Detox in nature with Japanese 'Forest Bathing'
Mindful appreciation of nature is a theme that runs throughout Japanese culture, reflected in everything from subtly seasonal haikus, to Ghibli films that are famous for their featuring of lush natural landscapes. A practise that’s being rediscovered in Japan and receiving attention globally is the art of “forest bathing”, or shinrin-yoku (森林浴). Officially coined in the 80's as forest bathing, this form of nature therapy is an accessible way to explore Japan’s relationship with nature.
Forest bathing, a type of Japanese nature therapy, provides instant relaxation: no previous experience or skills required. All you have to do is unplug from technology, find a nearby forest, and wander— most importantly, don't forget to breathe and take time to admire your surroundings. If the lighting is good, stop to appreciate komorebi (木漏れ日), the sunlight that filters through the leaves. An important distinction is that forest bathing is not hiking, even though they might have some commonalities. While hiking, you have a clear goal: to arrive at a destination. On the other hand, forest bathing focuses on wandering to take in the sights, sounds and smells that surround you. A fully immersive experience.
Especially traveling in Japan, where tourism is dramatically on the rise, you can find yourself often bumping into other people. With fewer skyscrapers than Tokyo, Kyoto is an ideal place for forest bathing. The city has a meditative quality, including famous places such as Arashiyama's bamboo forest - but, if you are traveling during busy season it might be hard to properly “forest bathe” when you're being shuffled around in a crowd. Even temples and shrines, which Kyoto is known for, can get overrun with tourists, leading to exhaustion from being in constant crowds. Before you get to that point, how about escaping to a hidden gem of a forest, closed off to public access where you can learn about native flora and fauna with a certified guide. While you explore this large forest in Kyoto, engage your senses with the sights, sounds and smells around you. Here you can find rare species of plants only found in this forest, which the guide will point out to you, making this a truly one-of-kind experience, even in Japan.
Research has shown that spending time in nature has many health benefits and the meditative aspect of forest bathing only enhances these benefits. It’s been shown that forest bathing reduced levels of stress and risk of heart disease, lowers heart rate and cholesterol levels (Forbes). Forest bathing provides a great way to meditate on the passing of time and our relationship with nature, admire seasonal changes, slow down, and get away from the bustle of daily life. For anyone interested in environmentalism and/or wellness from a Japanese perspective, or if you just need a little boost, this is the experience for you!