Health, wellness and Japanese garden

For several decades, countries around the world have recognized that stress and stress-related illnesses constitute a global health crisis that weighs heavily on society. In the early 1980s, the Forestry Agency of Japan began recommending people take walks in the woods for better health.

(Sifferlin, Times, 07/14/2016). This therapeutic practice is called shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing”, and is a popular way in Japan to rejuvenate health. Forest bathing activities include multi-day immersion in the forests, over 60 official forest therapy trails designated for shinrin-yoku therapy, and certified doctors in forest medicine.

Research around forest bathing has yielded quantitative data that supports the conclusion that sensory exposure to nature enhances physiological and psychological well-being. The experiments involved measuring stress hormones in people exposed to natural elements, such as a vase of roses, a bonsai tree, gardens and forest walks. The results showed that even modest exposure to nature, including flowers, reduced stress. This led forest therapy expert Yoshifumi Miyazaki to recommend that we find our “favorite nature” so that we can enjoy shinrin-yoku in our daily lives. Ways to enjoy nature include enjoying potted plants on a balcony, a natural wood table, or your favorite spot at a local park.

These concepts of forest therapy have been widely known in landscape architecture and garden design for centuries, with natural elements playing a central role in landscape design. However, with the growing social awareness of therapeutic landscapes, public spaces such as parks, botanical gardens, and urban open spaces are being designed with wellness in mind. For example, the therapeutic garden has become a popular outdoor space in health care and rehabilitation facilities ( These gardens typically include sensory plants that focus on color, texture, and scent.

FOREST BATHING – A recent forest bathing event at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. photo of Keiji Uesugi

The Los Angeles County Arboretum hosts a forest bathing tour several times a month, where a guide takes a group through the botanical garden and organizes several activities to help them adjust to the surrounding flora and fauna, emphasizing the healing power of nature.

In my landscape architecture classes, I explain that trees are particularly important elements to consider in design because they provide shade; beautify spaces year-round with flowers, leaves, and fall foliage (if deciduous); provide habitat for wildlife; store carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere; and create a sense of calm with their shapes, colors, textures and scales.

In recent years, Japanese gardens have become therapeutic landscapes that combine the healing properties of nature in artistically designed spaces. Although there are many types of garden styles that have developed in Japan, there are common nature-based themes present in many of them, including:

• The garden is a personal expression and interpretation of nature.
• The idea that nature is constantly changing and moving to achieve balance.
• The path can be a route that reveals the garden step by step like a walk in nature.
• The key elements are rock, water and plants (literally or symbolically) and are arranged to draw inspiration from natural landscapes, religious scriptures or other artistic works.
Japanese gardens have had enormous global appeal over the past 130 years, as people in countries outside of Japan continue to build them.

In North America alone, there are thousands of public and private Japanese gardens, each with their own history and their own way of expressing nature. Incorporating wellness programs has been a logical step for many public gardens since they have featured educational and health-focused activities for several decades.

At the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego, repeat visitors are drawn to the quiet corners of the garden where they meditate to calm their minds as they sit under tall canopy trees while watching and listening to the waterfalls. and streams. Therapeutic and wellness activities such as yoga, reiki, sound meditation and breathing exercises are held regularly throughout the year and are becoming popular programs. Some of these activities are not historically connected to Japan, but it shows the universal value of the Japanese garden as a therapeutic setting.

I believe that current societal issues regarding health and wellness will continue to shape the future of Japanese gardens as they play a pivotal role in providing a therapeutic setting and offering accessible wellness programs. to anyone in need. Currently I run a landscaping studio where my students are exploring design concepts for a wellness center at JFG which includes dedicated areas for group therapy sessions and a Japanese bath called ofuro based on balneology . This design studio has opened my eyes to the possibilities of incorporating therapeutic strategies into Japanese garden design, and I look forward to finding new ways to make the Japanese garden a place where people can find their nature. favorite and find balance in their lives. .

Keiji Uesugi, PLA is the principal of the landscape architecture firm, TUA Inc. in West Covina, California, and a faculty member of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona University. A licensed landscape architect with over 20 years of professional experience, he is an expert in the cultural landscapes and Japanese gardens of North America. He can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of Nichi Bei Weekly.

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