The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Japan was the precarious balance between nature and civilization. Japan is a mountainous country and as a result there are these things I’ve heard referred to as concrete walls. Roads are commonly carved along the path of least resistance, which usually means near the foot of a cliff. Some sheer walls rise hundreds of feet straight up from the side of the road. They appear as though a concrete mold was cast right over the height. It is very beautiful, a marvel of engineering, and it is also very disturbing – nature sequestered.
The concrete walls are absolutely necessary though. Without them, the roads would be impassable every time it rained, not to mention the danger from falling debris. The concrete walls hold back erosion like enormous hands carefully cradling everything in its place.
Everywhere I look I see the touch of a human hand. It’s subtle but there nonetheless. I suppose that one could argue that there is virtually nothing untouched by human hands. Even in my hometown in the U.P. I know that people have crawled all over that place for a very long time. During the economic boom of the late 1800s to early 1900s, the land was almost wiped clean of trees. Not so now because of reforestation, which is obvious because trees don’t grow in straight lines in the wild. The same holds true in Japan. Looking at the mountains as you drive down the expressway you can see the patches of reforested trees, which is a good thing.
But, it shows how touched everything is. It’s cultivated, tamed.
I haven’t explored a lot of Japan, but I’ve seen a lot of the local countryside in Kyushu. I’ve been taken to where I’ve been told is the middle of nowhere it still feels like I’m in the middle of a city. There are many variables involved and I’m just talking about how I feel. There are homes everywhere; there is concrete everywhere. Everywhere. I cannot escape it.
I’m used to walking out my back door and being able to walk for hours without seeing another person or any roadsides, and definitely no concrete. Nature felt raw. Is any of this right or wrong? No. It is purely how I feel. I need the wild. I need to feel raw nature.
Japan is very integrated with nature, representing the best balance I’ve seen so far. Sometimes it can be difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. It is beautiful and amazing and the balance is precarious but somehow maintained. But something is lost. The spectrum from tame to wild is very short. I guess that sometimes I need the extremes.