The rustle of leaves, a drop of rain on your cheek, the fragrance of flowers. The Japanese call it ‘shinrin-yoku’: taking in the forest atmosphere, or ‘forest bathing’.
In the West the Japanese term shinrin-yoku is loosely translated as ‘forest bathing’ for lack of a better term. UK-based psychologist Tim Lomas categorizes it as one of the untranslatable words, because the real meaning is so much more complex, namely: the ‘relaxation that is obtained by immersing yourself in the forest, literally and figuratively’.
The concept was developed in Japan in the early 1980s and involves moving through the forest consciously and slowly, while trying to absorb everything around you. This form of meditative walking is currently taking the world by storm, simply because it has been proven to be a good way to reduce stress and improve your health.
Now you might be thinking, ‘No surprises there. We’ve known for a long time that walking in nature is good for you, haven’t we?’ That’s true, and a long walk through the woods is great for your health. But shinrin-yoku works on a different level and is also very easy to fit into our daily life. That’s how Dr Qing Li introduces it in his handbook on the how and why of this phenomenon: Forest bathing: How trees can help you find health and happiness.
A bit of nothing
Dr Li lives in Tokyo, where 13.5 million people are clumped together on a tiny piece of real estate. That they don’t see much of the green outdoors is not because there isn’t any—the city has a lot of beautiful parks—but because the hard-working Tokyo citizen hardly ever goes outside. Japanese work etiquette requires that you never leave the office before your boss does, and the more overtime hours you log, the more you’re proving that you really have a heart for the business.
As a result people stay in the office until at least 10 p.m., being totally unproductive. There’s a reason that the Japanese language has a word for ‘death by overwork’ (karoshi) and a word for a nap that you take at your desk or during a meeting (inemuri, ‘sleeping while present’). Even after work the pressure doesn’t let up, because that’s when it’s time for the nomikai, the obligatory pub crawl with colleagues—good for the group dynamics and to let off steam.
Taking one of the (already very few) permitted days of leave is also seen as disloyal to your employer, so on average Japanese employees take under nine days per year. In short: if there is one country where recharging in nature is enormously important, it’s Japan. No wonder forest bathing was made part of the country’s public health program in 1982, when the forestry ministry coined the phrase shinrin-yoku to turn it into a national pastime that would enhance health, wellness and happiness.
- Want to read more about shinrin-yoku (or ‘forest bathing’)? You can read the full article in Issue 28.
Text Bernice Nikijuluw Photography ©Robert-Paul Jansen/Stocksy United