5 Ways to Incorporate Japan's Culture of Wellness into Your Trip
Culture and tradition are probably near the top of your list of reasons to visit Japan while wellness might not even figure in your decision-making. But as more people discover the philosophies of mindfulness that punctuate Japan’s history and daily life, Japan is emerging as a wellness destination.
In a recent interview with Luxury Card magazine, Luxurique’s CEO and founder, Naomi Mano, said “Nobody here ever thought we were a ‘wellness’ country—we do what we do, and have done for centuries,” she says. “It’s really just that now travellers have put two and two together.”
Japan’s culture of wellness arguably offers more than a typical health retreat. Beyond offering a little rest and relaxation, Japan holds valuable lessons in how mindfulness can be brought into the everyday.
We’ve introduced five ways you can help soothe your mind, body and spirit on your next adventure in Japan that all have the potential to provide lessons and benefits long after you’ve left.
Taking a dip in a steamy hot bath is always soothing, but Japan’s natural onsen water is typically rich in health-promoting minerals, such as chloride, sulphur, sulphate, iron, calcium, sodium, radium and bicarbonate. Almost every onsen (Japan has around 2,300) has its own set of purported benefits which can range from reducing fatigue and improving skin conditions to bolder claims, such as improving diabetes and high blood pressure, and almost every other benefit you could think of.
Another positive side effect of onsen bathing people often report is the liberating feeling of polite indifference to their bodies that they experience when stripping off. Japan’s public onsen requires you to be entirely naked when entering, which may be a little daunting. However, the experience of public bathing is the norm in Japan, so people tend not to look twice at others’ bodies. However, if the thought is a little overwhelming, you can still reap the benefit of onsen bathing. Many hotels and ryokan provide private onsen baths either in the room or within the property to rent by the hour.
In some parts of Japan, you can indulge in an onsen tamago, which is an egg slowly hardboiled in onsen waters. The most famous of these are the black-shelled onsen eggs in Owakudani in Hakone, which absorb the iron content of the water, causing a chemical reaction that blackens the shell. The taste is unaffected, but legend has it that eating one will add seven years to your life.
Zen Buddhism infiltrates much of Japan’s culture. Many of our guests explore it through exploring its serene temples, meeting monks and learning to meditate. Others explore Japan’s immaculately groomed Zen rock gardens. These uncluttered spaces are thought to help unclutter the mind, invoking a kind of meditative state. But the Zen influence can be found in surprising places. Calligraphy classes, tea ceremonies, ikebana flower arranging and even martial arts all have elements of Zen mindfulness that help you to appreciate the simple, draw your attention inward and focus on the present.
Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing is a surprisingly new concept. The concept emerged in the 1980s, coined by Dr. Qing Li, MD, Ph.D, a doctor at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School, president of the Society of Forest Medicine and author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. He made a connection between the amount of time we as a society spend indoors and feelings of depression which, he said, were significantly improved by a few hours spent in nature.
Forest bathing is the simple act of being in a forest appreciating and reconnecting with nature without digital or other distractions. Sixty-seven percent of Japan is forested, so you never have to travel far to find a peaceful spot where you can be alone with your thoughts.
Local, seasonal cuisine
Eating fresh, local and seasonal whole produce that has been minimally processed is at the heart of eating for wellness. Japanese cuisine ticks all those boxes. The emphasis is on quality ingredients from the land and sea which are prepared in simple ways to accentuate their flavours: think grilled meat yakitori, raw sushi and sashimi, pan-seared steaks and lightly steamed and pickled vegetables. The country’s top chefs cite nature as their inspiration and work closely with their preferred farmers and fisherman to ensure each dish is of the very highest quality. You can even eat at a tiny coastal restaurant that only uses the heirloom vegetables grown by one farmer, which the chef says retains the authentic flavour of the area.
It’s hard to eat out of season in Japan, so each time you visit, you’ll get a chance to sample that particular season’s freshest produce. Each locale has its own speciality so, when you travel around Japan, be sure to stock up on the local snacks that feature the region’s star ingredients. In Aomori, known for its apples, you’ll find apple curry, apple ramen, apple juices, apple pie, apple gelato, apple cider and much more. Local produce is celebrated and promoted throughout Japan.
Many of our guests want to deep dive into Japanese cuisine. We can arrange visits to the world-famous Tsukiji tuna auction to meet the top auctioneers before having a private dining experience with a leading sushi chef. We organise seats in the most hard-to-get-into restaurants in Japan, cooking classes at Michelin-starred restaurants and food tours with local experts.
Japan lends itself to an active way of life. It has walkable cities and 34 National Parks, spanning from the tip of Hokkaido to the southernmost islands of Okinawa. Much of the country is mountainous, making only a third of the country habitable. The remaining two-thirds is a playground for the adventurous. From snowy peaks to sand dunes, warm seas and everything in between, there is no end to outdoor activities in Japan. There are few countries where you can ski, snorkel, surf, skydive and sandboard in the same trip, let alone the same month, but in Japan, it’s all possible.
Contact us to see how we can weave wellness into your next trip to Japan.