Shrines and forests in cities in post-war times

After World War II, Japan, as a defeated nation, was forced to reform its religious policy so as not to return to its former totalitarianism. The separa­tion of government and religion was carried out, and that also had influ­ences on the shrines or temples and their forests. In reality, all public parks that had been designated on the sites of shrine or temples were abolished. These places remained as spaces with woodlands, but these special areas where once people enjoyed nature and then believed in the distorted myth of the nation, became just disordered and untidy areas with lots of trees and religious buildings. In other words, the narrative of the relationship be­tween city and nature, which had been shared among people in pre-modern times, was first carried in an eccentric way through the process of mod­ernization, and then was forced to disappear as an extreme reaction.

As a result, the forests surrounding the shrines or temples tended to be destroyed and developed for their economic value. Many shrine or temple forests were converted to office buildings, commercial centres, or parking lots as real estate ventures (Fig. 6), while still retaining their religious function (Shelton 1999). Today the importance of these forests is being recognized again, but this is limited to an ecological interest in urban vege­tation, and the social value is hardly recognized.

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Fig. 6. An example of economic development on a site of a temple in Tokyo