Continuing with our adventure in Japan, my next destination was Minami-Otari, where I had booked a full day Shinrin Yoku, private tour with a guide from the Otari Forest Therapy base. I left the Akasawa forest area, the very historical Kiso area, heading north, up a beautiful valley with forested mountains on either side. I had the whole day before I had to check in at a Hotel in Hakuba, my destination for the night. I could stop as many times as I wanted along tha way, thanks to the JR (Japan Rail) Pass. I was told that the Matsumoto Castle was worth seeing and it was definitely great intel.
It was a stunning piece of history and a national tressure for Japan and the world.
I jumped on another train to continue on to Hakuba, a world-renowned ski area at a much higher elevation on the Japanese Alps.
I stayed here for one night, just 20 minutes by train to Otari. Not many lodging options as you go deeper into the mountains of northern Nagano. This was a beautiful place to stay, with its own indoor Onsen (Hot springs bath). I was actually the only westerner staying here among dozens of Japanese tourists. That night, once again something amazing happened, during dinner, a buffet style setup in a seemingly very large restaurant for being at a hotel. I was struggling to get the attention of a waiter to order a drink. I didn’t want to start waiving, as I didn’t really know what was appropriate, and I had no idea how to call a waiter in Japanese. All of a sudden I see this couple, two tables over, that called one of the waiters and as I was trying to get ready to get up and call him after they were done with him, I saw that once the waiter came to their table, they pointed at me and sent him over to me. This really blew my mind, how aware people are there and how they volunteer to provide assistance to the poor traveler with a desperate look on his face… I bowed several times at them of course, as I had learned by now, the proper way of expressing gratitude in Japan.
Early morning the next day, I had to get to the train station by 7:45 the only morning train would take me to Otari, my next Shinrin Yoku destination.
I basically had the train to myself, beautiful sunny day and only 20 minutes away, I could hardly wait. When I arrived at the Minami-Otari station, I saw this girl holding a sign saying “Mr. Carlos Ponte”, of course that was Naoko, the guide I had been communicating with through numerous emails to set this up and also arranged the next day’s tour through a Buddhist temple and several Shinto shrines. The only surprise was that I was expecting a man, no idea that the name Naoko was for a female. In the end, it was an amazing great surprise because I was about to meet someone so beautifully in tune with me and my views of nature, forest and even religion and spirituality that was a complete pleasure to spend two days following her guidance.
The best gift of this entire trip when it comes to scenery, the full fall colours and their radiant splendor where exploding that day here. The full day Shinrin Yoku session was much more than I expected, very insightful, warm and fulfilling experience. Naoko was very professional and at the same time it felt very comfortable like I was taking a walk with an old close friend. On top of everything, with such beautiful backdrop, you just didnt’ know which way to look, as there was one spectacular view next to another.
Enjoy the photos. (Click on them to enlarge)
Where it all started….
This is the birth place of the practice of Shinrin Yoku, and that’s why it was number one on my list. I contacted the Agematsu Town Tourism Association and Kazue Matsubara arranged everything for me. She was also the interpreter during the private Shinrin Yoku session, because the Forest Therapist did not speak English. I received the royal treatment.
They picked me up at the train station and drove me to the forest which is about a 20-minute drive.
As we went higher and higher in elevation, we started to notice a more and more colorful panorama on the surrounding forest.
The main base has a building where the clinic operates, a souvenir shop and seminar room building and another with a restaurant. They have a full-time doctor on site who performs a check-up before and after the walks. This recreational forest has 8 different courses, one more beautiful than the next. They all have different effort levels, one is fully paved or wood-boarded so it can be done on a wheelchair.
My first close contact with a Hinoki Cypress. This area called Kiso is famous for the Hinoki tree which is highly regarded as one of the most important trees of Japan.
The “big five” tree species of Kiso: Hinoki, Sawara, Nezuko, Asunaro and Koyamaki.
A beautiful day, I wanted to do more trails on my own after the “VIP Shinrin Yoku session” but the weather turned, and the day was cut short. Next time!
When I got to the hotel, near the Hamamatsuchō Monorail Terminal, I got my first big surprise, the Reception desk staff were fully functional, life-size ROBOTS!!
