The Sound of the Forest

A few years ago the Ministry of Environment included the Sagano Bamboo Forest on its list of "100 Soundscapes of Japan" -- a selection of everyday noises intended to encourage locals to stop and enjoy nature's music. PHOTO: CNN

A few years ago the Ministry of Environment included the Sagano Bamboo Forest on its list of “100 Soundscapes of Japan” — a selection of everyday noises intended to encourage locals to stop and enjoy nature’s music. PHOTO: CNN

What does it take for a government to officially recognize a natural soundscape? The bamboo forests of Kyoto. Growing tall on the edges of Kyoto, the Sagano Bamboo Forest is a once tranquil nature spot that is now a series of tourist-packed pathways, but if one can escape the sounds of camera shutters and boorish visitors, they can hear the rustling, creaking, and swaying of one of Japan’s governmentally recognized soundscapes.

Only 30 minutes or so from the bustling Kyoto city center, the towering bamboo forest is an almost shocking contrast to the urbanity surrounding it. Wooden paths weave through the dense thicket of tall bamboo stalks that reach dozens of feet into the sky, creating a canopy. The absolutely gorgeous forest of skinny bamboo trunks is the heroin chic of wooded glades. As the wind passes through the tightly packed plants, the wood bends and creaks, the leaves rustle, and the trunks knock together, creating a peaceful sound like almost nothing else. That is when the hordes of tourists aren’t drowning it out.

Right outside the Bamboo Forest entrance is the northern gate of Tenryu-ji Temple (open daily, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., admission 500 yen, about $5), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Kyoto-gozan — five major temples of Kyoto.

This is no coincidence.

In Japan, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are often situated near bamboo groves, which are viewed as a clever means of warding off evil, while the bamboo is seen as a symbol of strength.

Built in the 14th century by a shogun in honor of the passing of Japan’s emperor, Tenryu-ji has one of the country’s most incredible Zen gardens and is today the headquarters of the Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism.

At the other end of the Bamboo Forest trail sits Okochi-Sanso Villa (open daily, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., admission 1,000 yen), the former home of late silent film star Denjiro Okochi.

Read more here.

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