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2023.09 Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese Art of Forest Bathing Unlock Mindfulness and Boost Positivity Under the Trees

Forest bathing, known as “shinrin-yoku” in Japanese, is a unique Japanese pursuit that developed in the 1980s. In this practice, participants succumb to the powerful energy and exquisite calm that permeates the forests in Japan's natural ecosystems. In turn, they are rewarded with opportunity for reflection, a boost in positive energy and a revived sense of wellness. Read on to learn about this serene art's origins and places to experience it.

Nurtured by nature: The origins of forest bathing

The concept of forest bathing was developed in 1982 by the Forest Agency at the time as both a physiological and psychological exercise with two key purposes. First, it was a response to Japan's technological revolution providing an antidote to high-octane lifestyles that were replacing a traditionally nature-oriented society. Second, it encouraged Japanese people to reconnect and preserve the natural landscapes around them.

Today, both intentions are still relevant. Forest bathing is a low-impact pursuit that celebrates the natural order of woodland environments instead of altering them and provides a welcome space for mindful meditation. So how does it work? 

It's actually very simple. On a forest bathing excursion, explorers walk quietly through forest landscapes, concentrating on the energy of their surroundings, and most importantly, appreciating the present. While this can be a solo pursuit, there are many options for guided tours. In this article, we’ll explore the forest bathing sites of Iiyama (Nagano Prefecture) and Nikko (Tochigi Prefecture) while introducing sites close to Tokyo for travelers with limited time. 


Take a digital detox in one of Japan’s many forests.
Photo credit: Forest Therapy Base "Iiyama"


Embrace forest therapy and wellness in Iiyama, Nagano Prefecture


Nestled in northern Nagano Prefecture, approximately two hours away from Tokyo on the Hokuriku Shinkansen lies the enchanting city of Iiyama. This remarkable destination was recognized in 2005 as an area with exceptional healing powers, drawing visitors seeking solace and rejuvenation. 

The picturesque landscape surrounding Iiyama boasts a harmonious blend of rivers, lakes and sprawling forests that captivate the senses. Nature enthusiasts yearning to immerse themselves in the beauty of Iiyama's woods will find an abundance of well-marked trails catering to hikers of all levels. As the popular forest bathing sites are situated around 500 meters above sea level, trekkers are blessed with the refreshing cool air and comforting shade in this vibrant forest, offering a peaceful respite.


Get lost in nature’s embrace.
Photo credit: Forest Therapy Base "Iiyama"


Among the many enchanting forests in Iiyama, the renowned Mori-no-Ie in Nabekura Highlands stands as a true haven of nature's wonders. This serene sanctuary beckons forest bathers to partake in tranquil walking tours amid magnificent beech trees, or indulge in relaxing sessions of yoga beneath the gently dappled sunlight.

For those seeking an escape into the embrace of nature, Iiyama provides an array of activities beyond forest bathing. Visitors can delight in canoeing along serene waterways, embrace outdoor living with camping adventures or embark on snowshoe tours amidst winter's enchantment.


Discover mindfulness in a sanctuary under a canopy of green leaves. 
Photo credit: Forest Therapy Base "Iiyama"

Unwind and explore in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Located around two hours north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko National Park is a 1,150-sq. km wilderness established in 1934. This stunning area is full of mesmerizing natural wonders, from towering mountains and incredible wildlife, including monkeys and bears, to verdant forests famous for beech, maple and oak trees, winding rivers and lush meadows. 


For forest bathers, Nikko National Park is the perfect place to enjoy this natural pursuit.

With so much to explore and such a vast wilderness at your fingertips, a forest bathing excursion to Nikko can be yours alone. You'll find countless places to walk without interruption, absorbing the peace and tranquility of the setting and taking time to connect with the present.

Of course, there are other things to experience in the park too. You can't leave without visiting the southern entrance to Nikko National Park, where a series of shrines and temples make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. Amongst the many wood carvings at the site are the original carved monkeys exemplifying the "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" proverb.


Discover tranquility under a canopy of verdant trees. 

Mt. Mitake: Relax and reflect on Western Tokyo’s famous mountain

One of the most popular hiking destinations close to Tokyo, Mt. Mitake has an irresistible draw. Visitors can expect a gentle ascent to Mt. Mitake's 929-meter summit, making this majestic mountain a great option for beginners and visitors keen to enjoy a mindful hike without being too concerned with the challenge. 

Mt. Mitake is home to a rich ecosystem, bursting with life and blanketed by towering trees, including a sacred cedar tree, or “shinboku,” at Ubuyasusha Shrine. This cedar is believed to protect soon-to-be mothers, in addition to bringing good fortune and longevity, and have become a draw for pilgrims. However, any visitor to Mt. Mitake will be enchanted by this stunning specimen. 


Mt. Mitake’s moss-laden rocks can be found just beyond Musashi Mitake Shrine.

Dating back to 90 BCE, Musashi Mitake Shrine is a particularly special place, located at the pinnacle of the mountain and a truly remarkable site to contemplate. Mt. Mitake is easily accessible from Tokyo. Board a train from the center of the city, and just over 90 minutes later, you'll find yourself ready to embark on an unforgettable forest bathing experience.

Central Tokyo escapes: Meiji Shrine and the Institute for Nature Study

Sometimes, time constraints mean you can't always fit everything into a visit to a new destination. However, you don't need to miss out on a forest bathing experience, even if you only plan a short stay in Tokyo. 

The forested Meiji Shrine offers visitors calm grounds and natural landscapes to enjoy during their visit. The site was established as a dedication to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Dowager Shoken, and contains about 36,000 trees. It's startling to think it lies just a short walk from urban JR Harajuku Station.


Meiji Shrine is an enticing forested landscape.

A stone's throw from central Tokyo, the Institute for Nature Study in Minato-ku is another hidden gem. A haven of peace, forest bathers can stroll through the reserve's forests and marshland, taking time out from the hustle and bustle to refresh and reinvigorate.


The Institute for Nature Study is an incredible escape nestled in Tokyo’s urban sprawl.
Photo credit: The Institute for Nature Study




Iiyama, Nagano


Nikko National Park


Mt. Mitake


Meiji Shrine


Institute for Nature Study



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