Have you heard about Japan’s staggering number of national parks? With a total of 34 parks stretching from Hokkaido to Okinawa, Japan’s national parks are endowed with lush forests, dynamic mountain ranges, and rich biodiversity. Surrounded by stunning nature, Japan is the birthplace of forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku (森林浴).

Join us on a journey of forest bathing and experience the art of forest bathing in the best forests in Japan. 

 

What is Forest Bathing?

Hiking through the forestHiking through the forest is also part of forest-bathing. | Photo by photoAC

So what exactly is shinrin-yokuThe Japanese words shinrin means forest and yoku means bath. Forest bathing is a way of “bathing” or immersing fully in the forest’s natural environment. Forest bathing is becoming a popular leisure activity for people who like

Walk through the forest, breathe deeply, observe the movements in the forest, and listen to the sounds of nature. Forest bathing is a conscious and relaxing activity to enjoy nature with your five senses.

The essence of forest bathing is to be present and soak in the peace and quiet that nature offers. According to research by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, engaging in forest bathing can bring health benefits. Other than feeling relaxed during your hikes, you are exercising your body. 

Forest bathing can help to boost the immune system as you take in phytoncides emitted by the trees. Other health benefits of forest bathing include lowering blood pressure and heart rate and improving sleep. 

Shinrin-yoku is also related to mindfulness as the activity of forest bathing has similar effects as practising mindfulness are beneficial for your mental, physical, and even emotional well-being. 

Are you inspired to try forest bathing? Check out our recommended list of forests and national parks to enjoy the best forest bathing experience in Japan.

 

1. Yakushima, Kagoshima

Yakushima in KagoshimaYakushima is said to be a source of inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke (1997). | Photo by Unsplash

Yakushima (屋久島) is a popular forest bathing destination in Japan. Located in the most southern tip of Kyushu in Kagoshima Prefecture (鹿児島県), Yakushima is a hiker’s paradise. Filled with primitive rainforest, one fifth of the island is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural beauty.

Forest bathing can be enjoyed on the island as there are many hiking routes for you to explore. A world renowned hiking spot is Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine (白谷雲水峡). The iconic “moss-covered forest” is the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s award-winning animation film, “Princess Mononoke”

Another reason why Yakushima is a perfect forest bathing haven is the ancient old cedar trees growing in the forest. Yakushima boasts an impressive range of Japanese cedar trees, which are called affectionately as Yakusugi (屋久杉) trees. Hike to the oldest cedar tree in Japan (estimated 2,000 to 7,200 years old), Jomonsugi (縄文杉), and spend some marvelling at the magnificence of nature. 

 

2. Akan Mashu National Park, Hokkaido

Akan Mashu National Park is one of Japan's oldest national parks in JapanAkan Mashu National Park is one of Japan’s oldest national parks in Japan. | Photo by photoAC

Situated up in the eastern part of Hokkaido, Akan Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園) is one of the oldest national parks in Japan. Enjoy a multi-day forest bathing adventure in this massive national park. This green destination consists of two areas, Lake Akan (阿寒湖) and Lake Mashu (摩周湖) or Kawayu area. Enjoy the best of forest bathing as you stroll through the park lined with subarctic mixed coniferous trees and admire the scenic lakes. 

Enhance your forest bathing experience by hiking around the famous lakes in this national park! Lake Akan is surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges and Lake Mashu is one of the clearest lakes in Japan. As Hokkaido is blessed with four distinct seasons, the national park’s scenery changes throughout the year and you can enjoy different forest bathing experiences depending on the season.

Continue your wellness exploration with a hot spring bath in the Kawayu Onsen (川湯温泉) nestled in the national park. 

 

3. Towada-Hachimantai National Park, Northern Tohoku

TowadaHiking through Towada-Hachimantai National Park. | Photo by Aomori Prefecture

A top national park in the Tohoku Region, Towada-Hachimantai National Park (十和田八幡平国立公園) is a huge national park spreads over three prefectures: Aomori, Akita, and Iwate. Immerse in forest bathing as you hike through the dynamic mountainous terrain that is covered by over 40 volcanoes.

The sprawling park is divided into two main areas: Hachimantai area in the south and Lake Towada (十和田湖) and Hakkoda Mountains (八甲田山系) in the north. You can spend days hiking through a comprehensive network of hiking trails in the park.

The best season to visit the park is during autumn as the forest is crowned with mesmerising autumn leaves. 

 

4. Iriomote (Okinawa)

Waterfall in IriomoteIriomote. | Photo by Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau

Further down in Okinawa, the most southern prefecture of Japan, you can enjoy forest bathing too. Okinawa is not just known for its pristine beaches and clear waters. The subtropical island archipelago is home to lush forests. 

For a different forest bathing experience in Japan, take a domestic flight to the Yaeyama Islands (八重山列島). One of the best places to indulge in forest bathing is Iriomote Island (西表島). The second largest island of Okinawa is part of the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park (西表石垣国立公園). Take in the grandeur of nature in this UNESCO protected site as about 90 percent of the island is covered by rugged jungle and mangroves.

Hike through the dense forest and enjoy the sound and sight of Okinawa’s tallest waterfall, Pinaisara Falls (ピナイサーラの滝 ) and the island’s longest river, Urauchi River (浦内川). Other than forest bathing, you can enjoy more fun-filled activities in nature like kayaking, diving, and more. 

 

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