Forest Bathing in Japan

This woodblock print, Mishima Pass in Kai Province (ca. 1830), is one of the famous thirty-six views of Mount Fuji created by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Prior to the Meiji period (1868-1912), Yamanashi Prefecture was known as Kai Province. The Japanese have been fascinated by majestic trees and silent forests since ancient times, and they continue to make pilgrimages to shrines, temples, and the deep forests to view these living treasures of the natural world.

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This particular 1200-year-old tree can be found at Himuro Shrine in Fujikawa.

Many imposing trees in Japan are surrounded by barriers to protect them from the public, like the tree above, but the enthusiasm of young people cannot be moderated easily.

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The enchanting stone path to Himuro Shrine, Fujikawa.

The ancient pilgrimage routes of Yamanashi are dotted with magnificent trees that bear silent witness to the passage of time.

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This 800-year-old horse-chestnut tree can be found on the descent of Mount Shichimen, in Hayakawa. Such trees demand your respect and admiration.

We can easily forget the value of nature in the frenetic world we live in, and this does untold damage to our mental health. Humans may have achieved amazing technical advances since Katsushika Hokusai’s time, but our basic needs have not changed. We need to connect with the natural world because we are part of that world. Our brains took form in a time when green open spaces were our preferred habitat. For safety, we must have wanted to live in areas where we could see for miles around. We must have wanted access to the forests and seas for sustenance. Most cities today are no more attractive than a desert would have been to our ancestors. I believe we need to slow down to appreciate what made it possible for our species, and the progenitors of our species, to survive and thrive on this planet for hundreds of millions of years. An iPhone can do many amazing things, but it cannot hold a candle to a thousand-year-old tree. So why not visit Yamanashi to recharge and refresh your soul? Forget about recharging your phone and refreshing your instagram feed. Give your lizard brain a break. You’ll be amazed at what fresh mountain air and verdant green forests can do for your outlook on life.

Countless waterfalls, like Myouren Waterfall in Fujikawa, fill the air with purifying sprays of mist.
Countless waterfalls, like Myouren Waterfall in Fujikawa, fill the air with purifying sprays of cool mist.

In fact, you may not have to venture into the forest to feel rejuvenated. If you visit Yamanashi in the spring (April), you can bathe in great swathes of colour found in countless orchards that dot the hillsides of Kofu Basin. I suggest visiting the orchards of Mitama, Ichikawamisato, or the peach orchards near the Shakado Museum of Jōmon Culture in Fuefuki. You may be tempted to simply view the cherry blossoms in Tokyo, but walking amongst thousands of blossoming fruit trees has its own unique charm.

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The peach blossoms near the Shakado Museum in Fuefuki are intoxicatingly beautiful.

If you are driving down the Chuo Expressway towards Kofu or Matsumoto in the month of April, plan to stop at the Shakado PA and climb the stairs to the Shakado Museum of Jōmon Culture where you could have a picnic amongst the blossoming trees. The atmosphere is sublime.

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