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Komorebi (木漏れ日): Sunshine filtering through the trees.

Komorebi: A golden wash of soothing sunshine through trees

Komorebi: Soothing sunlight through trees

There is a Japanese term “Komorebi”, for which no simple English translation exists. Yet it is a distinct phenomenon, that anyone who spends time among trees will have enjoyed. Komorebi  roughly translates as “the scattered light that filters through when sunlight shines through trees”. It is made up of three “Kanji” or Chinese characters: “tree” or “trees”, “leaking-through” or “escape”, and “light” or “sun”.
Komorebi is especially noticeable when the sun is low, and mist or smoke can add to the effect. The impact of Komorebi to the observer can range from creating a pleasant ambiance for a walk through the woods, to generating feelings of awe – which in the right place at the right time – verges on the transcendental. As an arboricultural consultant, I spend more time than most looking at trees, and occasional experiences of Komorebi have caught me unaware, and have momentarily transformed the most uninspiring trees into something special.
Sunshine escaping through the trees

Sunshine escaping through the trees

No comparable English word for this “tree-light” exists. While the English language has “sunbeam” or “dappled light”, these are more general. The scientific term “crepuscular rays”, describes beams of light shining through the environment, which in purely technical terms, is what occurs during Komorebi. However, these terms are not related directly to the effect of light through trees, moreover, they fail to capture the strong aesthetic component involved in Komorebi.
Less technical and more poetical attempts have been made in the English language to capture the event. Without a suitable term, several poets and authors felt compelled to invent their own words:
Dylan Thomas called it “windfall light”, in his poem “Fern Hill”, writing:
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins created the term “shivelight” for: “the lances of sunshine that pierce the canopy of a wood”’.
The author C.S. Lewis was a fan of these “shafts of delicious sunlight” or “Godlight”, writing: “Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are patches of Godlight in the woods of our experience.”
Despite their efforts, none of these words have caught on. Komorebi, like several similar terms, highlights the influence of nature and aesthetics that is unique to Japanese culture. Perhaps, beyond poets and physicists, there is no need for an English equivalent. The experience – of observing sunlight through trees – might be enough. Indeed, the absence of a comparable word allows respite from the taxonomic rumination that occurs in most other aspects of life, helping Komorebi remain as one of life’s “pure and spontaneous pleasures”.
Sunshine escaping through the trees

Sunshine escaping through the trees

Photos by the excellent Lars van de Goor

 

Adam
Adam
I'm a Chartered Arboriculturist at AWA Tree Consultants Ltd. As well as detailing our recent tree survey and arboricultural consultant work, this blog includes wide ranging arboricultural musings, including tree facts, opinion and anecdotes on trees in human culture.

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