The Culture Trip Wellness Guide to Japan

On your visit to Yakushima island, you can enjoy the Japanese art of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing
On your visit to Yakushima island, you can enjoy the Japanese art of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing | © Sara Winter / Alamy
Photo of Benjamin Kempton
Travel Writer26 April 2021

The Japanese saying ‘Ken kou dai-ichi’ tells us we should always put our health first, and unsurprisingly, Japan has a thriving wellness culture. We’ve selected some soulful ways to be boost your mental and physical wellbeing on your trip to Japan.

Sink into onsens in Hakone

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Japanese hot springs onsen natural bath in a resort
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The mountainous volcanic region of Hakone is one of Japan’s most popular hot springs destinations, and we can’t think of a better way to get some breathing space than by soaking in its naturally soothing mineral waters. Make time for a good soak at Tenzan, a traditional onsen deep within the mountains that is one of the best in the Hakone area.

Escape to a wellness spa retreat near Mount Fuji

Luxury, Resort, Eco-Lodge
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Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi / Japan - November 29 2018: Autumn scenie view of Fuji Kawaguchiko landscape with lake and mountains from Nagasaki Park
© Kevin Ma / Alamy
This guide would not be complete without a mention of the best wellness retreat in the country. Our top pick is the Hitsuki Club (Sun and Moon Club), tucked away at the foot of Mount Fuji and surrounded by forests and rivers. The Mount Fuji region will soothe you with its sheer beauty, but those who sign up for a retreat will be taken one step further with fresh, locally sourced food, traditional herbal teas and eastern medicine-inspired treatments.

About this place:

Countryside, Eco friendly, Great Location, Wellness, Remote

Forest bathing in Okutama

Natural Feature
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Hiking trail on Okutama Mukashi Michi Hike, Ishikawa prefecture, Tokyo, Japan
© Christopher Tamcke / Alamy
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, a therapeutic experience where you spend time in a forest, was developed in Japan in the 1980s. Researchers have demonstrated that the practice has a calming effect on the nervous system. So if you’re looking to reduce stress, anger and anxiety, get yourself to Okutama forest, or one of the other 44 accredited shinrin-yoku forests in Japan. We’d recommend leaving your phone and any other distractions behind, and go by yourself, or keep things calm and quiet if you go with others.

Enjoy a shiatsu massage at Mandarin Oriental

4.7/5 (216 Reviews)
Mandarin Oriental
Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental / Expedia
Time to lie down and unwind with a shiatsu massage (literally translated as “finger pressure”), a therapy developed in Japan that involves applying pressure to various points on the body. One of the best places to get this treatment is at the Mandarin Oriental hotel spa in Tokyo. Escape the frantic streets of the city with the hotel’s hour-and-a-half spa package, which blends the most effective therapies of shiatsu and Thai massage to relax tight muscles throughout the body using unexpected movements and gentle stretching.
More info

Try miso soup from Mushroom Kingdom

Deli, Food Kiosk, Market, Food Court, Japanese, $$$
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Miso soup with shiitake mushrooms
© Dmitry Tsvetkov / Alamy
Nothing says comfort food quite like a steamy bowl of miso soup. And unlike most comfort food, this one is actually good for you. In Japan, most people begin their day with a bowl of miso, as it is believed to stimulate digestion and energise the body. Miso paste, made from fermented soybeans and grains, contains beneficial bacteria as well as being rich in essential minerals; it’s also a good source of various B vitamins such as folic acid, and vitamins E and K. Where can you try authentic miso soup? There are shops all over the country that we could recommend, but our top pick is Japan’s bestselling miso soup, found at the Kinoko Oukoku Otaki (Mushroom Kingdom) food court in Hokkaido.

Visit Yakushima Island

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General scene on Yakushima island in southern Japan
© Sara Winter / Alamy
Watching a calming Studio Ghibli animated film can be seen as a wellness activity in itself, but why not go one step further and visit the island that one of the films is based on? The Unesco World Heritage Site Yakushima Island is a tropical paradise of towering mountains and ancient woodland 64km (40mi) south of Kyushu. You can see all the main sights and get a good taste of island life in just a few days. Walking through the rainforests that inspired the acclaimed animation Princess Mononoke (1997) provides the perfect escape from reality and a chance to reflect on life.

Stay with the monks of Shōganji

Building, Buddhist Temple
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Shogan-ji temple, located next to Tenryu-ji temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto_RTRC29
© Askanioff / Alamy
Learn the art of wellness and the benefits of Zen from the monk Jiho Kongo at the Shōganji temple in the heart of Kyushu. He provides meditation, calligraphy, an introduction to monastic cuisine and Japanese yoga (shinshin-tōitsu-dō) lessons. It’s rare to find places that still practise shinshin-tōitsu-dō, a study of the principles of nature that aims to show how they can be refined to help us realise our full potential.

Hike Shikoku Henro

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© John Lander / Alamy
It’s time to go on a spiritual journey. The Shikoku Henro pilgrimage takes you on a 1,200km (746mi) hike around the Japanese island of Shikoku, with 88 temples to see along the way. You can do it in just over a month, but most people allow two. There’s the option of using public transport to cut out some of the sections, if you’re only looking to see parts of the island, but for the full authentic pilgrimage, you better wear some comfy footwear. The aim of this mammoth trek, which tours the temples associated with the Japanese Buddhist monk Kūkai (Kōbō Daishi) in the ninth century, is to provide an opportunity to reflect on life and give an opportunity to change for the better.
These recommendations were updated on April 26, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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