Janan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts.

Author:Pinnington, Noel John
Position:Book review

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts. By HARUO SHIRANE. New York: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2012. Pp. xviii + 311. $29 (cloth).

This is a study of the presence and uses of nature in Japanese arts and culture. Visitors to Japan are sometimes surprised when their hosts tell them that the Japanese have a special sympathy with nature. Shirane explains that what the Japanese are referring to is in large part a sense of closeness to nature arising from the pervasive presence of natural imagery in Japanese cultural life. This widespread and selective representation of nature, its seasons, creatures, and plants, in Japanese literature, arts, rituals, and entertainments, Shirane calls "secondary nature.- This book provides an exhaustive account of its historical development and manifestations.

The first chapter explores a central factor, the seasonal imagery and associations that developed in Heian poetry. Natural imagery was not particularly prominent in the songs found in Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, but it did play a variety of roles in the poems of the Man'yoshu. It is later, however, in the poetry of the Heian period, that certain core ideas became established that were to have a far-reaching influence on later Japanese cultural life. They are clearly visible in the first imperial waka collection, Kokin Waka situ, which both adopted the seasons as a primary typological principle and also delineated a poetic theory in which the poet's inner world is to be expressed through the description of external phenomena. With the growth of poetic competition on the basis of standard topics, a map of connotations became established in which selected plants. places, animals, and other natural phenomena were all linked and situated within a cycle of four seasons. This cultural structure provided the basis of Japan's secondary nature, one in which the direct experience of nature itself was relatively unimportant. This culture of nature and the seasons had an impact on every aspect of aristocratic life, and from the Heian period forward, its influence was felt in increasingly larger social groups, eventually spreading throughout society. Over the centuries it also gained accretions from various social groups and from new poetic and artistic practices, eventually becoming extraordinarily elaborate.

In the second chapter, Shirane looks at the influence of seasonal associations on visual arts in the Heian period, especially...

To continue reading