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American Nature Writing and Japan

Summary and Keywords

Although largely disregarded since the humanistic turn of ecocriticism at the beginning of the 21st century, nature writing has continued to play an important role in nurturing trans-Pacific, and transnational, literary environmentalism. Euro-American traditions dominate this literary genre, but it nevertheless involves cross-cultural traffic of ideas and thoughts. Its trans-Pacific presence, mostly through American influences on works in Japan, demonstrates in three ways how American nature writing has been cultivating Japanese literary soil and has in turn been nurtured by it, albeit less conspicuously. First, Henry David Thoreau’s influence on Japanese literary environmentalism, especially his philosophy of plain living and high thinking, helped engender a tradition of nature writing in Japan that began with Nozawa Hajime—often called the “Japanese Thoreau”—and has been developed by those who followed, including Ashizawa Kazuhiro and Takada Hiroshi. Second, interactions between pastoralism and a new mode of environmental awareness show that the seemingly American notion of “wild awareness” and the Japanese concept of aware have materialized as a new environmental sensitivity in Japan and in the United States, respectively, reflecting cross-cultural nurturing of environmental ideas, thoughts, and practices. Finally, there has been a subtle yet radical impact of American counterculture on Japanese nature writing, exemplified by Nashiki Kaho’s literary hybridity, based on her integration of the traditional with the radical.

Keywords: nature writing, ecocriticism, American literature, Japanese literature, Henry David Thoreau, counterculture, pastoralism

Is Nature Writing Dead, or Just Forgotten?

Nature writing lost popularity among critics by the beginning of the 21st century. With the second and third waves of ecocriticism came environmental justice movements and global environmental concerns over nuclear incidents and climate change, and activists came to consider nature writing naive for its perceived blindness to the social aspects of environmental issues. The genre is now widely considered anachronistic, if not dead.1 Yet it is too easy to dismiss nature writing for its seemingly romantic character. As one of the earliest studies of nature writing pointed out, while Euro-American traditions are dominant in the genre,2 it involves cross-cultural traffic of ideas and approaches. Don Scheese touched upon the issue, albeit in a footnote, in his 1996 book Nature Writing: The Pastoral Impulse in America:

… such Asian authors as Dōgen (Mountain and Waters Sutra, c. 1250) and Bashō (A Haiku Journey, 1689) can be seen as “nature writers.” And important Americans in the tradition, like Thoreau … and Gary Snyder … , were strongly influenced by nonwestern thinking. What is needed is some (unavoidably monumental) analysis of cross-pollenization in eastern and western, northern and southern ways of interacting with the nonhuman world.3

Similar attention to “cross-pollenization” was visible in Japan as well when a 1993 collective study of nature writing began, eventually to form the basis for founding the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment in Japan (ASLE-Japan) in May 1994. A newsletter issued in December 1993 in the run-up to the establishment of the organization shows that ecocritics in Japan clearly recognized the importance of the intercultural or transnational development of nature writing.

Initiated by the founding members of ASLE-Japan, a special issue titled “Japanese Nature Writing” appeared in February 1999 in the Tokyo-based little magazine Folio A. Note that “Japanese” in the title was written in katakana characters, which are usually used for the transcriptions of foreign words and concepts. According to the volume editor, Noda Ken’ichi,4 also the founding president of ASLE-Japan, Japanese nature writing was in a developmental phase (hence the katakana-style “Japanese”) and would be called “Japanese nature writing” (with “Japanese” in the kanji Chinese character) at its maturity; and when fully mature, it would be called simply “nature writing,” instead of being specified as regional.”5

Thus a cross-cultural, transnational inclination was quite visible at the early stage of nature writing scholarship in both the United States and Japan. Two decades later, however, it was not yet clear how authors on either side of the Pacific have interacted. Observing the trans-Pacific traffic of nature writing practices, especially the American influence on Japanese works, helps to delineate the subtle yet developing trajectory of Japanese nature writing at the local, cross-cultural, and transnational levels.

Among many potential approaches to demonstrating how American nature writing has been cultivating Japanese literary soil and in turn been nurtured by it, three stand out. The first is Henry David Thoreau’s influence on Japan. The most conspicuous origin of environmentally minded literary interactions between the United States and Japan is found in Thoreau’s heritage, obviously powerful in the United States and no less influential in Japan. We may trace Thoreau’s footprints in a series of Japanese translations of Walden to find its literary impact on pioneering nature writers. Second, Japanese nature writing exists in a tradition of pastoralism, in part because its American counterpart is undeniably pastoral. Indeed, in the late 1990s, the notion of “Japanese pastoralism”—characterized a less binary and more integrated human relationship with nonhuman nature—was presented as a distinctively Japanese characteristic of nature writing,6 but it has remained undiscussed. Instead, some critics argue that the significance of American nature writing for its Japanese counterpart is found in a tradition of the wild rather than of the pastoral.7 Examining some exemplary works from Japan and the United States to show how literary interests in the pastoral and the wild shape a new mode of awareness of one’s environment opens new avenues.8 This leads to the third thread: a way of stimulating awareness, attentiveness, and consciousness toward the environment is perhaps most noticeable—in both distinct and subtle ways—in countercultural literary practices. Undoubtedly there were trans-Pacific interactions of literary environmentalism during the 1960s and afterward, with such key figures as Gary Snyder, Nanao Sakaki, and Yamao Sansei. In addition to that obvious move, some contemporary Japanese writers suggest that there has been an ongoing literary influence of American counterculture on nature writing in Japan in a subtle yet sophisticated way. By working on an alternative or supplementary mode of awareness, we can likely discover a transnational manifestation of what Daniel Philippon calls nature writing’s “spirit.”9

