Shinrin Yoku: The Art of Forest Bathing


– I feel like it’s gonna
be a tough day for me. And it’s definitely like
at the end of the day you get to a point where you’re like, “I’m exhausted right now,” and it all catches up to you a little bit. All right hold up, let’s rewind. (tape rewinding) We’re on our phones for calls,
texting, games, and emails, our computers while at work, and our televisions when we get home. Where’s the balance, is it all too much? My name is Mike Dewey, I’m
a filmmaker from California, and together with my friend
and producer, Kati Hetrick, we started doing some
research on technology and its effect on anxiety,
stress, and wellbeing, until we came across a funny term, called Japanese forest bathing. And no it’s got nothing to do with taking a bath in the forest, but more so, spending time in nature to improve your health and wellbeing. To learn more about it, we packed our bags and headed to Japan, where we met with leading
researcher on the subject, Doctor Yoshifumi Miyazaki. – So, right now we’re up
here in Chiba University, and we’re gonna meet with a professor, and we’re gonna sit down
and we’re gonna talk to him and find out a little
bit about his research, and how it’s been utilized here in Japan. Outside of Tokyo right
now, and there’s buildings. We’re obviously very much
in an urban environment, but as soon as you step on campus, there’s gardens, there’s groves of trees. It’s obviously there’s a lot of emphasis on creating a natural environment. – [Mike] Through a translator, Miyazaki went on for a couple of hours, passionately explaining
Japanese forest bathing, or shinrin yoku, as
it’s called in Japanese. He told us that essentially the idea of Japanese forest bathing is if humans go back into nature and spend more time where they came from, it will help reduce our blood pressure, our heart rates, our stress, and overall leave us feeling a lot better. He also mentioned that for about 99.9% of the existence of humans, we’ve lived in these natural environments, and only in the final
.01% have we been around such technology in urban environments. (primal music) On a final note, he told us that there were many
trails throughout Japan where this research is being done, and we started digging around
to look for a trail ourselves. We then came across this local woman who told us about a
very interesting trail. After speaking with her,
our minds were made up. This trail is commonly
known as the Kumano Kodo. (inspirational music) Our journey on the Kumano
Kodo starts in Tanabe. From here, there are several
different routes you can take. The one we chose would be
four to five days long, and involve all-day hikes
throughout mountains, with overnight stays
in the local villages. We used a local guide company to help translate and
coordinate our stays. We also decided, in an
effort to fully disconnect, we’d both shut off our
phones and technology, with the exception of my camera, and a small camera Kati
had to document the trip. (deep breathing in and out) (footsteps) (panting) All right, I’m starting to sweat. (panting) The light is going fast. 20, 30 more minutes, it’s gone. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh, why did I bring this drone? – We’re over the big steep stuff now, and then hopefully the
rest of it is just flat. It’s really pretty, kinda nice to just, – [Mike] It’s getting quieter too. – get in the zone, yeah
it’s getting quieter. It’s nice. – So, I think we’re in Takahara. There’s some street lamps
and a payphone light. It’s pretty dark though. Kati’s looking around with a flashlight, trying to figure out where
we’re sleeping tonight. We’re not gonna use
our phones or anything, since we’re detoxing, and I think she’s found out where we’re going. (footsteps in gravel) (twigs snapping)
(crickets chirping) – [Kati] Yeah. (peaceful music) (speaking in Japanese) (peaceful music) (speaking in Japanese) – Okay.
– Okay? – [Mike] Downstairs. (speaking in Japanese)
– Okay. – Okay.
