Kiun-kaku – Using Traditions to Reflect a Love for Nature

Article: Kiun-Kaku: a garden of elegant period taste

“Japanese love of nature, as well as the Japanese idea of Japanese love of nature, revolves partly around nostalgia for what are considered traditional relations with nature” (Kirby, 2011:69). This article presents a quintessential icon of what Kirby posits as “Japanese love of nature” – Japanese gardens.

The article puts forth a strong sense of tradition as it explains the changing styles of Japanese gardens throughout Japanese history from the Heian period to the 20th century. In the specific example of Kiun-kaku, its garden is seen to embody “the tastes and values of” gardens from the Meiji and Taisho period. It boasts of how this simulated environment comes into contiguity with the architecture, and how the garden departs from an art form to arrive at something that is close to nature itself. This appears to be representative of Japanese as being “both one with nature and able to act against nature from the outside” (Kalland and Asquith, 1997:10).

However, it should be noted that the Kiun-kaku, originally a private villa of a businessman, has been transformed into a tourist attraction. As gardens and green landscape become a part of tourism and attractions, it becomes an environment that is separated from people’s daily lives. It is marketed as an attraction that is not readily available and “an object to be sold as well as to be protected as some sort of ‘limited good'” (Moon, 1997:233). This ironically enhances the image of a green Japan because tourists who go to Japan visit these attractions as do the local Japanese who use these images as “mirrors” to ascertain an identity that encompasses a love for nature (Kirby, 2011:71). Yet, this gives rise to an increased distinction between what is simply an image of loving nature and actual actions that contribute to loving nature.

Another theme that is brought up in the article is the relationship of wealth and nature. In isolating this space as an attraction, this greenery is marketed as something that is appreciated only if one has the time and money to. Moreover, the intricacies of garden landscaping require space that urbanites do not have the luxury to own unless they are wealthy. Apart from gardens, material forms of nature, in general, require space which is a scarce resource in urban areas (as mentioned in the news article on the Tokyo Olympics).

In this case, Japanese gardens provide a channel for Japanese to reaffirm their love for greenery but its increasing exclusiveness to the wealthy renders it to be more of a traditional icon alluding to Japanese identity than a representation of current day Japanese attitude towards nature.


Kalland, Arne and Asquith, Pamela. 1997. “Japanese Perceptions of Nature: Ideals and Illusions,” in Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives, ed. Arne Kalland and Pamela Asquith, Curzon Press, UK: 1-35.

Kirby, Peter W. 2011. Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu.

Moon, Okpyo. 1997. “Marketing Nature in Rural Japan,” in Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives, ed. Arne Kalland and Pamela Asquith, Curzon Press, UK: 221-235.

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