“Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature and the Arts” (Columbia University Press) by Haruo Shirane. The whole seasonal consciousness of Japan, so meticulously considered and observed, is an intangible cultural tradition, though it has a certain physical embodiment in saijiki, the almanacs used by haiku poets, which explain all the subtleties of seasonal reference, with examples of their use in poems. Like Kubla Khan’s palace, it is a miracle of rare device, a fabrication of sublime refinement whose origins and meaning professor Shirane admirably expounds in this illuminating scholarly account.

“Japan’s Master Gardens: Lessons in Space and Environment” (Tuttle) by Stephen Mansfield. One of the main sites from which refined seasonal awareness emerged was the aristocratic or temple garden, which is why Japan’s public parks are often so aesthetically pleasing: that is what many of them were. I often long for time to visit the beautiful gardens Mansfield describes in his columns. Here he selects and introduces (occasionally quoting haiku) some of the best gardens, out of 850 scattered throughout the country, including a favorite in Kamakura.

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