What are the virgin landscapes of Japan?


I have trouble translating this article. If I could, I wanted to translate the title of the article as “What are the Genfukeis of Japan?” A genfukei seems to be a concept only exists in Japan. Or at least, It doesn’t exist as an English word. I couldn’t find any words that directly correspond to the word.

Genfukeis (原風景) are landscapes that remain in one’s memory most vividly when he/she gets old. It depends on each individual. But when we use the phrase “a genfukei of Japan (Nippon no Genfukei),” it indicates landscapes that invoke the emotions of nostalgia for the majority of the Japanese.

After I posted  a blog entry about Mt. Fuji and cosmos flowers, I received an unexpected reaction from a Slovakian guy. He argued that cosmos bipinnatus originated in Mexico and introduced to Japan in the Meiji era. They explosively proliferated in Japan, and now represent the autumn season.  He said the photos are beautiful but it isn’t good in terms of environmental protection.  Honestly speaking, I didn’t know that cosmos flowers were introduced to Japan in the 19th century. Kanji characters given to cosmos flowers is 秋桜. 秋 indicated autumn and 桜 indicates cherry blossoms. I vaguely thought that it didn’t originate in Japan but  it was probably imported to Japan much before than that.

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji Terraced Rice Fields Lycoris radiata_9E49437
Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

Fuji with terraced rice fields and spider lilies, this is what we should call the Genfukei of Japan! It is, however, said that spider lilies are originally from the Yangzi river area of China and they came to Japan when rice agriculture was introduced to Japan.

In school, we had learned that rice cultivation came down to Japan from China in the Yayoi period (3BC to 3AD) . But what kids are learning in school now seems to be different. Archaeologist recently found evidence from three digs that rice growing had already been going on in Japan about 6,000 years ago. The evidence changed the paradigm and now it is believed that rice cultivation had already been performed in the middle of the Jomon period (14,000BC to 3BC). All three digs are located in Okayama prefecture. Okayama may have been a very advanced place in Japan back in the Jomon period.

Honestly speaking, I don’t know whether or not it means that there are two types of rice growing, namely rice growing existed in Japan since the Jomon period and rice growing that came down from China in the Yayoi period. Either way, both spider lilies and rice cultivation have been in Japan since thousands years ago. I guess I can say this view is as an authentic genfukei of Japan.

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji Sakura Cherry Blossoms_KE37258
Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

What about cherry blossoms? You know sakura are our favourite flowers. I conducted a brief investigation. The place of origin of cherry blossoms is Himalayas. But ornamental sakura plants such as Ooshimazakura originated in Japan. Which means, I suppose, the species itself was born in Himalayas, and as they spread all over the word, they came to Japan and evolved into the ancestors of ornamental cherry blossoms. The most popular kind of cherry blossoms is somei yoshino (prunus × yedoensis). When we say sakura, it usually indicates somei yoshino. Somei yoshino was created by crossing Ooshimazakura onto Edohigan. Since the places of origin of the parents of somei yoshino are Japan, it is safe to say that landscapes with sakura are also authentic genfukeis of Japan.

Some time ago, I heard that cherry blossoms originated in China and came to Japan in the Heian period. But the true story was more complexed. As far as ornamental cherry blossoms are concerned, they originated in Japan and the Japanese created a culture where people gather around cherry blossoms to admire their beauty.

Genfukeis depend on each individual.  Technically speaking, my genfukeis should differ from other Japanese people. I was born in the 70′s in the suburbs of Tokyo, naturally, my genfukeis should differ from someone born in an isolated wilderness in the East Hokkaido in the 40′s.  But when we use the phrase “a genfukei of Japan,” it indicates a landscape that makes the most Japanese feel nostalgic.  In that sense, probably where plants originated does not matter much.  I guess the combination of Mt. Fuji with cosmos flowers will be regarded as an authentic genfukei of Japan in the future.


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