The picture above is one I took in Kagoshima, Japan. Being married to a wonderful Japanese woman, I have had the great fortune to travel to Japan! Five times, thus far! The posted picture is a fairly common sight in Japan, and that is the small courtyard with a beautifully shaped pine tree and attendant stones and pathways.
Now, just the other morning I was reading Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata, the only Japanese writer to have won the Noble Prize for Literature. He won it in 1968.
As I was reading along I came across the following line:
“It [a pine tree] had grown untended, and did not have the shaped look of a garden tree” (30, my brackets).
Now, had I read the above before travelling to Japan, the phrase “the shaped look of a garden tree” would have probably escaped me. Because I have actually had the good fortune to gaze at a number of small gardens in Japan, I easily visualized and understood Kawabata’s image, a fact which deepened my appreciation of the novel.
I think this phenomenon works everywhere; therefore, we writers should be aware of two distinct possibilities:
- The reader has never seen the landscape we describe and therefore may miss the detail, (bad, but hey)
- The reader has seen the landscape we describe and appreciates your detail. (good)
- The reader has seen the landscape you describe and becomes pissed off because you got it all wrong. (very bad)
How about it writers? Have you written a scene that includes landscape description and got positive feedback because it is soooo right? (in other words you did your homework.) Or, have you received boos and hisses because, well, you had things a bit mixed up? (you didn’t do your homework.)