An American visiting Japan is immediately struck with the realization
that Japan looks different than the United States. They may not be
able to exactly put their finger on why things are different, but,
they recognize that the Japanese landscape is more congested,
compact, and variegated than landscapes in the United States. A
lifelong student of the Japanese landscape described it as "visually
chaotic."1 One purpose of this component is to assist students and teachers
interested in Japan to understand that while the Japanese landscape
may at first appear chaotic, it is actually meticulously planned and
arranged due to basic fundamental geographic concepts about the land
and people of Japan.
Pierce Lewis succinctly defined a cultural landscape as ". . . nearly
everything that we see when we go outdoors" (Meinig 1979, 12). In
other words, a cultural landscape is the result of the interaction
between a culture and its environment. Why are cultural landscapes
important? Geographer Terry Jordan-Bychkov, thinks the cultural
landscape "visually reflects the most basic strivings of humankind:
for shelter, food, and clothing" (Jordan-Bychkov and Domosh 2003,
26). Pierce Lewis transcends the concept of basic necessities when
he emphasizes that: "Our human landscape is our unwitting
autobiography, reflecting our tastes, our values, our aspirations,
and even our fears, in tangible, visible form" (Meinig 1979, 12).
Every cultural landscape has cultural meaning. Study of them
furthers our understanding of any culture by providing us a
window into it. A cultural landscape is also a reflection of the
opportunities and constraints the physical environment provides a
given culture. This is particularly important in Japan where high
population densities have yielded many interesting landscape
adaptations due to limited space availability.
A basic premise illustrated through the content of this component is
that Japan's landscapes are a direct reflection of its culture and
that study of its cultural landscapes will further our understanding
of the Archipelago. Japanese cultural landscapes are documented,
described, and explained through extensive use of photographs and
other imagery. To assist in this endeavor, the component is
organized into the following parts. Part one will examine general
characteristics of the Japanese cultural landscape. Part two will
examine specific characteristics of the Japanese cultural landscape.
The remaining parts on the website will visually document and examine
different categories of Japan's cultural landscape including urban,
suburban, and rural.
This component is intended for introductory human geography, world
regional geography, and regional Asia/Japan geography courses.
Hopefully, the many photographs used in this component will both be
used to teach about Japan and illustrate basic concepts of cultural
The photographs used in this component have all been taken on the island of Honshu, particularly in the central and southern part of the island. Honshu is Japan's largest island and is home to the country's largest cities, densest populations, and most of its historical and cultural heritage. While other Japanese islands, like Okinawa and Hokkaido, have their own unique cultural landscapes, it is central and southern Honshu that are the most representative of Japan and its traditional cultural landscapes.
Jordan-Bychkov, T. G.,
and Domosh, Mona. 2003. The Human Mosaic: A Thematic
Introduction to Cultural Geography. New York: W. H. Freeman and
Meinig, D. W., ed.
1979. The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes. New York:
Oxford University Press.