As part of my literature review for my book exploring the connection between nature and wellbeing in New Zealand, I have been reading Shinrin-yoku: The art and science of forest-bathing, by Dr Qing Li, who has researched the subject extensively in Japan.
In describing the Japanese experience of spending time in a forested environment, he draws the reader’s attention to the Japanese word ‘komorebi’, 木漏れ日 in Japanese characters, meaning ‘sunlight filtering through leaves’ (木 = tree, 漏れ = leak through, 日 = sun).
As he points out, perhaps the closest equivalent expression of this idea in English is ‘dappled sunlight’, but this does not relate specifically to the effect leaves have on light.
The author goes on to describe the enjoyment he derives from the visual experience of ‘komorebi’, especially when the sun is low, in the morning or evening. Whether consciously or not, most of us will have enjoyed this visual experience when in a forested area or in a park (I know I have – the photo above was taken when walking with my two-year old son in a kohekohe grove on the Kapiti Coast 8 years ago); not having a dedicated term in English to describe it does not prevent us from doing so. But I do feel that the Japanese language is richer for having such a word, reflecting I suspect a long poetic and literary tradition that celebrates the beauty of nature. I suspect too that having ‘a name for something’ makes us more alert to it.
I would be interested to know whether other languages have equivalent expressions for ‘komorebi’, or other sensory experiences people have while in the forest or another natural environment.