The Thoreauvian Inheritance in Japan

Henry David Thoreau is regarded as a visionary prophet for his attempt to find an alternative to life in an increasingly industrialized world, both in the United States and Japan. As the American ecocritic and writer John Elder points out, Thoreau “serves as a bridge between America and Japan today, in his statement: ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world.’”10 Since Thoreau’s “wildness” is “a quality of experience as much as an outward fact,”11 it does not necessarily refer merely to wild physical environments, such as American national parks. It may have helped Thoreau’s philosophy to become easily assimilated in Japan, where culturally fashioned environments such as gardens, rather than wild nature, are characteristically dominant. Clearly, Thoreau’s philosophy is materialized in his resistance to authority as well as in his critique of modern industrialization, and intellectuals in Japan found it attractive.

Among Thoreau’s works, Walden has been the most popular by far in Japan, with editions produced by several different translators. The first Japanese translation of Walden appeared in 1911,12 quickly gained attention, and was reprinted three times in the first month of its publication. According to the literary critic Tamiya Masaharu, who compared five major translations of Walden published in 1911, 1925, 1951, 1981, and 1983,13 Japanese translators found Walden attractive for its clearly articulated idea and practice of pursuing plain living and high thinking.14 Given that Japan had established itself as a modern industrial nation by the time the first translation appeared (as exemplified by Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War), intellectuals found Walden inspirational for its sophisticated critique of a materialistic way of life.15 In addition, Tamiya points out that the translations completed in the 1980s display a new mode of thinking stemming from the American counterculture movement, adding a new cultural element to Walden in Japan.16

A philosophical navigator toward a deliberate life as well as an intellectual antidote to materialism, Thoreau’s Walden in Japanese translation prepared the foundation of Japanese nature writing, which began to be collectively recognized in the 1990s. Around the same time that major Japanese publishers featured American nature writing in translation,17 two works self-described as nature writing appeared: Ashizawa Kazuhiro’s Irving o yonda hi (The Days I Read Irving) and Takada Hiroshi’s Shizenshi (Nature Writing)—the title of the latter is reinterpreted on its cover as “nature writing” in Japanese and English. Both books came out in 1994—the same year ASLE-Japan was founded, marking the beginning of institutional studies on nature writing in Japan—and both highlight Walden as influences.

Ashizawa’s and Takada’s books are not anthologies, nor are they creative nonfiction: they are more like meta-nature writing in that they discuss the works of authors whom they describe as leading nature writers “discuss[ing] the meaning of home and illustrat[ing] integrated relationships between humans and nature.”18 Ashizawa, who defines himself as a “nature writer,” discusses nine writers and poets whom he would call Japanese nature writers, including Miyazaki Koshoshi (1864–1922), Kojima Usui (1873–1948), Nojiri Hōei (1885–1977), Yoshida Genjirō (1886–1956), and Nozawa Hajime (1904–1956). Takada’s book collects thirty of his short essays on what he would define as nature writing; about a half of them are by Japanese writers, including Miyazawa Kenji (1896–1933), Fukada Kyūya (1903–1971), and Kōda Aya (1904–1990), with some from the United States (e.g., Thoreau, Rachel Carson, John Steinbeck, and Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi), France (e.g., Jean-Henri Fabre, Jean Giono) the United Kingdom (e.g., Charles Darwin, D. H. Lawrence), Austria (e.g., Konrad Lorenz), and India (e.g., Rabindranath Tagore). Takada’s list of representative works of nature writing includes Ishimure Michiko’s Kugai jōdo (Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease), which had long been neglected in Japan’s literary arena since its publication in 1969 owing to its unconventional mode of writing to represent human relationships with the environment,19 but which has become celebrated as a major literary work both domestically and internationally.20

Thoreau is highlighted in both Ashizawa’s and Takada’s books; however, they differ somewhat regarding the influence and impact of Thoreau and Walden. Takada places Walden at the beginning of his book and therefore as a prototype of nature writing, whereas Ashizawa’s narrative displays the more personal influence of Thoreau on him—the young Ashizawa was deeply attracted to Thoreau via the counterculture movement, in particular to his non-materialistic lifestyle—and explains how Thoreau’s work set him on the path of paying attention to similar, earlier literary practices in Japan. This partly suggests the amplitude of Thoreau’s influence as a nature writer, philosopher, activist, self-made man, and prophet, on literary environmentalism in Japan, an influence that still inspires the Japanese literary culture of nature.