In any rate, once I scanned my Passport, this machine, next to the robot, delivered the card that was my room key, got a couple of instructions from the “guy” on the left and away I went to my room. Pretty smooth and very impressive.
The room was “Tokyo size” where the TV screen is relatively speaking disproportionally large. One thing I was really impressed, which lasted for the rest of the trip, was the hi-tech toilets the Japanese have. Not only warmed seats, but an electronic panel to “drive” the thing and all its functions.
I went out for dinner to a nearby, typical tiny restaurant, with great service and even better food. Of course, I had to try the famous Japanese beef, I found me this little place where they have a gas BBQ for each table, they bring you the beef in 5 mm thick slices and you cook it yourself. Superb! With some Sake of course. That was my welcome to Japan….
Next.. The Shinrin Yoku adventures begin!
The monorail service from Haneda Airport to central Tokyo is as efficient as the JR Rail system and all other forms of public transportation in Japan. Very inexpensive too, about US $ 2.50 from Haneda to downtown Tokyo. Not even an hour since I arrived, and something marvelous happened, which showed me again how considerate and aware of their surroundings people in Japan are, even here in Tokyo, the most populous city in the planet.
I got on the train and saw there was a specific place for passengers to place suitcases, this was a square platform at floor level in the center of the car with some kind of protecting railing to avoid the luggage to roll around. There are seats all around it and some standing room. When I got on, I saw that the nearest luggage place was already full, I had a carry-on and a backpack. I started looking around to see where would be the best spot for me to stand, hold on to a handrail at the same time trying to keep my luggage with me and out of the way. Not even a millisecond into this thought, I saw this man get up from his seat, pick his bag from the luggage holding area and sat down again, placing his bag on his lap. He nodded and signaled with his eyes that he made room for me. I then placed my larger bag in the vacant spot and now was able to sit down with just my backpack on my lap. I nodded a thank you back to him and he acknowledged with a smile. I just sat there in awe of what I just witnessed. Here’s the most dense city in the planet with 6,000 people per square kilometer (compared to New York city at less than 2000 / sq km) where an average local citizen, minding his own business was not at all in a bubble or isolated from his surroundings, willing to promptly volunteer helping a fellow human out of the kindness of his heart. Once again, impressed!!
I was even more pumped about the next two weeks in this amazing country.
When we arrived to Haneda airport, all went very smoothly. I was scanning for anything new as I was entering a new world to me. Getting off the plane happened as it always does, going through the Passport control area, was the same as other countries. The advantage here was that the line for foreign nationals was very short compared to the Japanese nationals. After getting my passport stamped, I proceeded to pick up my luggage, all very well signed and easy to follow. When I found my luggage pickup place, I just waited near the shoot where the luggage comes onto the conveyor belt, I was not in a hurry but it’s in my genes 🙂
Now, lucky I did because this is where I spotted the first big (huge) difference with any other airports in the world that I visited. A female airport agent came to the luggage carousel to actually man it. She had a panel with buttons. where she started the carousel and then proceeded to receive each piece of luggage with her hands as they slid down the belt, she would make sure that the luggage would not pile on, so she would place them evenly on the edge of the belt, at the same time that she would turn them around so the handle would face outwards to get them out of the belt with ease. What?! Ok, I was impressed.
After a few pieces of luggage came out, I also noticed that smaller bags, or more vulnerable ones made of soft materials, were placed in a hard plastic container to protect them as they were transported through the system from below.
What?! Ok, I’m more impressed.
I then realized that I had arrived at a country where respect for others and their belongings was at the top of the list. I smiled.
Now that we’re back, after editing and finishing the post production work on our media (500+ photos), we’ll be busy creating posts to share the Shinrin Yoku adventures, and the cultural tours we did in the beautiful land of Japan.
On October 17, 2018 I am embarking on a trip to Japan to explore and experience the places where Shinrin Yoku was born. The Forest Therapy Bases where two decades of research have taken place, providing such wealth of information on the many physiological benefits provided by this practice. The excitement is unmeasurable! And the huge bonus is that I will have the amazing opportunity to meet Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki at the University of Chiba near Tokyo. He’s whom I consider my mentor so the fact that he agreed to receive me in his office at the University, is an immense honor. Stay tuned! Lots of picture and stories to come!
