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Greetings from Japan!

May 5, 2013
Tokyo, (c) MMD 2013

Tokyo, (c) MMD 2013

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.

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2013 6:11 am

    Fascinating; aesthetics v. ecology. I look forward to seeing your shots.

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