In Japan, Moss gathers new fans


The article describes a growing trend of appreciating moss in Japan, from products which incorporate moss, tours to study moss, and even moss-themed activities such as a moss-ball-making workshop, and a moss mascot. It describes the Japanese affinity with moss by citing the moss metaphor in the national anthem, and how the personification of moss appeals to the Japanese psyche.

Representation of Japan and the environment

The Japanese are seen to be in harmony with the environment. They embrace aspects of nature in their lives through the inclusion of moss-products in their quotidian space, such as moss balls to be hung indoors, and moss finger rings. The article paints the Japanese biome as a bonanza of nature, marvelling at the diversity of moss species to be found in Japan. The Japanese are shown to be eagerly assimilating into this bountiful fudo (Kirby 75), through their study of moss and even engaging in moss-themed vacations offered by resorts.

What makes Japanese ‘green’

The article includes a few instances of Japanese reaction to nature. Manager Hattori mentions that the tending of moss elicits a response of growth, which is appealing to the Japanese. Deriving satisfaction from tending and nurturing nature invites us to see the Japanese as nature lovers, and hence ‘green’.

Prof. Higuchi tells Cambodian officials that moss on temples should be preserved. This constructs the Japanese as green because they promote living alongside nature, rather than separating it from their existence. The juxtaposition between Japan and Cambodia serves to distinguish Japan as greener due to their graceful inclusion of nature.

The article explains the Japanese fascination of moss as transcending mere aesthetic pleasure. It discusses the metaphor of moss, which is seen as intricate and complex, as “[satisfying] a Japanese love of fine detail”, while its toughness “provides a metaphor of permanence”. Because the Japanese are seen to identify with nature on a deeper level, it is implied that they have a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation for nature, thus reinforcing our perception of the Japanese as ‘green’.

Further Discussion

The affection for moss reinforces Kalland & Asquith’s assertion that “It is the small, gentle and intimate aspects of nature that are chosen… for praise in literature and the visual arts” (16). The passive profile of moss is easily ‘tamed’ into novel gifts and products, and can be safely observed on tours.

Ultimately, the depiction of Japanese here conforms to Kirby’s description of using “eco-symbols… [to] give a veneer of apparent ecological sensitivity” (69). Nature has been fetishised, becoming synonymous with the idea of an idyllic, agrarian way of life. It facilitates field trips to mountains and vacations; mediums of escape from the urban.

Interestingly, the article also offers a counterexample to Kirby’s statement that the “most telling commonality is the consistent prizing of the ephemeral in Japan” (83). Prof. Higuchi highlights the appeal of moss on rocks, which symbolises an enduring permanence, and how it is referenced even in the national anthem. Perhaps this is rooted in an appreciation of authenticity, which untouched moss indicates.

  1. Pfanner, Eric. “In Japan, Moss Gathers New Fans; Moss gathers new fans, who watch it grow and rock with it; Lady Gaga’s snub.” Wall Street Journal (Online), 2 Nov. 2015, Accessed 17 Aug. 2016.
  1. Kalland, Arne. and Asquith, Pamela. J. “Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions.” Japanese Images of Nature. Richmond, UK, Curzon, 1997.
  1. Kirby, Peter Wynn. “The Cult(ures) of Japanese Nature.” Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, 2011.

One thought on “In Japan, Moss gathers new fans

  1. This article offers clear examples of two common assumptions about Japan frequently presented in the Western press: 1) the Japanese as having an innate connection to nature and 2) the Japanese as weird. You highlight the first through description of ways that moss is celebrated through travel, aesthetics (jewelry, on temples), and more. The second comes out in the original article’s tone, which is meant to appeal to the casual reader of the Wall Street Journal online, as well as the emphasis that a love of moss is even considered unusual by Cambodians, other Asians that WSJ readers might have thought would share aesthetic sensitivities with the Japanese. These two themes merge neatly in a story bound to make readers continue to believe that there is something particular about Japanese culture that makes the average Japanese more sensitive to nature than the rest of us. How readers interpret this remains unclear, but this article shows the healthy repetition of the “green” fantasy about Japan today.

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