Monday, March 31, 2008


Animism Japonisme

Overoften at Japundit posted a series of stunning photos taken in the north of Japan at Mt. Zao.

He writes:
They’re out there lurking in the dark, in the desolate wilderness of winter — the beautiful and eerie offspring of Yuki Onna, the Japanese snow woman spirit. They are the Juhyo, or monster trees. Every winter the trees of Mount Zao in the Yamagata Prefecture undergo a shocking transformation. From mild-mannered conifers, these trees become hulking monstrosities of snow and ice.

To the Japanese, trees in Japan often have a spiritual nature. At many Shinto shrines, trees are venerated as having a kami or type of spirit. One type of spirit is a kodama and it is believed that to cut down a tree containing such a spirit will bring about bad luck, so they are marked off with sacred rope. As with many spirits in Japan, these tree spirits can be beneficial, dangerous or neutral.

In rural areas, it was thought that if trees reached a thousand years of age, they could come alive, particularly at night, and some were quite dangerous. Woodcutters out after dark had to be extra cautious of running afoul of these creatures.

Several things come to mind. The first is that I simply love that the Japanese have lit these trees so theatrically; it helps you to see the monster lurking in the snow. In other words, park officials want you to see the monsters and people go to this park in the winter in order to see them.

Second, there seem to be a number of places in Japan these days in which expert theater light designers have been called to give a setting some extra atmosphere. To do this in the first place, of course, people have to see the potential in a place or a thing to exhibit some kind of animism. The phrase "light up" has entered the Japanese language, and refers to a new cultural trend to use electricity to "light up" an old temple or garden in such a way that it looks even more magical. When people wonder where manga/anime comes from in Japan, I say look no further than this ability to ferret out the magic in what might look like a bunch of snowy trees to another pair of eyes. It's how you see that makes all the difference.

It's part of the culture, of course, to use lights to make places even more beautiful, particularly in the winter. Modern electricity has given the Japanese even more options in this regard.

Third, I have a very, very snowy scene in my novel. I am going to have to add a few very, very snowy trees. And maybe they will have to groan.

Please go look at Overoften's post for even more photos and description.

Oh! Those are trees I must see someday.
Someday you shall, I think. I see a trip to Japan in your future.
That is awesome.
I know, Scott. I would take credit for it . . . but I really can't in any way, shape or form. I'm glad you enjoyed.
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