Interestingly, among the more than thirty writers discussed by Ashizawa and Takada, only one writer is referred to by both. This is Nozawa Hajime, often called the “Japanese Thoreau.” Inspired by Walden, Nozawa lived alone in a log cabin at secluded Shibire Lake near Mount Fuji from 1929 to 1933, writing essays and poems which were privately published in 1934 under the title of Koppadōji shikyō. The fact that Nozawa is acknowledged by both Ashizawa and Takada, themselves leading Japanese nature writers, suggests Nozawa as a possible prototype.21 In an unpublished writing, Nozawa expressed his desire for an independent self modeled on Thoreau.22 Thus it was Thoreau as an independent thinker who attracted writers and scholars questioning their nation’s plunge into industrialization and materialism.23

A literary chain of ideas and inspiration is, in fact, a major characteristic of nature writing. Referring to the 1990 Norton Book of Nature Writing, in which the editors argue that “[c]ontemporary nature writers characteristically take walks through landscapes of associations,”24 Patricia D. Netzley points out: “Because of this associative approach, many nature writers mention the work of other nature writers in their book.”25 Ashizawa and Takada are inspired by Nozawa Hajime, who was affected by Thoreau, demonstrating the strength of Thoreau’s reception in Japan over time, which is also evident in works by other writers, including D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) and the essayist Arakawa Jinpei (b. 1946).26 Thoreau himself was affected by non-Western thinking; his philosophy of plain living carries influences of Taoism and ancient Hindu mysticism. Tracing the literary influence further back, we can see Ralph Waldo Emerson’s impressions on both Thoreau and D. T. Suzuki.27 In this way, the interactions between Western and Eastern literary approaches to human relationships with a more-than-human world can extend far back in time.

The Pastoral, the Wild, and Aware

Reactions to modern industrialization mark the beginning of nature writing, as Scheese observes: “Modern nature writing … emerged in response to the industrial revolution of the late 18th century and has become without question the most popular form of pastoralism.”28 This applies not only to American and British nature writing but also to their Japanese counterpart, as illustrated by Japanese intellectuals’ interest in Walden as an antidote to modern industrialization. In this sense, nature writing in the United States and Japan are both characterized by what Scheese calls a “pastoral impulse,” finding in a bucolic, predominantly nonhuman environment less problematic, more ecologically sound human relationships with nature. Whether one moves into the wilderness or into a suburb, getting away from densely populated cities is a major aspect of American nature writing, especially in its flourishing stage before the 1990s.

In Japanese nature writing, however, having a pastoral impulse may suggest a different inclination, according to the literary critic Ikuta Shogo. In his essay on modern Japanese nature writing, a rare English-language overview of this topic, Ikuta claims that one of the most “characteristically Japanese elements” that is “quite different from those in American nature writing” is “a sense of place that can be called Japanese pastoralism.”29 Unlike the major American understanding of a sense of place, which was proposed in response to a traditionally mobile and increasingly homogenized society, Ikuta argues, “the sense of place [in Japanese nature writing] has been so acknowledged by writers as something inherent in the Japanese mentality that some times they are not even aware that it is latent in their own writing.”30 Ikuta’s picture of a difference in a sense of place between Japan and the United States is similar to what Seamus Heaney has described as two different types of sensed place: one is “lived” and “unconscious,” and the other “learned” and “conscious.”31

Ikuta continues that “Japanese pastoralism basically remains unchanged even in this age of environmental disruption and industrial pollution.”32 Unlike its American and British counterparts, according to him, Japanese nature writing views city and country as not so much antithetical and more as a new conceptual spatial arrangement of center and periphery. This observation should be more carefully examined, partly because cities are not always described in dystopian terms in relation to the pastoral utopia of the countryside in American and British nature writing.33 An antithetical polarization of city and country is often evident in Japanese nature writing as well; Ashizawa, for instance, clearly provides a mental framework that contrasts everyday life in cities with a spiritual home in the countryside. Ikuta’s suggestion of “Japanese pastoralism” as a major characteristic of Japanese nature writing has not attracted much attention, most likely because of its emphasis on often expressed yet increasingly questioned differences between a Western notion of human separation from a natural world and an Eastern tradition of “[h]armonious relations between humans and nature [that] have historically been taken as a self-evident truth” in Japan.34

