Seeking Relaxation in the Forest in Japan

Some of your options: National Parks, Recreation Forests and Forest Therapy Bases

By Alena Eckelmann    - 4 min read

The forest is Japan’s best kept secret!

One third all forest in Japan is National Forest while the remaining two third are privately owned by governments, communities, families and individuals.

Japan’s National Parks and so-called Recreational Forests are located in the National Forests of Japan. There are also many certified Forest Therapy bases and trails in these National Park but some are also located in forests owned by communities.

In this blog we are explaining the difference between these three types of forests.

The Fuji-Hakone National Park offers the iconic view of Mount Fuji in clear water, plus a lot of forest
The Fuji-Hakone National Park offers the iconic view of Mount Fuji in clear water, plus a lot of forest

National Parks

There are 34 National Parks in Japan, many of which cover forests and mountains, while some others consist of coastlines, beaches and underwater habitats.

The National Park Law was issued in 1931 and three years later the first three National Parks were established: Setonaikai (Seto Inland Sea), Unzen and Kirishima.

The Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, set up in 1936, is the most visited one in terms of number of visitors. Iconic Mount Fuji never fails to spell its magic.

The list has been extended over time, and most recently three new parks were added: Yakushima (Kagoshima Prefecture) in 2012, Keramashoto in 2014, Yambaru in 2016 and Amamikunto in 2017 (all three in Okinawa), and Myoko-Togakushi-Renzan (Niigata, Nagano Prefectures) in 2015.

National Parks offer a range of outdoor activities, including guided walks and treks, kayaking and fishing, cycling, hiking, scenic drives and camping, and more.

Relaxing near the waterfall at the Meiji-no-Mori Minoh Recreational Forest near Osaka
Relaxing near the waterfall at the Meiji-no-Mori Minoh Recreational Forest near Osaka

Forests for Recreation

The Japanese Forest Agency has created so-called “Recreational Forests” in those areas of the National Forest where there are breath-taking views and at the same time access is easily possible. The idea is to give everyone the opportunity to get in touch with nature and enjoy the great outdoors.

There are 94 Recreational forests; the possibilities for enjoyment and exploration in these Recreational Forests seem endless. There is flower viewing, cherry blossom viewing and autumn leaves viewing.

Then there is bird watching, wildlife spotting and fishing. You can visit waterfalls and try out canyoning in summer, go hiking, trekking and mountain climbing in spring and autumn, or go skiing in winter.

There are visitor centers, campgrounds and cabins, picnic areas and facilities for hands-on forest experiences. In some of them are astronomical observatories, forest railways and temples and shrines to visit.

On a guided Forest Therapy walk in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture
On a guided Forest Therapy walk in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture

Forest Therapy Bases and Trails

Japan is the birthplace of Shinrin-yoku, which translates as “forest bathing”. This phrase was coined in the 1980s and the idea that spending time in nature benefits our health and wellbeing was born.

Over the next 20 years this concept was researched and scientifically tested and proven. The phrase was changed from Shinrin-yoku to Shinrin Therapy, and later to Forest Therapy, which is now a recognized health management system in Japan.

In the words of the Forest Therapy Society of Japan, ‘Forest Therapy’ is “a research-based healing practice through immersion in forests with the aim of promoting mental and physical health and improving disease prevention while at the same time being able to enjoy and appreciate the forest”.

With the aim to set standards, a Forest Therapy certification was introduced in Japan in 2006. There are currently (Jan 2021) 65 “certified forests” in all parts of Japan ranging from Hokkaido to Okinawa. This means that each of these forests has a certified Forest Therapy base, trails and licensed Forest Therapy guides.

Forest Therapy is typically practiced with a trained Forest Therapy guide who facilitates the experience while at the same time ensures your health and safety. Bear in mind that a tour guide or a hiking guide is not usually trained in Forest Therapy, which is much more than just hanging out in nature.

In our next article, we explain Forest Therapy in more detail.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Born East of the Wall and South of Berlin, I am celebrating my 15th year anniversary in Japan in May 2020, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the beautiful Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home.I have been a JapanTravel Partner since the conception of the platform in 2011! In Tokyo I worked in market research at AIP Corporation and in business education at JMEC. For the last 10 years I have been a guide for foreign visitors at Venture Japan, on top of being a Freelance Writer and a Business Researcher.  Apart from work, I trained at the Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo and at the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko Dojo for several years each, and I ran the 1st Tokyo Marathon and enjoyed cycling around Tokyo. During the last 10 years I am working with local authorities to improve their hospitality to foreign visitors and I have participated in many monitors as a media representative.  My current interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains, and I love visiting temples and shrines.   I am a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails  and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and licensed guide for Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy).  As a guide for walking tours, I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail and the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage trail.  Being grounded during this COVID-19 crisis, I enjoy gardening, baking bread in my new Japanese bread-maker and going for walks around 'my' village.  Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

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Elizabeth S 2 weeks ago
Japan's forests are huge. I learned that over 60% of Japan is forested. It's easy to get to them, too.