Discussion of the intellectual history of the Western concept of "Nature" and its translation into Japanese as "shizen."

Today, "shizen" and "Nature" are taken to be more or less equivalent in today, both referring to a realm of forces and entities independent of human activity, but also available to humans as a resource. But when the "Nature" concept was introduced to Japan during the 1800s, no corresponding concept existed. Through a partial similarity in meaning, Nature came into contact with shizen, which was derived from the Chinese ziran, which can refer to an action or artefact independent of human will (Jensen and Morita 2015, 5). While this led to the adoption of shizen as a translation of nature, shizen continued to mean more than "nature," carrying differences originating with ziran that were incompatible with the Western notion of nature. (Shizen, for instance, could not, at the time, refer to "a general domain nor to a collection of entities." (5) in the way that "Nature" can). These other meanings were not erased under the influence of Western thought on Japan, but neither were they simply adjacent to “Nature” as an alternative. Rather, they generated multiple "minor traditions" in Japanese anthropology entailing knowledge and world-making practices that were different to, but not wholly separate from those of the Euro-American social sciences that were becoming hegemonic. Nature and shizen are both diverse and inter-related.


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