Instead of highlighting differences, it may well be more fruitful to pay attention to some shared aspects of literary struggles for sustainable human relationships with the environment between and within different countries. Among some literary works demonstrating such a focus, John Elder’s 1989 essay “Wilderness and Walls” is especially worth noting for its speculation on a common problem shared by the seemingly contrasting cultures of the American wilderness and the Japanese garden. Elder first observes a gap between a traditional Japanese idea of harmonious human relationships with nature and the social reality of rampant industrial development, with examples of Matsushima Bay, an iconic place celebrated by the famous 17th-century haiku poet Matsuo Bashō,35 which has been surrounded by obtrusive factories. Elder’s speculation on the gap between literary sensitivity to the beauty of nature and the nation’s indifference in reality to the integrity of natural/cultural landscapes eventually leads him to the striking similarities between a traditional rock garden in Kyoto and the vast wilderness of an American national park. Elder states, “While the Japanese genius for nature has been expressed microcosmically and our American contribution has been in the development of national parks and wilderness areas, we both suffer from a tendency to celebrate the precious aspects of nature hermetically.”36 From there, Elder explores what is missing in contemporary environmental sensitivity and suggests that it is “wild awareness,” that is “an inward and essential state about which the wildness … can remind us.”37 An enclosed rock garden and vast yet federally bordered wilderness alike offer “the meditative openness”38 with which to go beyond conventional appreciation and celebration of nature toward “wild awareness.”

What Elder calls “wild awareness” shares some elements with the Japanese notion of aware (pronounced /a-wa-re/) in that both encompass a vast range of perceptions of, emotions toward, and comprehension of the environment. In the words of the American nature writer Terry Tempest Williams, aware is “both the joy and the sorrow of our life. One does not exist without the other … It's the delicacy and the strength of our relations.”39 Another popular nature writer, Gretel Ehrlich, also uses the term to illustrate seemingly contrasting yet delicately interacting forces: “All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call ‘aware’—an almost untranslatable word meaning something like ‘beauty tinged with sadness.’”40

Much as American nature writers incorporate a Japanese concept and literary convention for a more mindful way of perceiving and articulating human relationships with the environment, Japanese nature writers seek American literary practices for a new mode of awareness of a more-than-human world. For instance, in the opening of her 1996 collection of essays, the artist and essayist Miyasako Chizuru (1947–2008) refers to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek—Miyasako mentions its Japanese translation published in 1991—as an important source of inspiration in her effort to leave herself open to the surrounding world and thereby write in a way that the environment inscribes on her, not the other way around.41 Likewise, the works of the poet-writer-translator-ecocritic Suga Keijiro (b. 1958) demonstrate how his extensive reading of literature—Gary Snyder, Edward Abbey, John Muir, Rudolfo Anaya, Loren Eiseley, Sandra Cisneros, Simon Ortiz, Maxine Hong Kingston, to name just a few Anglophone writers—helped develop his observations of and speculations on human relationships with the environment. While a major focus of his early essays was on the Americas,42 Suga’s later essays show a more transnational inclination, blending literary environmentalism on either side of the Pacific to fully develop a poetic approach to global environmental concerns such as nuclear incidents.43

Japanese Nature Writing via the Counterculture

As the “environmental movement is a child of the sixties,”44 so is literary environmentalism in the United States and Japan. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Ishimure Michiko’s Kugai jōdo (1969) mark the beginning in each country, respectively. Also during the 1960s, ecologically minded literary interactions across the Pacific became truly visible. Karen Thornber explains this, saying that “Japanese and Western writers and artists have long looked to one another’s work for inspiration, particularly for understanding and depictions of nonhuman phenomena. Their interpersonal connections are also notable. Strongest have been the ties between the poets and environmental activists Sakaki Nanao and Gary Snyder.”45 With Yamao Sansei (1938–2001), Sakaki (1923–2008) created a countercultural group called Buzoku (the Tribe), with an ecological commune based first in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and then in Suwanose Island, part of Japan’s far southern Ryukyu archipelago. Snyder, who came to Japan in 1956 and stayed until 1968, met Sakaki and Yamao and developed friendships with them. Sakaki, who writes in English, is far better known in the United States than in Japan, whereas Yamao attracts general readers as well as scholars in Japan. In his collection of essays, Kokode kurasu tanoshimi (Pleasure of Living in This Place, 1999), Yamao compares Snyder’s notion of “bioregionalism” with his idea that “a region is the earth, and the earth is a region,” both developed individually on different shores of the Pacific yet showing a striking similarity.46

While the work of Yamao, whose literary exploration has its base in his involvement in commune-oriented activism such as Buzoku’s, demonstrates an obvious connection with countercultural movements, a different literary trend has been stimulated by American counterculture. This inconspicuous yet powerful influence is most clearly seen in the work of one of the most popular contemporary nature writers, Nashiki Kaho (b. 1959).

Nashiki writes essays, novels, and children’s books; she also works as a translator of English-language books. Her works are celebrated by men and women, young and old. One of the reasons why her work—novels and nonfiction essays alike—attracts people of different ages and generations lies in her literary creation of hybrid cultural environments. “Culture” in this sense has multiple meanings. On one hand, it refers to the cultures of different countries. As her work as a translator demonstrates, Nashiki is fluent in English, traveling to many different countries; in her twenties, she spent some time in England to study with a children’s author, Betty Morgan Bowen.

