Yakushima is a subtropical island, a part of Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan. It is covered by an extensive cedar forest that contains some of Japan’s oldest living trees, famously called yakusugi, which are more than 1000 years old and some of which may be over 7000 years old.
With over 70 species of endemic plants, other flora and shores teeming with sea life, villagers on Yakushima Island enjoy a plentiful bounty of seafood and edible plants. But the water cycle also plays another important role in their everyday life. Most of Yakushima’s electricity is hydroelectric, making it ideal island for eco-friendly stays.
Yakushima Island’s wet climate gives life to dramatic ravines, flowing rivers, and stunning green coats of moss, simply ideal for forest therapy program! Also, wild, mysterious, and untouched ancient cedar forests are well protected by both the gods of folklore and a UNESCO World Heritage designation. This woodland kingdom served as the inspiration for the magical backgrounds of Studio Ghibli’s “Princess Mononoke”.
While the otherworldly cedar forests are Yakushima’s famous scene with various well-marked hiking trails, ranging from 1 to 5 hours in length, the bountiful rainfall creates impressive waterfalls, one of which can be approached by kayak. Go snorkeling off the unspoiled beaches or watch sea turtles nest in the summer. Furthermore, the island is home to several simple and wild onsen (hotspring spots) such as the sea baths offering natural rock pools right on the edge of the ocean.
What is Forest Therapy known as Shinrin-yoku
Forest Therapy known as Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) is a wellness practice that involves walking slowly and spending time in nature and forested area, and engaging in activities such as sensory awareness practices, breathing exercises, and meditation to enhance physical and mental health status. The focus is on being present in the moment, and paying attention to the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the natural world.
The concept of shinrin-yoku was first introduced in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in response to the tech boom which was leading to higher rates of cancer and autoimmune disease. There have been a number of studies that show the health benefits of forest bathing – both physical and mental. While in the forest, we are breathing in volatile organic compounds called phytoncides, tree essential oils that not only protect the tree from germs and parasites, but also have medicinal properties and encourage natural killer (NK) cell activity in human bodies. NK cells are cancer-fighting proteins that seek and destroy tumor and virus-ridden cells.
And while there are health benefits, we also see forest bathing more fundamentally as a way to get out of our heads and reconnect with nature, as well as nurture our relationships with ourselves and the more-than-human world.
Why Forest Therapy, shinrin-yoku
Forest Therapy promotes:
• The improvement of human health. People are more stressed, anxious, and depressed and have more chronic health conditions. Forest Therapy provides a pathway for people to remember how to immerse themselves in nature to rest from all that consumes them in their daily lives.
<some benefits of forest bathing (scientific evidence)
- Decrease in stress hormones
- Stable blood pressure and pulse rate
- Regulates autonomic nervous system and parasympathetic dominance
- Increased immunity (e.g., increased NK cell count)
- Relationship between forest coverage ↑ and cancer mortality rate ↓.
- Improvement of depression
- restful sleep
• A greater sense of connectedness. A heartfelt, embodied relationship with nature naturally leads to a love of nature and recognition that we are nature.
• A greater sense of compassion. Somatic work with the Earth and our bodies provides participants the opportunity to remember the nature of relationship and the way we are all connected. The sense of connectedness leads toward compassion and away from apathy, greed, and selfishness. This deeper compassion supports the kind of relational values that will support new solutions for the health of people and the planet.
Kaleidoscope’s deep shinrin-yoku as Forest Therapy program
Kaleidoscope offers guides who are well trained by the Forest Therapy Society in Japan and the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Program and Guides (ANFT) based in USA and abroad with well qualified skills to help participants to connect with nature and provides guidance on various techniques and exercises.
In our Kaleidoscope program, participants are guided through a clearly defined sequence of invitations to
1) slow down,
2) allow the senses to open, and
3) experience the environment to deepen the reciprocal relationship between participants and the forest.
This supports the wholeness and well-being of both.
These Slow Walks in the Forest are typically one- to two-kilometers long and fit for all ages
and physical conditions. We as Kaleidoscope team will identify an appropriate forest and activities to fit your needs based on an assessment prior to the program day.
Invitations are open-ended. There is no expectation for what participants should experience or
receive. Rather, participants spend time in silence, listening and feeling with a quiet and accepting
presence. They become reconnected with their senses and their innate creative potential is tapped,
which allows the imagination to awaken.
What to expect in the deep Shinrin-yoku session (Forest Therapy)
So, what will we do in the forest?
This is an experience that takes you away from your usual routine and into the forest.
Even in the same natural setting, we walk and spend time in a slightly different way from climbing or hiking. In other words, experience of the forest time through your sensory connection.
We will guide you through the forest using effective forest therapy techniques while opening your five senses and even more to maximize these benefits. Yes, you will have your unique experience through your sensory connection and embodiment.
In addition, you may also be able to gain insight into yourself, which you tend to neglect in your busy daily life, and may embody your own emotions in the forest. This could support and pay your attention to your self-care with the addition of pleasant experiences in the forest.Beyond that, some people will find increased motivation for work and daily life, tolerance for others, increased productivity, as well as inspiration and creativity. In addition, understanding and acceptance of nature, which is the blessing of Yakushima, and new discoveries may arise within you.
What you can get and notice through our Yakushima deep-Shinrinyoku program could be different for each person. We will ask you to do various work, called “invitations” in the forest, but basically you are free to do or not to do. First of all, please let yourself be with the forest and enjoy the walk with me!
<Various session menu and prices>
– One day session (17000 yen/person + tax)
– Half day (AM/PM) session (12,000 yen/person + tax)
– Morning session (12,000 yen/person + tax)
– Lunch session (12,000 yen/person + tax)
– Full-moon session (10,000 yen/person + tax)
– Sunset session (10,000 yen/person + tax)
For English program, additional 4,000 yen/person will be added.
Morning: shrine visit, orientation, warm-up stretch, sensory connection sessions, sharing
Lunch: therapy lunch, napping in a hammock
Afternoon: sensory connection or solo walk, tea gathering and final sharing
Makinko Sugishita Profile
Representative of Kaleidoscope
– Certified Guide for Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guide and Program (ANFT)
– Certified Forest Therapy Guide/Therapist for the Forest Therapy Society
– Global Advisor for ESD (Education for Sustainable Development), Yakushima Town Board of Education
– Yakushima Onoaida Clinic, Director
– Former JICA expert/consultant (specialization area of international health, human resource development)
B.A. in international law from Kansai University in Japan
M.A. in Public Health (international health) from Johns Hopkins University
M.A. in Economic and Social Development from University of Pittsburgh