Cities at one with nature
THE urban tradition which arose in Western Asia and spread across Europe has handed down to us the image of a town or city standing out sharply against a rural or natural background. Modern urban development has blurred this contrast by extending suburbs into the countryside and increasing the number of green spaces in towns, but this trend has not gone so far as to obliterate the antithesis that Europeans unconsciously establish between the town and nature. The city is still at one pole, the symbol of a constructed and artificial environment, and it is towards the opposite pole, that of the natural world, that owners of country cottages and holiday-makers are constantly drawn--even if that symbolic pole is often, in reality, scarcely less artificial than the town they leave behind them.
However, this typically European pattern is not universal. In particular, it does not fit Japan. Japanese towns and cities, if only because they have never been systematically enclosed by ramparts, have never been as cut off from their rural surroundings as those of Europe or China. Differences in population density between town and country have, likewise, always been relatively slight.
But the crucial factor is probably the significance of towns and cities for Japanese people in the relationship between nature and culture. Towards the end of the ancient period (3rd to 7th centuries AD), the association between towns and civilization was particularly strong in Japan, since both had been simultaneously introduced from China. However, as a result of the relative suddenness of their introduction, the urban phenomenon and civilized manners (urbanity) were superimposed on an indigenous view of nature which was deeply animistic, and which represented the cultural order and the natural order as a continuum. This strong inclination was to exert a twofold influence on Japanese urbanity: symbolically, …