From an outside perspective, nature seems to be synonymous with Japanese culture. My earliest exposure to Japan was through Studio Ghibli films like Totoro and Princess Mononoke where forest spirits, contemplation among trees, and ample respect for nature are central themes. Nature is intricately tied with spirituality in Japan, particularly in the two most common practices, Shinto and Buddhism.
It comes as no surprise then, that nature was a major theme of our trip to Japan. Even in the heart of Osaka, busy streets are lined with trees and streams, and large green spaces break up the pavement.
Nara Park is a perfect example of this harmony between humans and nature. With beautiful temples, typical cafes, and museums surrounded by open green spaces and forest paths, the Park allows people to get a taste for traditional culture and nature at the same time. More astounding though, is the hundreds of deer that roam the park.
The deer are considered a national treasure, and its easy to see why. Much smaller and friendlier than the deer I’ve seen back home, the deer walk next to visitors and welcome them with gentle nudges that say “pet me!” They become especially friendly when you purchase a package of “deer crackers” from one of the many stands in the park. I found myself instantly swarmed by the friendly faces and the crackers were gone within seconds.
Luc telling the naughty deer to behave!
The gardens in all three cities that we visited provided much needed respite from the heat and the hustle and bustle of city streets. Compared to European-style gardens with carefully trimmed bushes, perfect symmetry, and colourful flowers, the gardens we walked through seemed to follow the tune of nature a little more.
Nestled among trees and along ponds, the gardens consist more of endemic plants, and mostly in green or earthier tones. While I appreciate the carefully cultivated beauty of European-style gardens, being immersed in the more “natural” landscape was a welcome change.
Our pre-departure research about the area lead us to believe there wasn’t much hiking easily accessible to us. However, nature seems to be so connected to daily life that we found ourselves walking through forests more than once without actually trying to get there.