross-cultural analysis looking at Germany, the US, and Japan (Kellert, 1993). Referring to interviews conducted in Japan:
“One theme repeatedly expressed…was an enjoyment of nature and animals in highly structured situations. The objective, as one respondent described it, was to capture the presumed “essence” of a natural object, often by adhering to strict rules of “seeing and experiencing” intended to express a centrally valued aspect of nature. Rarely did this admiration go beyond a single species or isolated landscape to an appreciation of nature in general. Environmental features falling outside the valued aesthetic and symbolic boundaries tended to be ignored, considered irrelevant, or judged unappealing.”
He goes on:
“This restricted Japanese appreciation of animals and nature was described as largely emotional and aesthetic with little analytical or biological consideration. One respondent referred to it as a ‘love of semi-nature,’ somewhat domesticated and tamed-a desire to ‘use the materials of semi-nature to express human feelings.’ Another respondent described this attitude as reflecting a Japanese preference for an artificial, highly abstract, and symbolic rather than realistic experience of animals and nature; a motivation to ‘touch’ nature, but from a controlled and safe distance. In a metaphoric sense, one respondent described this perspective as a Japanese willingness ‘to go to the edge of the forest, to view nature from across the river, to see natural beauty from a mountain top, but rarely to enter into or immerse oneself in wildness or the ecological understanding of natural settings.’ Another respondent described a Japanese ‘love’ not so much of nature and animals but of the artistic and symbolic rendering of nature. This tendency, according to another respondent, largely reflected a desire to isolate favored aspects of the natural world, and then ‘freeze and put walls around it.’”
More soon! My hope is to post images of and reflections about this managed, aesthetically pleasing nature as we travel around the country.
Sayonara, for now.
Stephen Kellert’s Typology, from Kellert 1993.
Naturalistic: Primary focus on an interest and affection for wildlife and the outdoors.
Ecologistic: Primary concern for the environment as a system, for interrelationships between wildlife species and natural habitats.
Humanistic: Primary interest and strong affection for individual animals such as pets or large wild animals with strong anthropomorphic associations.
Moralistic: Primary concern for the right and wrong treatment of animals, with strong opposition to presumed overexploitation and/or cruelty towards animals.
Scientistic: Primary interest in the physical attributes and biological functioning of animals.
Aesthetic: Primary interest in the physical attractiveness and symbolic appeal of animals.
Utilitarian: Primary interest in the practical value of animals, or in the subordination of animals for the practical benefit of people.
Dominionistic: Primary interest in the mastery and control of animals.
Negativistic: Primary orientation on avoidance of animals due to indifference, dislike, or fear.
Kellert, Stephen R. 1993. Attitudes, knowledge, and behavior toward wildlife among the industrial superpowers: United States, Japan, and Germany. Journal of Social Issues, 49(1): 53-69.
Spring has finally sprung in DC! After unseasonably cold weather followed by a brief record-breaking heat wave, we’ve finally settled back into spring weather. With the heat came much-delayed flowers, including our famous cherry blossoms. There are flowering trees all over DC, but the ones around the Tidal Basin hold a special place in our collective heart. First, the landscape is just magnificent — oodles of trees crowned with fluffy pink flowers, nestled in and around some of our country’s most famous sites. Second, the trees were a gift to us from Japan, which has a long and lovely history of springtime cherry blossom festivities itself. Back in 1912, the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, gave a gift of cherry trees to Washington DC.
Of course, this simple explanation belies a lot of behind the scenes work by many people, including Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, who would later become the first female board member of National Geographic, and Helen Taft wife of President Taft. It also ignores the fact that the first batch of trees Japanese officials sent us were diseased and had to be destroyed! Our cherry trees have a rich history, and much more can be found on the official NPS web page, but I’ll add one more great story. Because of World War II, the cherry trees along the Arakawa River in Tokyo were in bad shape by the 1950′s. In 1952, the Japanese government asked for help in restoring the area, and NPS sent budwood from the descendants of trees that originally came from that same grove in Tokyo! I love that story.
Viewing the cherry blossoms truly is one of my favorite DC rituals. The trees are beautiful, but it’s also wonderful seeing so many people out enjoying nature. True, it’s heavily managed nature (the cherry trees are quite needy), but nature nonetheless. Below are a few shots (courtesy of my phone, so sorry about the quality) documenting this year’s trip to the Tidal Basin.
Do you have any favorite springtime rituals?
It may look like a giant airplane window strung with Venetian blinds, but this structure, designed by Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo and installed at the Delft University of Technology in March, is a model of a machine that would convert wind to energy without any moving parts.
Any mechanical moving parts, at least: The technology, developed by the Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science faculty at Delft, uses the movement of electrically charged water droplets to generate power.
Mr. Hemon states as reason #9 he’ll never leave Chicago: “The Hyde Park parakeets, miraculously surviving brutal winters, a colorful example of life that adamantly refuses to perish, of the kind of instinct that has made Chicago harsh and great. I actually have never seen one: the possibility that they are made up makes the whole thing even better.”
I kind of love this!
I recently read a study about the positive role that homeowner’s associations (HOAs) can play in preserving urban and suburban biodiversity. Because so much urban/suburban land is managed in small parcels (individual houses and yards), having an overarching biodiversity management plan can be difficult. HOAs can step in and play an important role by using land use regulations that are biodiversity-friendly. I’ll discuss this study more in a future post, but first I wanted to give you an example of how HOA restrictions can cause problems with wildlife.
I did my PhD research in suburban Denver where I studied human-coyote interactions. Human-coyote conflict was a growing concern in the area, and my two study sites approached managing coyotes and people differently. In one of the towns, a lot of the conflict seemed to be centered in human-coyote conflict “hotspots,” where private property ran right into parks and nature preserves. Many of the HOAs for the neighborhoods around the town’s extensive (and beautiful!) parks restricted the type of fences homeowners could install in their backyards — or even didn’t allow any type of fence. So, you ended up with a series of backyards that opened directly into parks (as you can see in the pictures). Many of the people I spoke with loved this, because it gave their neighborhoods a “bright and airy feel,” in the words of one of the people I interviewed. And sitting in your backyard or looking out from your back deck with an unobstructed view of a nature preserve is lovely. But there is a flip side to this.
People don’t always accept that they don’t only get the wildlife they want in situations like this (read: songbirds) — other animals come along with the deal (read: coyotes). Some people in the area were thrilled that coyotes lived among them, but others not so much. Like it or not, coyotes are native to the area, and if you provide suitable habitat they will show up. And gorgeous nature preserves around streams and other natural features are most definitely suitable coyote habitat.
So now we have coyotes living close to people, and people not able to prevent coyotes from entering their backyards. If people do not modify their behavior in these situations, conflict can happen. For example, if people leave their small dogs alone and outside at night, their dogs might end up being coyote prey (they are the right size, after all). Although coyotes are just being coyotes in these sorts of situations, this exacerbates conflict and fosters a negative opinion of them.
Coyote-proof fences are generally supposed to be six-feet tall, buried into the ground, and with no holes large enough for a coyote to squeeze through. When that doesn’t prove enough, “coyote rollers” (there are also DIY plans available online) can be installed. In my study, over 66% of respondents to a survey I did (covering both of my study sites) did not have such a fence, and of those about 30% of those did not because their HOAs did not allow coyote-proof fences (another 36% just did not want one of these fences). In this case, HOA policies have helped exacerbate conflict with coyotes, which is generally a bad thing for urban biodiversity conservation. Next week, I’ll describe some ways that HOAs can play a more positive role.