Have you ever heard of ‘shinrin-yoku’ (森林浴)? It is a unique Japanese word generally translated as forest bathing in English. It refers to taking a deep breath and spending a refreshing time in nature, especially in forests. Forest bathing is a long-popular activity in Japan which is even promoted by Japanese doctors as an escape from the busy work life in the urban cities. It brings you therapeutic benefits to help you stay healthy physically and mentally. Even when it is difficult to travel far to remote islands or mountains, there are a lot of places where you can immerse yourself deep in nature and practice forest bathing effectively around Tokyo. Letu explain the concept of forest bathing and introduce the 10 best places perfect for forest bathing near Tokyo!
What is forest bathing?
In short, Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing is simply taking a break from your busy daily life, head into nature, preferably a forested area and become relaxed. For the origin of forest bathing we need to look at the busy lives of the Japanese (working) people. The Japanese working culture is known to comprise long working hours, few holidays, and vast amounts of stress when compared to working cultures in other countries. This has improved over the last years, but back in the 1980s there was a growing trend of negative effects from the working culture. The long hours spent indoors took its toll and the need for nature became apparent. As a result the Japanese doctors started to promote going into nature as a stress releaser, to regain energy and vitality and refresh. This is known as Shinrin-Yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku literally means forest bathing, or more concretely ‘taking in the forest through our senses with to goal to recharge yourself’. Forest bathing can be done basically everywhere, just go out into nature, leave your phone and camera behind and become one with nature. You can walk, but you don’t have to. The goal is to use your senses – listen to the sounds, take in the smell, appreciate your surroundings and as a result relax. Let’s look at some places where you can relax and enjoy nature near Tokyo.
1. Akigawa Valley
Akigawa Valley (秋川渓谷) is a beautiful natural gorge in Akiruno city, Tokyo. The scenic valley stretches about 20 km meters, and offers a refreshing atmosphere with the peaceful surroundings. It attracts numerous visitors with beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and breathtaking autumn colors in fall. Early summer is probably the perfect time to enjoy forest bathing in lush greenery with less crowds. The terrain is easy to tackle even for beginners and kids, which makes it a popular weekend destination for family to enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing and BBQ. Ishibune Bridge is a symbolic bridge which takes you to Seoto-no Yu, a refreshing spa facility offering a pleasant hot spring experience!
2. Mt. Takao
Mt. Takao (高尾山) is a famous hiking spot that is accessible from the center of Tokyo in less than 50 min by train. It attracts numerous visitors all year round not only as popular hiking spot but also a beautiful natural attraction. Mount Takao is a perfect day trip from Tokyo where you can escape the hectic city life and spend a refreshing time in nature. The 599m mountain features a range of hiking trails from which you can choose depending on your hiking experience and interest. Visit Takao-san Yakuo-in, a sacred Buddhist temple that is found on the way up to the summit of the mountain. Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu is a must-visit nearby where you can get unwind in a relaxing natural hot spring that helps you relieve your tired muscles after a hike.
3. Mt. Mitake
Another popular hiking spot near Tokyo is Mt. Mitake (御岳山), a symbolic 929m mountain located in Oume city. From Mitake Station, it is about a 10 min bus ride to Takimoto Cable Car station which conveniently takes you to half up way the scenic mountain. There you can find a gift shop, a handful of restaurants and Mitakedaira Observation deck which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges. At the top of the mountain is Musashi Mitake Shrine, a beautiful Shinto shrine with a long history dating back to the 9th century. The rock garden is a popular natural attraction on the hiking trail which fascinates hikers with the incredible scenery created by uniquely shaped rocks covered in moss and the peaceful sound of the clear river. From Mount Mitake you can hike to the nearby Mount Odake, Mount Nokogiri or even to Okutama.
4. Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine (明治神宮) is widely renowned and recognized as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tokyo, so this place might not be the first place to come to mind when thinking about places to relax and become one with nature. The sacred Shinto shrine was established in 1920 in order to commemorate the spirits of emperor Meiji and his wife. The shrine grounds cover approximately 70 ha and include a beautiful, quiet forests, a lovely traditional Japanese garden, an informative treasure museum, and much more.
Start your journey from Harajuku Station which is only a few minutes away from the huge iconic tori gate leading to the main approach of the shrine grounds. As you walk through the gate, you will immediately find yourself surrounded by pleasant forest. Listening to the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees, the bird singing and looking at the sunlight shining through the trees will have forget that you are in the center of the world’s largest city. Head to the Inner garden to admire seasonal flowers and the beautiful Kiyomasa’s well. The Meiji Jingu Museum is also worth a visit, the building was designed by Kengo Kuma with the goal to work in harmony with forest and as a result the museum perfectly blends in with trees.
