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Why does hiking in the mountains or woods make us feel so calm? Science suggests that nature holds the power to heal, so why not go for a stroll in a park to try some forest bathing? This article features our recommended parks in Tokyo and ways to take a peaceful walk.
Here's a question: What am I doing here in this picture?
Am I hugging a tree? Yes.
However, there's more to it than meets the eye. By wrapping my arms around this tree, I'm being healed.
Have you ever felt refreshed after an outdoor picnic or camping in nature? Several scientific studies suggest that forests provide stress relief and physical health benefits.
According to a study by the Forestry Agency of Japan (Japanese), people in nature-abundant environments have lower levels of stress hormones and are more relaxed compared to city dwellers. Additionally, the compound phytoncide released by trees calms the nerves and assists with the parasympathetic system—responsible for aiding digestion and promoting rest.
Making physical contact with nature, such as touching trees or standing barefoot outside ("earthing"), is also effective. These activities are said to release the electromagnetic waves our body receives from mobile electronic devices, including smartphones and computers. Thus, the effects of forest bathing and forest therapy have become a popular wellness trend.
From my personal experience, I usually feel refreshed after being in a forest environment for work. Since first experiencing the therapeutic effects of forest healing, I now usually venture out to parks when feeling tired—even occasionally hugging trees, too.
There is a park in Tokyo that I frequent when seeking a sense of solace.
This is Rinshi no Mori Park. It is a ten-minute walk from Fudomae Station, which is one station away from Meguro Station along the Tokyu Meguro Line. Built on the site of a former forest research facility, the park features a variety of trees and plants, including zelkovas, platanus, and cherry trees.
When I visited the park for this article, it was hotter than 35 degrees Celsius. Upon entering this natural habitat, I was shaded from the harsh sunlight and felt a cool breeze blow along the path.
I looked up at the trees standing a dozen or so meters high. With their branches spread out wide, the thick leaves effectively blocked the sun's rays. I could comfortably walk in the park even in the sweltering summer heat.
After walking a short distance into the park, you will come across a clearing. This is my recommended healing spot. The area has a giant camphor tree.
The camphor tree far exceeds my height of 155 cm (5 feet, 1 inch). Hugging this over 100-year-old tree gives me a feeling of protection and security.
Why does hugging this tree feel so relaxing? I think there are two reasons for this soothing phenomenon.
The first is size. The trunk of this camphor tree has a circumference of over three meters. The thicker trunk means it is less likely to fall over. It also gives the tree an aura of strength and expansiveness.
The second reason is the tree's clean bark. It never feels good to dirty your clothes after hugging a tree, so check if the bark has any soil on it to see how easily you can dust yourself off after the embrace. You should also be cautious of trees with moss, which contains moisture. Touch the bark beforehand to check.
A tree with a thick trunk and no soil or moss is the perfect tree to wrap your arms around. If you spot one, make sure to give it a big hug!
When you're mid-embrace, don't forget to look up.
You'll see how the trunk stretches towards the sky and the branches extend out freely. On the day of my visit, the sunlight shimmered through the canopy of lush green leaves.
There are two ducts inside of trees. One takes in water from the ground and delivers it to the leaves. The other absorbs sunlight from the leaves and delivers nutrients to the roots. The tree grows as water and nutrients travel back and forth—from root to leaf and leaf to root.
If you are not comfortable hugging a tree, you can try touching it with the palm of your hand. You can feel the warmth and energy of the tree this way, too.
Although there's a concrete path in the park, I recommend walking barefoot on the dirt. The small branches, leaves, and pebbles gently stimulate the soles of your feet.
In autumn, a foliage of fiery red and golden yellow leaves create a soft carpet for you to walk on. The crunch you hear under your feet adds to the relaxation factor.
If you begin to feel tired, take a break on one of the benches in the park. It's relaxing to watch the branches sway in the wind as sunlight seeps through the canopy of leaves.
You should also pay attention to the sounds of insects and birds. Cicadas are especially prevalent during the summer, with crows chiming into the orchestra of nature sounds. While the cicadas' chirping is loud, it doesn't seem noisy.
I recommend visiting the park in the evening hours. The singing of cicadas and crows comes to a sudden halt between 18:00 and 19:00.
Once night settles in, you can enjoy the rhythmic chirping of crickets. The switch from one sound to the next makes me wonder if insects have internal clocks.
Rinshi no Mori Park extends 700 meters long from east to west and 250 meters long from north to south. It takes roughly 45 minutes to walk around the entire park. You might spot a few turtles swimming in the pond in the park's center, too.
With a playground equipped with swings and slides, kids can also have fun at the park. Between July and August, children can splash around in water at the Jabu Jabu Pond (Splash Splash Pond) (*).
Above all, you can admire the beauty of the changing seasons. Cherry blossoms begin blooming around mid-February and decorate the park until April. During the fall, the autumn leaves color the park in fiery hues.
*Canceled for 2020 due to COVID-19.
A tree I came across on my trip to Nikko. There are few trees around Nikko Toshogu Shrine that can be touched.
As city dwellers, we can easily accrue stress without even realizing it. On your next day off, I recommend heading to a park for some relaxation and nature-based healing.
If you are looking for an easily accessible park in Tokyo, I recommend Yoyogi Park. The park has a number of large trees and a beautiful fountain. Additionally, the nearby Meiji Jingu Shrine has a quaint atmosphere and is a refreshing place for a stroll.
Incorporate nature into your daily life and feel refreshed every day!
Forestry Agency, "A Scientific Report on the Effects of Forests on Health and Healing (Summary)" (Japanese)
Japanese Society of People-Plant Relationships, "Effects of Touching the Trunks of Different Thickness of Japanese Cedars on Human Physiology and Psychology"
Nagisa Ono, "A New Forest Bathing: Community-Led! A Human Health and Development Education" (Japanese)