Japan – snow monkeys, nature and earthquakes

This is a food blog and is fairly useless in the face of what is going on in Japan right now. What it can do, however, is say here is a link to an easy place to donate money (the Japanese Red Cross).

A volcanic plume of water in Jigokudani Yaenkoen park

It is also, perhaps, a place to say Japan is a rather incredible place which, as soon as it is sensible, you should visit and spend as much money in as possible (not hard given the Yen’s strength). This is because, just like with New York after 9-11, tourism and the money it brings will only assist the recovery.

Elevated electricity cables for easy repair after earthquakes

I went to the Nagano Prefecture at Christmas for a skiing holiday and hadn’t blogged about it till today for the simple reason that I couldn’t face doing it. The holiday in Japan was just so perfect I didn’t want to be reminded of it by looking at the pictures. However, following the earthquake I finally had look at them and they reminded me just how complex Japan’s relationship is with nature. And this, inevitably, encompasses the tectonic activity that has led to the present destruction.

The manicured woods reminiscent of a Akira Kurosawa film

I originally went to Nagano solely to ski but a knee injury from a massive over estimation at how good I was at skiing off piste meant that I had the chance to visit the snow monkeys in Nagano’s Jigokudani Yaenkoen park.

The snow monkeys are a perfect demonstration of just how Japan interacts with nature. The monkeys used to be wild but have become a tourist attraction due to the way in which they use the hot springs to warm themselves up. There is nothing to stop them leaving the hot springs but they have evolved an interdependent relationship with the park wardens and the tourists who come to visit them.

Zenkō-ji buddhist temple - destroyed by fire and earthquake countless times

Japan as a nation has a similarly interdependent relationship with earthquakes and tectonic activity. If you have ever visited Japan you will have been astounded by its cleanliness which was, historically, reliant on the bathhouses built over and nutured by volcanic springs. The fragile and aesthetic nature of the houses and places of worship is also a result of an evolution hindered and directed by constant earthquakes and risks of fire.

Zenkō-ji buddhist temple again with its manicured landscapes

And around all of this they rever and direct, where possible, nature. The gardens and parks have been slowly created through an obsessive form of Japanese gardening into a miracle of display. Autumn in Japan gives rise to possible the most vivid experience of seasons you will ever have as trees and plants change colour en masse.

So, give rather than pray for Japan and if you can’t visit quite yet I would suggest having a read of Yukio Mishima’s novels in the meantime as they are brilliant enough to capture the unique obsession of Japanese thought and the daily interaction with a bound but not tamed nature.


  1. The photographs are stunning as with this post to remind me how beautiful the world is, and how lucky we are to be able to travel and to see it all, and then in the face of tragedy we are reminded how powerless we actually are to nature.

    • And how lucky we are in the UK. Sometimes you just have to be very thankful at where you were born in life and how privileged it makes you on the not getting killed by nature scale.

  2. Well said Tom. Japan truly is an incredible place, and the recent news and pictures have been heartbreaking to say the least. My thoughts go out to everyone affected and I hope it’s not too long until Japan is back on its feet again.

  3. Tess

    Lovely, Tom. Let’s all go, someday.

  4. Nice post – great writing. We’re just peanuts in front of Mother Nature…
    Japan is facing a huge task to rebuild just about everything – and I am sure they will.

  5. Nice work Tom – not only have you prompted me to do something I have been meaning to do for days (donate) but you have managed to inject some optimism and beauty into what has been a horrific barrage of news (don’t even get me started on how the crappy Metro free paper here in London is handling the reporting of this tragedy).

    • I stopped reading all London papers and have now gone to only reading the NYT, FT and WSJ. Quite shameful how bad papers like the Guardian/ Times have got on actual news (rather than comment!)

  6. Mariko

    Thank you for your beautiful and affectionate post…this article and photos have made me miss my home country more than ever..(I’m residing in Hong Kong now…)

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