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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Post Japanese cities' lack of seasonal balance due to a man-made biodiversity

    EDIT : title modified due to inappropriate wording.

    During my years in Japan, I was told hundreds of times about the 4 seasons of Japan, that the Japanese seem to be so proud of. The Japanese also compliment themselves on their closeness to nature. I never really understood what the fuss was about. Don't misunderstand me, I love nature, and since my childhood I have been able to recognise numerous trees just by their leaves, or made a point to distinguish a mouse from a long-nosed shrew or a stout vole. I gave up studying species once I reached teenagehood, so my knowledge is still pretty superficial, but probably better than average.

    What I mean here is that the Japanese only seem interested in nature and the seasons, but usually don't know much about either of them. And indeed Japan is far from exceptional for its nature and seasons, which is my second criticism.

    It is now 10 months that I have returned to Europe, and during this time I paid particular attention to the passing of the seasons compared to Japan. Here are my observations.

    Biodiversity

    Here in Belgium, when I go to the park I can find dozens, and sometimes hundreds of kinds of trees and shrubs. In Japanese cities you always find the same few trees everywhere : cherries (along the main roads and canals, and in parks), plums (esp. around temples and shrines), gingko (along many of Tokyo's roads), and momiji (esp. in mountains and gardens) + a few conniferous like the Japanese cedar (sugi) and the pine (matsu). Hardly ever do we see oaks (kashiwa), beeches (buna), elms, maples (kaede, apart from momiji), lindens (shina), chestnuts (kuri), walnuts (kurumi), willows (yanagi), birches (shirakaba), poplars (popura), etc. Yet most of these trees are also native of Japan, as the Japanese names (and kanji) indicate.

    Trees in cities and parks are the reflection of human selection. I understand that the Japanese mania of cherry blossoms has led them to plant chery trees everywhere, but unfortunately to the demise of other species. My wife, who has always lived in Tokyo, has no idea what most of the above-mentioned trees look like, eventhough she has heard of their names.

    Seasons

    Autumn is slowly arriving in Belgium (although we've still had over 25'C recently). The first leaves have been falling since late August, and will continue to fall until late October to mid November. The great diversity of trees means that the "autumn leaves" (koyo) seasons is much longer in Belgium than in Japan, as each varity of tree sheds its leaves at a different time. Instead of having 2 weeks of "koyo" like in Japan, we have about 3 months. This feels like a real season (3 months is exactly the lenghth each season should be, to be perfectly balanced).

    This summer was particularily hot and sunny in July (and September). My image of summer was always that of the sun and long daylight. Sun rises around 5am and sets around 10:30pm in late June and early July. Still now, a few days from the Autmumn Equinox (21 September being the official first day of Autumn here), we still have longer days than in Japan in June. Summer in Kanto is so rainy and cloudy (and dark) that the only thing that make it feel like summer is the heat. For me, a typical Japanese summer is not summer. It's a strange season reminding me more of tropical countries. In fact, this semi-tropical climate starts around May and continues until October in Japan. So almost half of the year is tropical, hence the term "semi-tropical".

    Of course Japan is not homogenous when it comes to seasons. Normal as it streches over 3000km, as far as from England to Turkey, across all continental Europe ! Hokkaido and the Tohoku region are much colder and snowier in winter and do not get so hot and muggy in summer. Their climate are more similar to Eastern Europe. Okinawa has no real seasons. So I will concentrate on the heart of Japan, between the Kanto and Kyushu (where 90% of the Japanese live).

    Even Spring, Japan's most "sacred" season thanks to the cherry blossoms, is hardly a season by European standard. Cherries only blossoms for 1 or 2 weeks, and once it is gone there are rather few flowers and blossoms to remind you that you are still in Spring. In Belgium, we also have cherry blossoms (some neighbourhoods also have streets lined with blossoming cherry trees), but so many other blossoming trees and shrubs (white, yellow, pink, red, orange...), and so many flowers on the balconies, in the parks or elsewhere, that it really does feel like Spring until leaves grow all over the trees and the temperature rises to reach Summer.

    Here is a typical flowerbed found in a Belgian city in Spring (here in front of a train station) - and this is nothing compared to the Netherlands :

    Last edited by Maciamo; Sep 23, 2006 at 08:02.

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