– Okay. – What? – [Mike] Shower and bath are downstairs. – Oh, okay. – (sighs) What an amazing
end to the first day. If this is a sign of what’s the come, we are in for quite a trip. While the main goal of
our trip was to disconnect and learn more about
Japanese forest bathing, we quickly realized that this trail would offer us so much more. Not only an insight into Japanese culture, but also an opportunity to learn more about this ancient trail. – (sighs) It’s so good. (birds chirping) So currently we are in Takahara, which is the starting point for Section 2 of the Kumano Kodo. Takahara in Japanese
literally means high field, so I think that right now we
are currently at one of the highest villages that we’re
going to reach on this journey, and it is absolutely stunning. (drums)
(birds chirping) – [Mike] The appreciation of nature has long been a strong cultural tradition of the Japanese people. The original religion of
Japan is actually Shinto, which is a religion in
which one worships deities that embody rocks,
trees, wind and the sun. It’s also said that Shinto shrines are typically surrounded by nature, and give off a sense
of calm and relaxation. – This is a shrine right here, and it’s to commemorate the
people who kind of came through, during their pilgrimage, which for some of them
was over 1,000 years ago. It’s not uncommon to
see both a shrine and a, which is Shintoism, next to a temple, which is for the Buddhist practice. – [Mike] Cool. – Because, it just sort of shows, I think that they purposely put the two together to show that they’re not
at odds with one another, but they actually are
harmonious with one another. (peaceful music) – [Mike] Although we chose
to do this hike together, we both spend much of
our days hiking apart, to entirely clear our minds and take in the surroundings of nature. Forest bathing in its purest form, actually involves doing
nothing, but sitting still, and taking in the sights,
smells and sounds of nature. (deep breathing in and out)
(peaceful music) Our host from the previous
night had spoken no English, however, our host for
this evening spoke some. With that, through small conversation, we began to realize the immense
respect the Japanese have, not only for nature, but for food too. The meal our host had prepared us, had all been sourced from his garden. We could tell how passionate he was to describe each dish in detail. – This rice is grown here. – Yes, it’s homegrown. – Okay.
– Hey. – We come to celebrate, Japanese. (all speaking in Japanese) – We spoke after dinner, and talked about how this journey was becoming something so much bigger than we had realized initially. (peaceful music)
(crickets chirping) The stuff that we’ve researched
coming into this trip, and part of the stuff that Kati’s really been fascinated with is this concept of
Japanese forest bathing, and how being outside in nature will help lower your blood pressure, and it will help, kind
of overall, relax you. It’ll help, it chemically
actually changes your body, and I think part of that for me has been not being on
my phone all the time, and just being super, super present. And I’ve noticed my sleeping
has gotten a lot better, and I’ve just been more present and aware. I think I’ve actually also
gotten more productive. Instead of sitting on my
phone for an hour or two, swiping through Instagram and Facebook, I’m like, “Hey, maybe
I’ll go shoot something. “Maybe I’ll look outside for sunset. “Maybe I’ll go talk to the guy outside, “or have a cool interaction with a local.” It’s a reality check. I don’t know how to find that balance
going forward, and we’re so concerned with how quick and
responsive we are these days with technology and text messages. If you don’t respond within five minutes, you think you’re getting blown off. So, I guess the question is how can we find that
balance going forward, and is it possible, and, I don’t know. It’s just, being on this trip has kind of opened my eyes to
some things, and, yeah. (peaceful music) (crickets chirping) (drums) (footsteps) (water running) (bell clanking) So historically, this trail
obviously has religious roots. In a modern sense, this trail’s neat ’cause it kinda offers you whatever you need from it. I mean, maybe it’s exercise, maybe it’s bonding with your family, maybe it’s your own journey, or something that you’re
learning about yourself, and for me it’s been an
amazing detox away from things, and reconnecting with nature, which I haven’t really had
as much in Los Angeles, but it’s been such a beautiful journey. (peaceful music) – I didn’t realize until like just now, but the, all the little
shrines along the way, which are like basically mini shrines all leading up to the grand shrine. Historically, like hundreds of years ago, and some even thousands, were little tea houses or places of rest, places for people who
were doing the pilgrimage, usually royalty or part
of the Imperial Family. It was places for them to give gratitude, and practice their spiritual
beliefs along the way. (peaceful music) (bell clanking) (peaceful music) – (sighs) We’ve gotten to
the end of our trek here, exploring some of these
temples a little bit. There’s actually a lot of people here, a lot of Japanese tourists but, the good news is, another
end to a long day. Feel pretty good, exhausted. Finish out a few more
steps, call it a night. (peaceful music) (rain falling) – So it is day four of the
hike, the final day of the hike, and also the longest day of the hike. We have about 10 miles ahead of us, and of course, it is raining. So. – Bummer. – (laughing ) Best weather
of the trip so far. – Knew this was coming
sooner or later though, honestly.
