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THE SPIRIT OF NATURE
The art of the garden and flower arrangement, bonsai, the celebration of the cherry blossoms in April, and of the autumn colors that adorn the forests in October: the Japanese maintain close ties with nature. According to tradition, the emperor is descended from Amaterasu, the sun goddess, whose emblem is the chrysanthemum. The origins of this association can be found in Shintoism, Japan’s oldest religion, which holds that nature harbors invisible forces, benevolent or malevolent, that must be taken into account. These spirits, or kami, can be hidden in waterfalls, oddly-shaped rocks or trees with gnarled branches.
This reverence for nature is closely linked to the changing of the seasons, which influence virtually every aspect of Japanese culture. For a traditional kaiseki meal, diners kneel on rice straw tatami mats and sample a series of small dishes made from seasonal ingredients, cooked in the most region way possible in order to exalt their flavors. The cycles of nature are also celebrated by many holidays: Shunbun no Hi on the vernal equinox, Midori no Hi or Greenery Day, Umi no Hi or Ocean Day, Shubun no Hi on the autumnal equinox… And of course Hanami, the famous cherry blossom festival, when TV news crews monitor the trees’ progress toward peak bloom.