Forest Bathing On The Journey To The East Cycling Tour
“The horror, the horror,” whispers Joseph Conrad’s protagonist Kurtz, reflecting on his life, his actions and on humankind in general towards the end of his novella – The Heart of Darkness. These words came to mind as I walked numbly through the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum the day before the start of the second section of the 2023 Journey to the East.
Whenever something gets me down, I have two ways that help me to get through the pain and sadness. One is physical activity, a subject I covered in a blog ten years ago, Seek Discomfort. The other is spending time in nature. I had plenty of opportunities for both during the 4 days of cycling from Nagasaki to Matsuyama.
The physical activity was cycling up and down the less populated mountainous sections of Kyushu, the third largest island of Japan. In fact, our local support staffer, Kazu, informed us that 70% of Japan is mountains and forests. The leftover 30 % is not much space for the 125 million Japanese citizens! As a result, the flat areas are very busy and crowded, with a lot of traffic. Which brings me back to spending time in nature and healing.
The Japanese even have a term for it – shinrin-yoku. Forest bathing, or rather taking in the forest with all of one’s senses. According to the website One Science, the Japanese government realized how beneficial it was to spend time in nature, so it created 62 forest bathing clinics throughout the country. I can’t say that I saw any of these clinics while cycling the last four days but what I can say is that there were parts of the route where I felt like I was in a magical forest and, subsequently, forgot all about the ‘horror’.
The fact is, I love trees. One of my earliest childhood memories is climbing a tree and pretending I was a cosmonaut flying a rocket into space. I was a child of five when the first satellite Sputnik flew into orbit and shook the world. In the back of our home in Slovakia we had a fruit orchard and I spent most of my time in the trees eating apples, pears, plums, cherries and apricots. During my tenure as the Executive Director of CPAR, the charity I helped to establish, we planted over 65 million of trees in Africa. So, you could say I have a predilection for trees.
It is no wonder that my favourite part of the rest day in Matsuyama was was walking through the forest on the way up to the city’s famous Matsuyama-jo castle, built in the early 17th century. Right at the beginning of the path was the inscription, “When Kato Yoshiaki began building the castle in 1602 the hill was treeless but after red pine was planted, it became a pine covered hill. At present the pine trees are few in number having been surpassed by Japanese chinquapin, camphor, blue Japanese oak, Chinese Cork oak, Japanese Laurel, Japanese cinnamon, ferns, etc.” Nature at its very best.
It is not just the forests that catch my attention. In Japan, gardens and nature play an important role in the culture and one can enjoy and soak it all in just about anywhere one goes. I would venture to guess that it is this penchant for nature, the forest bathing and the actual hot spring soaking, of which we have had the pleasure of partaking several times already, is what helped the Japanese to recover from ‘the horror’ and to build a vibrant, modern society.
Journey to the East
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