– It had to, it had to. (rain falling) – Slippery rocks don’t help much. (grunts) It’s all part of the journey though, and so far, it’s been worth it. Whoa! (rain falling) – In order for memories to really solidify and stick with you, I firmly believe that there
has to be a level of discomfort that goes along with it. There has to be something
that pulls you out of your normal routine or, something about the plan
has to be disrupted. (rain falling) Definitely getting to the point
where I’m a little hungry. Very tired, and I have no
idea where Mike is. (laughing) (rain falling heavily) – (sighs) I’m exhausted. I feel like the last few
days, I have felt pretty good, and it’s definitely like
at the end of the day you get to a point where you’re like, “I’m exhausted right now,” and it all catches up to you a little bit. But I feel like the hiking-wise,
I’ve been totally fine. But today in particular, ugh, I just saw that
we have 12 kilometers, it’s like six or seven miles left. (rain falling heavily) (sighs) The thing is it’s all uphill, so, and it’s in the rain, and I’m carrying all this
heavy camera gear, so. (exhales forcefully) (rain falling heavily) – [Kati] That was shitty. – That was gnarly dude, straight uphill.
– I’m over it. Yeah, so apparently, this
says we’re at the top. – Cool.
– So no more uphill. – That was beast mode dude. – [Kati] Yeah, 870 meters. – It was beautiful though. – [Kati] Super pretty. Good news is that
hundreds of other pilgrims have done this in the past, and all described it as being the most difficult portion
of the entire trail. – Really? – [Kati] Yes, even the
famous poet, Fujiwara, wrote in his diary in 1201, that this run is very difficult, and it is impossible to describe precisely how tough it is. – I feel better now. – [Kati] So we’re done. Yes.
– That’s probably not true, but, love the enthusiasm. – [Kati] And optimism. – Yeah, I’m pretty sure. (both chuckle) (peaceful music)
(rain falling) We are both so exhausted, and we still have like four hours to go. This is by far the
hardest day of the trip. All right guys, I just
saw a sign that says we have like 2 1/2 miles
left, which is super exciting. Oh! Today it took a lot out of me. I was pretty worn down
there in the very beginning, as you guys saw. It was really wearing on me. I was by myself, ’cause Kati was a couple, she was probably like an hour ahead of me, she was powering on, and I just got into a funk, and, ugh, yeah, it was tough. (peaceful music)
(rain falling) – [Kati] Final stretch. – This is incredible, what
a way to end our journey through the Kumano Kodo, in this foggy, mystical forest that we’re in, on the Kumano Kodo. Wow, there’s no one here. There’s no one around. The Kumano ancient road. Wow! – [Kati] Oh, we’re at the end. – Is this it? – [Kati] I think so. – Think we’ve reached Nachisan. There’s a temple and
a waterfall over here. It looks like we’re kind of
hanging up in the clouds, which is pretty cool. (Mike sighs) – Well shall we go to the very last stop? – [Mike] Let’s do it. – We’re on the final steps of the hike. This is so cool! A great way to end it. (peaceful music) Yeah, I’m exhausted and wet and cold, and excited for a hot tub, onsen. But also very excited. This was a truly cool, special experience. (peaceful music) – [Mike] Although we went to Japan to learn about Japanese forest bathing, we left with something so much more. One could say that our
journey along the Kumano Kodo was a giant distraction away from the true test of the digital detox, but for us both, there was
something about the forest that we couldn’t deny pulled us in. Maybe the Japanese are on to something. Five to 10 hours alone, at
many times, on the trail, completely at ease, questioning
what’s around every corner, and our own willpower. (sighs)
(rain falling) Losing thought in the unknown
mysteries of the forest, instead of social media feeds. Researchers like Miyazaki
are continuing to do research on what it is about the forest and nature that chemically changes us. Is it the smells, the sounds, the noises? There’s no doubt, as
technology progresses, our dependency on it will
grow greater and greater, tests have already shown. Our addiction now is
higher than it’s ever been. The goal now is, how do
we strike that balance? Is spending more time
in nature the solution? I’ll say going into this
project for us both, we were very curious and intrigued, and I was even a bit skeptical. Now, leaving Japan, two weeks
later, we’re asking ourselves, what is it about nature that changed us? (peaceful music) (deep breathing in and out)

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