We are so proud of our Airbnb Experience Forest Bathing or “Shinrin-Yoku” experience.
It has been a great introductory month. We’ve had people from Europe, Asia and North America. Great reviews, people are loving it!
See it here: https://www.airbnb.ca/experiences/229973
Find out more here: https://universe-mindfulness.com/portfolio/forest-therapy-bavaria-germany/
Emma & Carlos met online, not on a dating App, as neither was looking for a partner at the time. Carlos in Canada, and Emma in Germany were practicing meditation at the very same time, his evening, her morning. This app, Insight Timer ™, let them know of this fact, but most importantly, it allowed them to send a message… “Thank you for meditating with me” at the end of the session. This is how it all started…
Emma began her meditation practice over 30 years ago, she is a certified MBSR trainer (mindfulness based stress reduction) and a trained teacher for Mindful Self compassion (MSC).
For the past 15 years she has taught mindfulness and self-compassion courses, coached individuals and run workshops in her own practice in Munich/ Germany (Practice for Mindful Living) and at various public Organizations and private Corporations.
In 2018, she became, along with Carlos, a certified Shinrin Yoku practitioner in England. She is a co-designer and guide of our Forest Therapy program in Europe.
Carlos comes from many places. Italian genes, born in Argentina, Canadian by choice and now living in Bavaria. No matter where he has lived, nature has always been a pivotal part of his life. Growing up in a vineyard, part of his family farming business in Argentina, he always spent most of his free time outdoors, among, and often on, trees.
Forests have always been his passion and fortunately he’s had the chance to “mingle” with a very diverse range of trees, like ancient eucalyptus specimens in his childhood in Argentina; maple, birch, oak and a extensive selection of conifers during his life in Canada and now, the European families of beech, chestnut, linden together with spruce and fir in his new life in Bavaria. His instinctive attraction to trees was then strengthened by learning about the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing.
He studied Shinrin-Yoku techniques in England, Germany and Japan. He developed a Forest Therapy program influenced by his mentor Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki and his 30 plus years of research showing the overwhelming evidence on body and mental health benefits of “Forest Therapy” (Dr. Miyazaki coined this term himself back in 2003).
Carlos co-founded Universe Mindfulness with his wife Emma, with the idea of offering wellness escapes throughout Europe with the main theme of Mindfulness in Nature, guiding participants to become reacquainted with nature and to reconnect with it in a deeper and more healing manner than ever before.
We offer European mindfulness holidays in nature.
Our 3, 7 or 10 day retreat packages are made of two main components…
♦ Mindfulness Techniques
As part of the mindful escape we propose to you, which is the type of holiday that you won’t need another holiday to recover from, we will provide you with long-lasting tools to manage stress caused by daily life. Nature and Forests are our best allies, our Forest Bathing or Shinrin Yoku retreats will reconnect you with the roots of our evolution.
Mindfulness practice will eventually become second nature and will help you maximize your everyday life, even when facing major stressful situations, including illness and pain.
♦ Vacation component
Fun in nature among kindred spirits
Our venues are selected specifically by their nature as vacation spots, without the crowds and the aspects that make holidays more stressful than staying home.
Exotic and intriguing places where our participants can explore nature, culture and history, enjoy the scenery through Europe (and also soon Japan). We offer a family style, small group retreat experience, half day and whole day trips to nearby places of great significance, either by their stunning natural beauty or by their history and culture.
Our Vacation Retreats are full of activities for the mind, the body and the spirit.
Mindfulness training and meditation practice could become overwhelming on large doses in a short period of time, especially for beginners. We mix in some fun vacation time, with outings surrounded by natural beauty to provide a balanced experience.
The environment we select for each retreat will induce sharing and mingling, during the tours, during the meals, almost like a family enjoying the food and drinks in one large table. There will be ample opportunities and the space for solitude and contemplation as well.
Upon filling the Pre-Registration form, we would encourage a live interview via Skype with our lead instructor to ensure all questions are answered and to walk you through the entire program and daily activities. Give us a chance to help you change your life.