During my brief visit to Japan all I noticed at first were its similarities to every town or city that I’ve visited. In the big cities there is plenty of commercialism and in the towns lots of focus on tourist-oriented shops and restaurants, visitors, and people with their cell phones. With time, however, I began to notice the small differences.
When our group arrived in Kanazawa, we started to see trees strung up with twine and wondered about the meaning. At first glance it just looked like the trees were decorated as triangular caricatures of Christmas trees (it was November after all). After asking some questions, I learned that it is called Yukitsuri or “snow suspenders” and used to protect the tree branches from breaking during the heavy wet winter snows in the area.
I saw this caring for trees not just in the big important Kenrokuen Garden, but also in the small neighborhood parks and city streets. Stringing up the trees is labor intensive and done by hand with tall ladders, twine, bamboo poles, and a team of gardeners. I was quite taken by how they care for their trees and began to see it as just one manifestation of the general sense of respect one appreciates in the Japanese culture.
From my simple 2-week visit I cannot make any generalizations on how the Japanese culture compares to the California culture I live in. I do not know how their centuries old nationalism, homogeneity, and work ethic affects their daily happiness, sense of freedom, or creativity – three things I value highly. But I can take away a lesson about caring to remind myself to take care of the people and things in our lives in the same manner that I witnessed the care for trees in Kanazawa.
I hope that this is a lesson that I can also pass on to you with these simple images.