5 Reasons You Should Try Forest Bathing In Japan | CoolJapan

Contrary to its name, forest bathing has nothing to do with “showering” or “cleaning” although many who have tried it will attest to its “soul-cleansing” benefits. Known as shin-rin-yoku in Japanese, forest bathing is the mindfulness practice of immersing oneself in a forest setting, soaking in the therapeutic effects of being out in nature. Although it started in Japan, forest bathing has now gained popularity around the world, with forest bathing societies in countries such as the US and Sweden. 

So, what are some of the benefits of forest bathing?

It reconnects you with your senses  

Bamboo forest in Kyoto

Many of us city-dwellers are constantly on the move and hyper-connected to our devices. Most of us hardly have time to notice, let alone appreciate, our environment. Being out in nature, with our mobile phones switched off, we are forced to slow down and breathe more deeply — to notice the sights, sounds and scents around us. 

You get to rediscover a sense of child-like wonder

Forest in Suzaka, Japan

Typically, a forest bathing trip in Japan is led by a guide who takes you through various stations within the forest, where you might be encouraged to try different exercises such as closing your eyes and listening to the babbling of a nearby brook or simply lie on a mat, take deep breaths and stare at the sky overhead. For the uninitiated, it may sound dotty but the tangible benefits are undeniable.

It improves physical well-being

Woman surrounded by nature

According to a 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Research, people who spend more time in green spaces have significantly reduced risks for chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. These people also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. 

It improves mental health

Stairs surrounded by nature in Kyoto

With our fast-paced lifestyles and pressure-cooker environments, it’s no surprise that the stress of urban living often leads to burnout, anxiety and depression. While by no means a cure-all, forest bathing can help alleviate some of the symptoms of stress, clear your mind, and elevate you into a more peaceful and balanced state of being.

It’s a fun and unique way of travel

Hiking in a forest is one way to practice forest bathing in Japan

In Japan alone, there are 62 forests that serve as “forest therapy bases”. From Hokkaido to Okinawa, you can slowly make your way around the different prefectures, exploring the various green spaces and discovering a less-known side of the region. For Studio Ghibli fans, there’s an added advantage to forest bathing as you get to immerse yourself in the environments that inspired your favourite Ghibli films. For example, the verdant, moss-covered Yakushima National Park in Kyushu is said to be the inspiration behind the Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke. The bucolic Sayama Hills, located about an hour from Ikebukuro in Tokyo, is said to be the setting for My Neighbour Totoro