Growing in nature (P6-7)

In a time, where each day seems to be busy, what does it mean for adults and children to spent quality time in nature?

Through the photos and words by Mr. Konish we will look at the Yatsugatake/Southern alps from the point of view of parenting.

We asked photographer and nature guide Takashi Konish what it is with children and nature.


The way people look at things is inherent to the time they live in and “children” and “nature” are no exception.

We will never know for sure how the people living in the southern Yatsugatake area during the Jomon and Warring States period looked at the relation between “children” and “nature”. Nevertheless, when looking at it with a bird’s eye view we can deduct that the values about “children” and “nature” changes according to time. This means that viewpoints come in vogue and over time change again.

If we would use “glasses” as a metaphor for how we look at things at a certain time, we could say that “children and nature” glasses are in-vogue now. (As if they are two different entities) We often see these words recurring as themes in magazines and training seminars。

While, if we would look through the glasses of the past we would probably see it as “children as part of nature”. Most likely we would almost not be able to understand what we were seeing when looking through these glasses now.

Let’s go a little back in time. Children who are now 2 years old were born in 2015. In this country the number of infant deaths (the number of children who died within their first year) was 1,916. A grandfather who is 81 years old now was born in 1936, when the official number of infant deaths was 254,357. The number of infant deaths 100 years, or 500 years ago was much higher; children were a realistic part of the natural process. Undeniably, the fate of children was as much uncontrollable as were natural occurrences such as massive insect plagues, river floodings of volcanic eruptions. It would have been unthinkable to consider children outside the life activities and phenomena of other human beings.

In the old days the grandmothers of our grandmothers often lost children, and therefore prayed, danced and payed tribute to the deities trying to prevent this to happen. There are many indications that this happened in the East as well as in the West. If we would try to imagine how that must have been, I think we could get some understanding. However, it is dubious if you would be able to see and understand that world clearly, when looking through those glasses now.

If you would suggest to our own related grandmothers or grandfathers from long ago that “child” and “nature” are seen as two separated phenomena, they would probably exclaim, “What are you talking about?”

It is difficult to change places between people from the present and the past, and look through each other’s eyeglasses. This is the first main point of this story.

It is not as if the link between the present and past was suddenly broken. We are still loosely connected, it is more likely that our glasses have unconsciously been replaced.

Smoke signals have been replaced by smartphones, making it possible to see things more clearly. Both, in the old days and in the present time rain falls and trees grow, but the change over time is difficult to observe. The same can be said about the change of perception of “child” and “nature”, even if we would try to look through the eyeglasses of the past. What this suggests is that we are most likely not aware of the fact that our glasses have changed, and that the only way to look at the relation between “children” and “nature” is through the glasses we are wearing now.

In a world where it is becoming commonplace for children to grow up healthy, how should we nurture them? Would it not become evident when looking at it from the other side of the glasses? Therefore, the children upbringing depends on how we relate to nature (and other lives and phenomena).


Sometimes we think that it is enough for children now to live anyway they want.
The second part of this story will suggest that maybe we should try to look at the world with a little different set of glasses.

When observing nature and its phenomena closely, I had the profound realization that, “it’s like growing up”, and that therefore we may have to look at a child’s development with slightly different glasses than usual. The Yatsugatake en Southern alps area is maybe a place where it is easier to change our glasses whe we look at the relation between “children” and Nature”. It is a place where we are able to meet a diversity of life forms and phenomena.

It is about this I would like to share with you this time.

Don’t you think that both, people living here and those visiting the area might think something along the line like, “I would like to let my children experience this”, or “this experience will foster people”? So, why don’t you take of your fashionable glasses and just take a stroll with your child through the forest or along the river?

I am sure that during this time you will have an ever lasting encounter.
Maybe a bud among others that did not flower yet, or a giant tree growing on a moss covered rock. At such times you will gradually start to look at “growing up” a little differently. This is maybe the moment you look through the “children as part of nature” glasses.

Unlike some other species, human beings will not survive and able to grow up when being left alone as a child. Children need to interact with other people. As human beings we grow up within relationships.

The current popular “children and Nature” glasses are not totally useless though. Rather, because it is mainstream, it can be considered important. However, growing up only looking through those glasses is not enough. Worldwide we see similarities in the way we grow up with that of our grandmothers of the past. When your glasses change somewhat, the relationship with your children will change too. For example, you will become a little more gentle, or more forgiving. Children will grow up as conscious adults within such relationships.

I think this is the main difference between children growing up in the natural environment of the Yatsugatake area, and those who grow up with theme parks.


Takashi Konishi

(Photographer, Forest guide.)
Living in Kiyosato since 2000.
At the Public Interest Foundation “KEEP” association he has, among others, been working for the “KEEP forest kindergarten” and Kiyosato St. John nursery school outdoors activities for the last 17 years. He has published photos and comments in childcare magazines, and holds slideshows and photo exhibitions around the country. Sincs 2015 he has been working freelance, organizing interesting tours into the forest focusing on ecology, anthropology and philosophy.


What does “growing up with the forest” mean to Piccolo?

The “mori-no-yuochien Piccolo” (Forest Kindergarten Piccolo) in Sutama town, Hokuto city, is a self-administered infant education center based on the philosophy that “childcare means to place trust in the capacity of children”. At the center of the childcare are the forests and rivers.
I asked representative Ms. Kumiko Nakajima about the meaning of “growing up with the forest”.

―Why a nursery in the forest?
After having worked at several nurseries, I felt that an educational site without a connection with “life” would not do. In order to get this experience I felt we had to make use of the great power of the forest.

―Does that also mean to be close to the lives of animals and plants living in the forest?
Their life is huge. You can not learn about life from books and pictures, but only through real life experience. Staying inside an unnatural nursery facility restricts children the experience of life, demise and decay. This makes it difficult to experience about life itself.

―How does being connected with life itself affect the children?
Take for example when cooking rice on an open fire. Children pick up the rice grains they have spilled on the ground, right? When you ask them why they do so, they will answer something like, “The rice gave up its life for us so that we can live”. The feeling of “Ah, life is being cut off” when rice plants are harvested, is not something you can teach. I think they will grow up with a natural feeling of gratitude.

―What is the connection between life and appreciation?
One of the pillars of nurturing at Piccolo is the concept of, “Think for yourself and decide for yourself”. When in the forest, they have to decide for themselves if they are going to use this leaf as a plate or to eat that fruit as a meal. When you decide something for yourself, you can never lay the responsibility on someone else. This is also an essential part of growing up in the forest.
Nature is too huge to compete with. In winter, when the cold winds blow, saying, “wind, don’t blow” is not going to change anything. This is not the way to change that what is bothering you. Little children can initially cry about feeling cold but then they will start to realize that running around and wearing their coat will warm their bodies. They learn that they can change their situation by themselves.
Looking at it, I feel that the children are humble. I think that this humility comes from the interaction between oneself and the different lives they encounter, instilling a feeling of heartfelt gratitude.


Kumiko Nakajima

(Early childhood educator)
After having worked at kindergartens in Tokyo and Yokohama she realized that, “Without being rushed by time, she wanted to create an environment that focuses on the child”. Together with some mothers she started the “Forest nursery school Piccolo” in 2007.