Characteristic of Nashiki’s work, Western—especially English—culture is interwoven with Japanese traditions in a way in which old practices look new and interesting. Though it may not be categorized as nature writing,47 Nashiki’s most popular novel, The Witch of the West Is Dead (1994), is a good example of her style. The main characters are a Japanese teenage girl, Mai, and her British-born grandmother; the story is written in Japanese but with occasional English words. Just like Thoreau, who went to the woods to live deliberately, Nashiki’s Grandma lives her everyday life consciously, thoughtfully, and deliberately. Moreover, British-born Grandma’s life in the forest is similar to how Japanese people lived a century ago—no convenient electric appliances, no stores nearby, growing vegetables, using wild edible plants—but it appears cool and fashionable because it materializes Grandma’s philosophy. This indicates another layer of Nashiki’s hybrid cultural landscape: culture related to generation. Grandma’s lifestyle refers not so much to a region-specific culture as to a particular culture shared by a particular generation across national borders: it evokes a cultural memory of Japanese traditional life. In this way, West and East, the new and the old, are interwoven and create a uniquely heterogeneous literary world.

One characteristic of Nashiki’s work is the presentation of Grandma’s knowledge and wisdom, and this relates, in a rather surprising way, to elements of the American counterculture. The Witch of the West Is Dead illustrates Mai’s learning process through Grandma, who teaches her granddaughter what is edible as well as what is inedible, how to wash bedsheets by hand and sun-dry them over a lavender patch, how to make jam from freshly picked berries, and so forth. Because of this pattern of a grandmother passing her knowledge on to her grandchild, a reader might assume that “Grandma’s wisdom” in Nashiki’s work is based on her personal experience. However, according to the writer, her “Grandma’s wisdom” came not from her personal experience but was mediated by American counterculture. In an interview, Nashiki says, “I was forming myself right at the height of worldwide hippie culture. There was a strong tendency toward naturalism, and it felt like that was coming from people who had a radicalized consciousness. The truth is that my Grandma’s wisdom came to me by way of that radicalized consciousness.”48 What appeals to Nashiki is “radicalized consciousness,” which seems in opposition to the Japanese inclination to wa (“harmony”).

Nashiki’s hybrid literary landscape of the Eastern and the Western, the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary, is a product of “radicalized consciousness,” which questions and explores. What Nashiki calls “radicalized consciousness” can be compared with what Scott Slovic refers to as “awareness,” “attentiveness,” or “stimulated consciousness” in his 1993 book Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing. Just as the nature writers Slovic discusses demonstrate how they “study the phenomenon of environmental consciousness and attempt to stimulate this heightened awareness among their readers,”49 Nashiki is attentive to her surroundings as well as to the way in which she represents her perception and experience. Radicalized consciousness does not seem to be characteristically Japanese, but interestingly, filtered through such consciousness, Japanese tradition is represented in a way that makes sense to contemporary readers.

Nashiki Kaho and many other contemporary writers, including Taguchi Randy (1959), pursue a new balance with which to live life50: A balance between self and others, between the individual and society, between different values, and between human culture and a more-than-human environment. Countercultural “radicalized consciousness” seems to play an important role in their literary explorations. Here, too, the chain of literary association is longer than it appears: Nashiki Kaho is affected by counterculture books, which were influenced by Eastern philosophy.51

Nature writing seems to be on the wane because of its apparent innocence of the social dimensions of environmental problems. However, Noda Ken’ichi, who launched nature writing scholarship in Japan, has a different opinion, suggesting that nature writing provides a new perspective with which to question and reconsider Japanese conventional views of human relationships with the environment.52 Nature writing highlights the significance of direct contact with the physical environment, and such contact, once represented in literature, may work toward evoking environmentally sound consciousness. Nashiki’s work is one such example, demonstrating the fruit of cross-pollination between countercultural radicalism and traditional wisdom.

Review of the Literature

In its early phase during the 1980s and the early 1990s, literary environmentalism in Japan saw a boom in Japanese translations of nature writing.53 Major Japanese publishers issued series of such translated works. For instance, Tokyo Shoseki’s series “A Naturalist’s Bookshelf” presents Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, Peter Matthiessen’s Wildlife in America, Edward Hoagland’s Hailing the Elusory Mountain Lion, Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, and Barry Lopez’s Desert Notes, River Notes. Takarajima’s “American Nature Library” series includes Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra, Henry David Thoreau’s Faith in a Seed, Edward Abbey’s The Journey Home, and Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge. Hakusuisha’s “Collection of the Best American Naturalist Writing” brought out translations of six books, including Rick Bass’s Wild to the Heart and Gary P. Nabhan’s Desert Smells Like Rain. In addition, other publishers issued individual works in translation, such as Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Lauren Eiseley’s The Night Country.


Preparation of this article was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 15H03201.

