Skip to main content

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature and the Arts

EASC Southern California East Asia Colloquium Series

A keynote address by Haruo Shirane (Columbia University).

Elegant representations of nature, explicitly the four seasons, fill a wide range of Japanese genres and media—from poetry and screen painting to tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and annual observances. Haruo Shirane shows, for the first time, how, when, and why this occurred and explicates the richly encoded social, religious, and political meanings these representations embodied.

This Keynote lecture by Haruo Shirane, based on his recently published book, demonstrates how elegant representations of the four seasons first emerged in an urban environment among nobility in the eight century. They became highly codified and then spread to different social classes, eventually settling in popular culture and the pleasure quarters. Shirane accounts for all types of manifestations: textual (poetry, chronicles, tales), cultivated (gardens, flower arrangement), material (kimonos, screens), performative (noh drama, festivals), and gastronomic (tea ceremony, food rituals). He reveals how this kind of “secondary nature,” which flourished in Japan's urban architecture and gardens, frequently fostered a sense of harmony with the natural world—just at the point at which it was receding. Eventually, alternative representations of nature derived from farm villages and elsewhere began to intersect with these elegant representations in the capital, creating a complex web of competing associations.

HARUO SHIRANE is Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at Columbia University. He is the author and editor of numerous books on Japanese literature, including: Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts; Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho; and Bridge of Dreams: Poetics of the Tale of Genji.

This Keynote Lecture will be followed by a symposium, "Forests, Waters, and Cities: Approaches to the Environment in Japan and Global Contexts," on Saturday, March 9, 2013.

Click here to RSVP by Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sponsored by the USC East Asian Studies Center, the USC Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and the USC Center for Japanese Religions and Culture.