Shrines and forests in cities in pre-modern times

From medieval times till the early modern times, the shrines or temples and their surrounding forests in the cities tended to become landmarks and core centres of the communities. The phenomenon was not unique to Ja­pan; religious buildings all over the world shared this tendency as well.

What is remarkable, however, is that in Japan these places had roles as spaces for interactions between humans and nature—spaced known in modern terms as recreational areas or public parks (Conway 1991). People enjoyed the scenery or seasonal blossoms, and participated in festivals held within the grounds of the shrines or temples and their surroundings. Espe­cially under the long and stable reign of the Tokugawa Era, i. e. from the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century, these activities extended beyond the religious grounds and into the entire city.

As these activities were linked to nature, the seasonal programmes were familiar to the people. Some kinds of illustrated programmes or pictorial guidebooks about these shrines or temples or other sights, were printed and published, and become popular among the people (Figs. 4, 5). Thus, these forested shrines or temples came to be regarded as noted attractive sights within the cities. What is important here is that the people had come to re­gard the shrines or temples and their surroundings with some kind of ac­cumulated narratives (Lapka and Cudlinova 2003) beyond their pantheistic religious belief.


Fig. 4. A series of Yedo-meisho-zue (popular pictorial guidebooks of Tokyo pub­lished in 1836)


Fig. 5. An example of an illustration of a shrine and surrounding forest in Tokyo (from “Yedo-mesiho-Zue” )

Updated: October 14, 2015 — 10:59 am