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                                                    Further Reading

                                                    Inamoto, Tadashi. Thoreau to Sōseki no mori [Thoreau’s and Sōseki’s Woods]. Tokyo: NHK, 1999.Find this resource:

                                                      Kamioka, Katsumi. Sekai o kaeta mori no shisōka [A Philosopher of the Forests Who Changed the World: The Sayings and Life of Thoreau]. Tokyo: Iwanami, 2016.Find this resource:

                                                        Minakata, Kumagusu, and F. Victor Dickins. “A Japanese Thoreau of the Twelfth Century.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 37.1 (1905): 237–264.Find this resource:

                                                          Noda, Ken’ichi. Ushinawarerunoha bokurano hōda [It Is We Who Are Lost: Nature, Silence, Other]. Tokyo: Suiseisha, 2016.Find this resource:

                                                            Shirane, Haruo, Komine Kazuaki, Watanabe Kinji, and Noda Ken-ichi. “(Zadankai) Kankyō to iu shiza” [Roundtable on environmental perspectives]. In Kankyō to iu shiza, 13–33. Tokyo: Bensey, 2011.Find this resource:

                                                              Snyder, Gary. Kame no shima [Turtle Island]. Translated by Nanao Sakaki. Kyoto: Yamaguchi, 1991.Find this resource:

                                                                Snyder, Gary, and Yamao Sansei. Seinaru chikyū no tsudoi kana [Great Earth Sangha]. Tokyo: Yama to keikoku sha, 1998.Find this resource:

                                                                  Suzuki, D. T. Zen and Japanese Culture. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2005. Originally published in 1938.Find this resource:

                                                                    Thornber, Karen Laura. Ecoambiguity: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012.Find this resource:

                                                                      Toyoda, Okito. “Kamo no Chomei’s Hojoki as Nature Writing.” Bulletin of Faculty of Environmental and Information Studies, Musashi Institute of Technology 5 (2004): 114–120.Find this resource:

                                                                        Yamazato, Katsunori. “A Note on Japanese Allusions in Gary Snyder’s Poetry.” Western American Literature 18.2 (1983): 143–148.Find this resource:

                                                                          Yamazato, Katsunori. “Gary Snyder to Higashi ajia [Gary Snyder and East Asia].” In Basho no shigaku [Poetics of Place]. Edited by Ikuta Shogo, Murakami Kiyotoshi, Yuki Masami, 196–213. Tokyo: Fujiwara, 2008.Find this resource:

                                                                            Yuki, Masami. “Ecocriticism in Japan.” In The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism. Edited by Greg Garrard, 519–526. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                                                                              Yuki, Masami. Foodscapes of Contemporary Japanese Women Writers: An Ecocritical Journey around the Hearth of Modernity. Translated by Michael Berman. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.Find this resource:


                                                                                (1.) Daniel J. Philippon provides an overview of various attempts at defining American nature writing over several decades, arguing, “While ‘nature writing’ may well be dead … its spirit unquestionably lives on.” See Philippon, “Is American Nature Writing Dead?” in Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, ed. Gregg Garrard (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 392–394.

                                                                                (2.) Don Scheese, Nature Writing: The Pastoral Impulse in America (New York: Twayne, 1996), 12.

                                                                                (3.) Ibid., 187, n. 17.

                                                                                (4.) In this article, Japanese names are written in the Japanese order, with family names preceding given names. In the case of Noda Ken’ichi, for instance, Noda is his family name.

                                                                                (5.) Noda Ken’ichi, “Shizen/hūkei no kakōsei: nature writing no genzai [Invention of Nature/Landscape: On Nature Writing],” Folio A 5 (1999): 26.

                                                                                (6.) Ikuta Shogo, “Modern Japanese Nature Writing: An Overview,” in Literature of Nature: An International Sourcebook, ed. Patrick D. Murphy (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998), 278.

                                                                                (7.) See Noda Ken’ichi, Ushinawarerunoha bokurano hōda (Tokyo: Suiseisha, 2016), especially 95–120.

                                                                                (8.) I emphasize “awareness” for its significance in nature writing scholarship, following Scott Slovic’s discussions in his Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992).

                                                                                (9.) Philippon, “Is American Nature Writing Dead?,” 392.

                                                                                (10.) John Elder, “Wilderness and Walls,” 1989, in Following the Brush: An American Encounter with Classical Japanese Culture, ed. John Elder (Boston: Beacon, 1993), 151–152.

                                                                                (11.) Ibid., 152.

                                                                                (12.) A full translation of Walden was published in 1911; a partial translation came out in 1909. See Tamiya Masaharu, “Hōyaku kara mita Thoreau,” Meiji daigaku kyōyo ronshu 216 (1989): 136. Also, several years prior to the first publication of a Japanese translation of Walden, Thoreau’s name appeared in association with Japanese literature in Minakata Kumagusu and F. Victor Dickins, “A Japanese Thoreau of the Twelfth Century,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 37.1 (1905): 237–264, in which the renowned Japanese naturalist Minakata Kumagusu co-translated Kamono Chōmei’s Hōjō-ki, medieval Japanese essays often compared with Walden. For comparative discussions on Hōjō-ki and Walden, see Toyoda Okito, “Kanomo Chomei’s Hojoki as Nature Writing,” Bulletin of Faculty of Environmental and Information Studies, Musashi Institute of Technology 5 (2004): 114–120.