5. Todoroki Valley
From Shibuya Station, it is about a 20 min train ride to get to Todoroki Valley (等々力渓谷公園), Tokyo’s secret nature escape. This calm, peaceful valley attracts people as a lesser-known natural spot where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and spend some time surrounded by refreshing nature and interesting spots. Start your journey form Megane bridge, an iconic red bridge by the stairs leading down to the narrow path along the calm Yuzawa river. Take a deep breath and continue to enjoy the sound of the stream, wind, lush greenery leaves and bamboos until you eventually reach Todoroki Fudoson Temple, a great cherry-blossom viewing spot in spring. Try traditional Japanese sweets or green tea at Setsugekka or head to Fudo Waterfall which embraces you with refreshing atmosphere which is a perfect summer retreat away from the hot weather!
6. Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park
Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park (有栖川宮記念公園) is a tranquil and lovely park located in the heart of Minato-ku, Tokyo. It takes about 3 minutes to walk from Hiroo Station to the beautiful park full of lush greenery and scenic spots. This site was originally used as a urban residence for the feudal lord of the Morioka Nanbu clan back in the Edo Period. After turned into a new residence for Arisugawa-no-miya Takehito, an imperial prince of the Arisugawa-no-miya family, it eventually reopened as a public park in 1934. It features refreshing walkways, peaceful ponds stemming from a lovely waterfall, and seasonal flowers that welcome visitors all year round. National Azabu is a nearby supermarket which is popular among international tourists and expats because of the large selection of items and groceries imported from around the world.
7. Rinshi-no-mori Park
Rinshi-no-mori Park (林試の森) is a pleasant park which lies between Shinagawa-ku and Meguro-ku. It is a 10-minutes’ walk from Musashi Koyama Station to reach the peaceful park. The park boasts a wide variety of plants, trees, and flowers which offers a perfect environment to the diverse wildlife there, including some beautiful birds. Some of the trees are over a 100 years old! Small ponds and playgrounds are offering some fun activities for kids. There are several walking paths throughout the park where you can take a relaxing walk while exploring the beautiful forests.
8. Institute for Nature Study
If you want to learn more about relationship between human and nature, the Institute for Nature Study (国立科学博物館附属自然教育園) could be the perfect spot for you! From Meguro Station, it takes about 10 min on foot to get to the incredible nature reserve which is located in the grounds of National Museum of Nature and Science. As you walk around the park, you will find a number of information boards with helpful information about the plants and wildlife, illustrated with easy pictures. This nature sanctuary is also home to numerous wild species such as birds, turtles, lizards, butterflies that you can expect to encounter during your exploration. Only a limited number of visitors (up to 300) at the maximum at a time, which makes it a perfect spot to get close to nature in Tokyo without being bothered by large crowds.
Nikko is a one of the most popular trip to make from Tokyo. Located about 2 hrs north of Tokyo, the area is home to many different attractions and beautiful nature. If you have time to travel to the area, Senjogaha (戦場ヶ原) is a great spot for forest bathing. The scenic marshland covers part of the Nikko National Park, one of the Japan’s first national parks. You can take the hiking path around the magnificent marshland, the trail takes about 2-3 hours to complete and you will encounter the diverse wildlife and a variety of seasonal plants. There are several observation decks offering stunning views of the marshland against a backdrop of Mt. Nantai, a symbolic peak of the Nikko area.
10. Sayama Hills -Totoro’s Forest
Have you ever dreamed of getting into the fantastic world of Ghibli movies? If your answer is yes, Totoro no Mori (トトロの森 ), a wildlife preserve located in the Sayama Hills (狭山丘陵), can’t be missed during your stay in Japan! It is often referred to as Totoro’s Forest, after the world-famous Ghibli animation movie, My neighbor Totoro. It is said that the movie’s location was inspired by the scenic landscape of Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture. Kurosuke’s house is the main attraction which welcomes you with a giant, adorable statue of Totoro. Original merchandise and items can be also found there which could be a memorable gift to bring back home. Tackle any of the hiking paths that can be found around the forests and explore the mystical natural attraction that has remained untouched and preserved over centuries.
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If you feel stressed out and need some change in your life, go out and get some help from the great power of nature. Practicing Shinrin-Yoku while surrounded by refreshing nature will allow you to take a break and slow down away from busy days. It will also enable you to spend a peaceful weekend or holiday in less crowded spots.
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.