Updated: Mar 6, 2019
Kachou Fuugetsu is a concept that I began to explore after having done a few pilgrimages when I lived in Japan. When I was a doctoral student at Osaka University I was researching how traditional Japanese aesthetics still played a role in modern life and realized this is a concept everyone in the world can benefit from.
So, what is Kachou Fuugetsu? Kachou Fuugetsu (花鳥風月) is a Japanese concept that means to discover yourself when experiencing nature. Literally, Kachou Fuugetsu means “Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon.”
This ancient Japanese philosophy and proverb stems from Fuushi Kaden in the 1400’s. It is considered to be one of the major concepts in Japanese aesthetics and thoughts on beauty and art. Similar relating concepts are Wabi-Sabi (the beauty of imperfection), Shizen (nature and naturalness), Mono-no-aware (an empathy towards things), Kintsugi (the art of repairing broken pottery with gold) etc.
What the Japanese kanji characters are referring to are seeing the beauty surrounding you in each season, and understanding that those things (and you) are beautiful in different ways at different times of the year. “Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon” means that the Wind that we feel in spring is different than the wind in autumn, and the bright bold Moon we see in winter is no less beautiful than the harvest moon in mid-autumn. Basically, we can find ourselves and our happiness in nature if we are open to listening to it.
The traditional themes of natural beauty in Japanese aesthetics are something that we can all experience. What we need to keep in mind is that we are all naturally beautiful or perfect as is, and this is something that being in nature can show you. For good or bad, everything in nature is perfect.
I understand that this may sound a little too “woo woo,” for lack of a better term. I am really only talking about being able to hit reset on your body and life and start to get a little clarity. Here are a few things I suggest to get started with Katchou Fuugetsu:
1) Take a Walk
The simplest place to start is to just take a walk. Sometimes just sitting in nature can be too overwhelming for people at first, your mind is still running with all of the problems and questions that we have in daily life. Therefore, I suggest just going for a stroll.
A light hike is fine if the path is defined well enough to just be able to wander carefree and not have to concentrate on a map. You want to let your mind wander and get to a place where it calms down and you are no longer having a running conversation in your head. Your body’s pace should also slow down to nature’s pace and allow you to be more observant.
2) Turn Your Phone Off
When you are taking time to experience nature you have to eliminate the distractions. Not just on vibrate but all the way off for a while. Can go with other people but limit the conversations and just be in nature together.
3) Find Some Flowing Water
If you can get near a flowing river of stream take some time to just sit nearby. Watch the water flow by and just allow yourself to zone out, by actually just observing the water flowing.
4) Lie Down and Go Cloud Watching
Everyone has the experience of lying down on the grass and just watching the clouds go by. Seeing what shapes form and watching how the many layers of clouds unfold. You probably haven’t done this lately but there is no reason you shouldn’t. Allow yourself to just sink into the grass and watch the magic in the sky.
5) Take a Seat – On a Boulder or Fallen Tree
Have a seat on a large boulder or a large fallen tree. Awaken your sense of touch and let your hands run over the rough or smooth rock or feel the bark on the tree. Your sense of touch is powerful and can bring back many memories. Let them come and go and focus on the different textures you feel and start to think about how you are literally touching nature and are a part of nature.
6) Walk Barefoot
On the theme of touch, take your shoes off and experience nature beneath you. Most people forget what it’s like to feel the connection to nature through your feet. Walking in nature causes you to also pay attention to where you are walking and forces you to observe the natural surroundings.
Being mindful, aware of your surroundings and letting all of the judgments just flow by. Observe but don’t judge. Listen to all of the sounds that surround you from the wind blowing, to all of the leaves you step on. You are in nature, disturbing it, but also becoming a part of it.
A similar concept to Kachou Fuugetsu is “Forest Bathing, or “Forest Therapy.” This Japanese concept is centered on the belief of going into the forest and allowing Mother Nature to heal you. There is actual scientific research done on the healing benefits of Shin-Rin Yoku and how it relaxes you and can help alleviate stress, high blood pressure, depression etc. With 75% of Japan being forest and mountains, even in modern times with most people living in cities, they understand the power and benefit of nature. If you would like to read more about Forest Bathing have a look at this article I also wrote, Forest Bathing (ShinRin-Yoku) For Your Modern Lifestyle.
Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage
Kachou Fuugetsu means to experience nature’s beauty, and in so doing you learn about yourself. When I was a Master’s student at Osaka University I was a time in my life when I had time off in the summer, but not much money. I wanted to explore Shikoku and began looking into the famous 88 Temples Pilgrimage.
With my tent and sleeping bag I began my journey of 1,000 kilometers and visited all of the temples that surround the Shikoku Island. For a month and half I walked through rural towns, along rice fields, and over mountains. Stopping at all 88 temples, sometimes having tea with the monks and other pilgrims, you begin to appreciate the beauty of a simpler and slower lifestyle. When walking the trail in the woods and through the mountains, you realize that you can’t rush anything and have to let nature take its course. This was a spiritual journey of sorts for me, but what I really came away with was a relationship with nature and learned that we are a part of it and we can learn from it.
I lived in Nara and and just south of us the Kumano Kodo World Heritage pilgrimage trail, there are actually 7 trails heading into the Kumano region. This is one of only 2 UNESCO registered world heritage pilgrimages, Spain's Camino De Santiago is the other one. The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage has tried for this recognition as well because they are also over 1,000 years old, but the problem with Shikoku is that throughout history it seems as though some of the route has changed, and this isn’t allowed in order to be recognized by UNESCO.
In Kumano I had done many smaller trips to Kumano Sanzan, the name for the 3 most sacred shrines in the area. Smaller hikes, or even just walks sometimes, have a deep and refreshing feeling coming from nature. While walking on the stone path through the darker forest, you are surrounded by huge cedar trees and other wildlife that have been there for centuries. There is a power you receive from being in the forest.
It’s in these forests where you can discover yourself, or get back to your original self. I say “discover” because it was always there, we just tend to get distracted easily. As you allow yourself to experience the nature that is surrounding you, you will begin to naturally come understand who you are as a person. What you like and dislike, and what makes you happy. One thing I have learned is that it is the little things that make you the happiest. It’s not a materialistic thing but something that makes you feel something.
This is the essence of Kachou Fuugetsu, experiencing the different seasons and seeing the beauty in each. From that experience with nature you begin to see new things about yourself, you see that you are always changing and also never the same as before. Embrace who you are today. You will never have the same moment again or be the same person as who you are right now. I hope this article "What is Kachou Fuugetsu? Discovering Yourself in Nature" helped give you some ideas about how to explore who you are in nature and not be afraid embrace that change.
At ShizenStyle we promote living a shizen, or natural, lifestyle in a way that blends with these modern times. What is Shizen? Read more about it here. Everything from thinking about your home décor to designing a garden can be done with a modern rustic base.