                                                                                (13.) Tamiya, in his “Hōyaku kara mita Thoreau,” explains his choice of those five translations is based mainly on popularity; the 1911 version went through three printings in the first month of its publication and the 1951 version had twenty-eight printings by 1977, for instance. Also, each of those five versions of Japanese translations of Walden represents the cultural climate of a different historical period in the Meiji (25 January 1868–30 July 1912), Taishō (30 July 1912–25 December 1926), and Shōwa (25 December 1926–7 January 1989) periods.

                                                                                (14.) Tamiya, “Hōyaku kara mita Thoreau,” 141–143, 150. Also, Thoreau’s idea of plain living and high thinking has been easily accepted by Japanese readers partly owing to the similarities of physical environments between Thoreau’s woods and the Japanese traditional countryside called satoyama. Both are characterized by deciduous broad-leaved forests, as Inamoto Tadashi points out in his Thoreau to Sōseki no mori [Thoreau’s Woods and Sōseki’s Woods] (Tokyo: NHK, 1999), 208–209.

                                                                                (15.) Tamiya, “Hōyaku kara mita Thoreau,” 142, 147, 150, 154.

                                                                                (16.) Ibid., 151–153.

                                                                                (17.) For some details regarding works published in Japanese translation, see Yuki Masami, “Ecocriticism in Japan” in The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, ed. Greg Garrard (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 520.

                                                                                (18.) Ashizawa Kazuhiro, Irving o yonda hi (Tokyo: Ozawa shoten, 1994), 13.

                                                                                (19.) Kugai jōdo was long disregarded and neglected in Japan’s mainstream literary world, mistreated as “reportage” on the mercury-poison incident known as Minamata Disease. The literary critic Watanabe Kyōji, however, pointed out in as early as the early 1970s—a couple of years after the publication of the work—that Kugai jōdo is Ishimure’s “I-novel” in a peculiar sense. For Watanabe’s analysis on Ishimure’s invention of an original literary technique to represent what evades modern sensibility, see his essay “The World of Kugai jōdo,” collected in Ishimure Michiko’s Writing in Ecocritical Perspective: Between Sea and Sky, edited by Bruce Allen and Yuki Masami (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016), 11–26.

                                                                                (20.) Ishimure’s reputation in Japan is represented by the publication of the 17-volume (plus appendix) Ishimure Michiko zenshū [Complete Collection of the Work of Ishimure Michiko] as well as her trilogy Kugai jōdo (1969), Villages of the Gods (2004), and Fish of Heaven (1974) being included as the Japanese representative work in Sekai bungaku zenshū [Complete Collection of World Literature] edited by the award-winning Japanese writer Ikezawa Natsuki. Internationally, Ishimure’s work has been discussed by leading American ecocritics such as Lawrence Buell and Patrick Murphy. Also, the first English publication of collected essays and scholarly articles on Ishimure’s work demonstrates the increasing visibility of her literary profile (see Allen and Yuki, n. 19).

                                                                                (21.) I would like to mention, however, that selections of representative writers are never free of bias; a mini-anthology of “Japanese nature writing” included in Folio A (1999) provides a different list of writers, including Miki Taku (b. 1935) and Sugiyama Kei’ichi (b. 1938), reflecting the editor’s interest in insects and entomology.

                                                                                (22.) Nozawa Hajime, Mori no shijin: Nihon no Thoeau, Nozawa Hajime no shi to jinsei, ed. Sakawaki Shūji (Tokyo: Sairyusha, 2014), 133.

                                                                                (23.) According to Tamiya, Mizushima Kōichirō, who worked on the first Japanese translation of Walden, was introduced to Thoreau’s philosophy by the Scotland-born Orientalist James Murdoch (1856–1921), who taught English at several institutions in Japan, including the Seventh Higher School, where Mizushima was his pupil. In the eyes of Japanese intellectuals, Tamiya continues, Murdoch himself represented Thoreau’s idea of plain living and high thinking, facilitating Japanese acceptance of Thoreau’s work as a core value of a just society (Tamiya, “Hōyaku kara mita Thoreau,” 138–145).

                                                                                (24.) Robert Finch and John Elder, eds., Nature Writing: The Tradition in English (New York: Norton, 2002), 26.

                                                                                (25.) Patricia D. Netzley, Environmental Literature: An Encyclopedia of Works, Authors, and Themes (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1999), 188.

                                                                                (26.) Not included in this thread of writers whose works evince Thoreau’s influence is the popular Japanese nature writer Noda Tomosuke (b. 1938), who brings out the importance of books—mostly those that have been circulated in the Western countries—in his exploration of wild environments in Alaska and the Yukon that he frequently visits for canoeing. He illustrates how backpackers from different areas of the world consider books a must for their trip—in deepening their thinking, directly or indirectly communicating with other backpackers, or simply for practical use in making fire and “wiping.” Among many writers he refers to John Steinbeck, his travelogue Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962) in particular, as an inspiration for his writing about his canoe trip with his dog Gaku. See Noda Tomosuke, Yura yura to Yukon (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1994), 171. Other Japanese nature writers whose works most clearly demonstrate transnational literary associations include Ikezawa Natsuki (b. 1945) and Suga Keijiro (b. 1958).

