February 4th, 2005


Culture is the new nature

Yesterday I decided to go out and make field recordings in Hakodate town. It was sunny and cold, and thanks to some accidental-on-purpose disorienteering I ended up on a bus that took me to the airport, when in fact I'd planned to go to the Yunokawa hot spa resort. Luckily, the two are quite close to each other, so a short walk around the runway perimeter fence and a stroll along the seashore brought me to Yunokawa, and the Kanko Hotel, which has an outdoor pool supplied by hot natural onsen water. I had the place to myself and it was bliss.

My friend Jean Snow (the other blogger who looks on the bright side of Japan's 'inevitable terminal decline') has a piece today on how the new Chubu International Airport in Nagoya is getting ready to launch an observation bath. The Mainichi News takes up the story: "The bath is located on the fourth floor of the passenger terminal building and covers some 1,000 square meters. The roof is made of glass and it has windows on the side looking over the airport's runaway. Bathers will also have views of the nearby mountains and Ise Bay."

This is a fascinating development, not just for bathing but for the Japanese concept of nature. Sentos, onsens and rotenburo always frame nature for the serene contemplation of the bathers. But recently I've noticed technology replacing nature as a subject for serene contemplation. For instance, at Osaka's Bishoen onsen the warm pool has a window framing the nearby elevated subway station, and at Tokyo's Odaiba supasento the outdoor pool provides spectacular views of jets coming in to land at Haneda airport. These seem somewhat accidental, but at Nagoya's new Chuba airport it's deliberate.

When I first explained my 'sound gardening' concept to students at FUN, some were confused about what they were supposed to be recording. Was I after natural sounds, or cultural ones, they asked? I said I didn't really distinguish between the two. Is the sound of water in a drainage system natural or cultural? What about air flowing through a ventilation system? We live in a world where the natural and the cultural intermingle, where nature has been primped by man, and culture often has the grandeur of nature. I salute the designers of the Chuba airport for acknowledging this; for framing jets as if they were cranes, and runways as if they were mountains!