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“Don’t shit here!”

August 10, 2010

It’s time for the August matsuri! This month’s topic is Nature and Japan hosted by Through Eyes From Afar.

It is often claimed that Japanese have a special relationship to nature. Japan is exceptionally beautiful. Plus, Japan has four (yes, you read it right: FOUR) seasons. Isn’t it amazing?

And Japan is indeed blessed with a beautiful nature, but when you take a walk through a Japanese town it is often hard to see. Parks are scarce and if you find one, it might not be much more than a baseball field or a tiny playground without any greenery.  Rivers are canalized and there’s a lot of garbage near rivers and the few green places… But what can you expect of a country that doesn’t have a lot of usable space? (Except the garbage which is really not necessary…)

On the other hand, nature is the key to Japan’s indigenious religion. Shintoism or shintô literally means the way of the gods or kami and a kami can be anything from natural phenomena like wind for example or natural objects like mountains, rivers, trees etc. to the souls of our ancestors and much more. It is not difficult to find natural kami as they are often marked by a shimenawa:

These natural objects define the place for shrines to be built and usually a torii will tell you that you’re about to enter holy ground. And you should remember that, because if you just sit down somewhere inside this sacred area it might happen that an excited Japanese tells you: “Don’t shit here!”, as it happened to one of my profs when he went to Japan for the first time. He used to tell this nice little anecdote as a wonderful example of Engrish 🙂

So it might be okay for some Japanese to litter ordinary rivers or forests, but it is not okay to s(h)it down on holy ground for you might hit a kami!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2010 17:10

    Thank you for your entry 🙂

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