                                                                                (27.) For Emerson’s influence on Suzuki, see Lawrence Buell, Emerson (Cambridge: Belknap, 2003), 196–197.

                                                                                (28.) Scheese, Nature Writing, 6.

                                                                                (29.) Shogo, “Modern Japanese Nature Writing,” 277.

                                                                                (30.) Ibid., 277.

                                                                                (31.) Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968–1978 (London: Faber & Faber, 1980), 131.

                                                                                (32.) Shogo, “Modern Japanese Nature Writing,” 278.

                                                                                (33.) See, for instance, Michael Bennett and David W. Teague, eds., The Nature of Cities: Ecocriticism and Urban Environments (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1999); and Terrell F. Dixon, ed., City Wilds: Essays and Stories About Urban Nature (Atlanta, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2002).

                                                                                (34.) Shogo, “Modern Japanese Nature Writing,” 277.

                                                                                (35.) Although not discussed in this article, Basho’s literary legacy on American nature writing is quite evident. In addition to John Elder, contemporary nature writers such as Gretel Ehrlich, in her book Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami (2013), acknowledge Basho as an important source of insight. Also, Japanese traditional forms of poetry such as haiku and tanka help fashion a new mode of environmental awareness for their fixed patterns of syllables, as exemplified by Harryette Mullen in Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary (Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2013), in which she states, “The brevity and clarity of tanka make it suitable for capturing in concise form the ephemera of everyday life. With refined awareness of seasonal changes and a classical repertoire of fleeting impressions, Japanese traditional poetry contemplates … an idea I wanted to explore in my own nontraditional way” (ix).

                                                                                (36.) John Elder, “Wilderness and Walls,” 149.

                                                                                (37.) Ibid., 152.

                                                                                (38.) Ibid., 147.

                                                                                (39.) Scott London, “The Politics of Place: An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams,” Insight & Outlook (National Public Radio, May 1995).

                                                                                (40.) Gretel Ehrlich, “A Storm, the Cornfield, and Elk” in The Solace of Open Spaces, by Gretel Ehrlich (New York: Penguin, 1985), 127.

                                                                                (41.) Miyasako Chizuru, Umi to mori no kotoba (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1996), 8–9.

                                                                                (42.) See Suga Keijiro, Ōkami ga tsuredatte hashiru tsuki (Tokyo: Chikuma, 1994), for example.

                                                                                (43.) See Suga Keijiro, Strangeography (Tokyo: Sayūsha, 2013), for example.

                                                                                (44.) Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (New York: Longman, 2000), 1.

                                                                                (45.) Karen Laura Thornber, Ecoambiguity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012), 72.

                                                                                (46.) Yamao Sansei, Koko de kurasu tanoshimi (Tokyo: Yama to keikokusha, 1999), 174–175.

                                                                                (47.) It is debatable whether nature writing is by definition nonfiction essay. A traditional definition is “a form of the personal, reflective essay grounded in attentiveness to the natural world and an appreciation of science but also open to the spiritual meaning and intrinsic value of nature”; John Elder at the 1995 ASLE, quoted in Karla Armbruster and Kathleen R. Wallace, Beyond Nature Writing (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001), 2. However, from the very beginning, nature writing scholarship was not limited to essay alone, as it is exemplified by the 1996 two-volume literary dictionary, John Elder, ed., American Nature Writers (New York: Scribner’s, 1996), which not only covers dozens of American nature writers but also includes entries concerning ecofiction and nature poetry.

                                                                                (48.) Yuki Masami, Foodscapes of Contemporary Japanese Women Writers: An Ecocritical Journey around the Hearth of Modernity, translated by Michael Berman (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 139.

                                                                                (49.) Slovic, Seeking Awareness, 7.

                                                                                (50.) Taguchi Randy’s works often allude a spiritual side of the counterculture movement. In one of the novellas collected in her book In the Zone, Taguchi models a countercultural commune in Fukushima to depict a village largely abandoned after the nuclear explosion at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

                                                                                (51.) For Japanese literary influence on Gary Snyder, for instance, see Yamazato Katsunori, “A Note on Japanese Allusions in Gary Snyder’s Poetry,” Western American Literature 18.2 (1983): 143–148.

                                                                                (52.) Noda Ken’ichi, Ushinawarerunoha bokurano hōda [It Is We Who Are Lost: Nature, Silence, Other] (Tokyo: Suiseisha, 2016), 20, 23–24. Also, see his statements in conversations with Haruo Shirane, Komine Kazuaki, and Watanabe Kenji in Shirane, et al., “(zadankai) Kankyō to iu shiza” in Kankyō to iu shiza [On Environmemntal Perspectives] (Tokyo: Bensey, 2011), 15–17.

                                                                                (53.) Yuki, “Ecocriticism in Japan,” 520.