In recent years, wellness travel has evolved towards the transformative, with the emphasis being placed on the ‘we’ in wellness. There has been a shift increasingly towards holidays that explore a meaningful two-way dialogue between the traveller and the destination. And as such, those seeking a mindful, change-making experience have zeroed in on Japan.
Japan is a land of rich heritage, where cypress forests meet holy rivers, where rapid change vies with a deep sense of continuity and where tradition harmonises with innovation. The country’s wellness concepts have been framing how we’ve been striving to improve our mental and physical health for years. One idea that has spread to our shores from Japan is our internal rewilding, a return to nature called forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) that combats the wave of global urbanisation.
More than half of all humans live in cities now, and an antidote has been increasingly required. Forest bathing is a Japanese pastime that promises complete mental and physical rejuvenation. The phrase ‘shinrin-yoku’ was coined by the Forest Agency of Japan in the 1980s to encourage healthy lifestyles by time spent in specially designated forests. According to innumerable studies in Japan, forest bathing boosts immunity, reduces stress hormones, enhances mental wellness and bolsters brain health. It may even lower blood glucose levels in diabetic forest bathers.
It is not only for this wellness concept that Japan captures our attention, but we also look to Japan for the secret to living long and living well. It’s a nation of super-agers with senior citizens accounting for more than 28 per cent of the population and the number of centenarians topping 80,000 – that’s the highest rate of centenarians globally, with six in every 10,000 people aged 100 or more. There are myriad reasons why, including diet, rates of community involvement or sense of spiritual purpose (ikigai), and an ethos of embracing imperfections and transience (wabi-sabi).
For all these reasons and more, Abercrombie & Kent have created this Wellness in Japan itinerary. This 10-night luxurious but meaningful experience explores all that the archipelago has to offer in terms of well-being. It begins in Tokyo, where Aman Tokyo provides a perfect introduction. The hotel’s serene spa spans two floors and covers a vast 2,500 square metres. Minimal with a sleek pool, a centre point of this qi-realigning space is the onsen-style bath that offers epic views of the cityscape. Located in the capital city’s Otemachi district, you’ll have time to explore the city’s culinary scene, which centres around the Japanese patient quest for perfection, in the company of a renowned Japanese food writer.
Japan’s volcanic spring waters were first written about in 712 BCE and intrinsically linked to its culture and natural identity. In search of these soothing waters, you’ll travel to the picturesque resort town of Karuizawa, which sits at the foot of Mount Asama (an active volcano) in the Nagano Prefecture. Long a popular getaway for well-to-do urbanites and Japan’s literary legends, people have been travelling to this mountain spot for centuries to benefit from its healing hot springs (onsen). Away from the town’s charming bustle, you’ll be based at sleekly modern Hoshinoya Karuizawa hotel – a forest-bound, waterside paradise and sanctuary for wild birds, which offers physical and spiritual healing through both onsen and forest bathing.
Next, it’s off to Japan’s Seto Inland Sea to discover its lesser-known beauty while staying onboard a sailing ryokan called ‘guntû’ (pronounced ‘gan-su’). A haven of tranquillity and omotenashi (loosely translated as ‘warm welcome’), this floating hotel is quintessentially Japanese and was designed by award-winning architect Yasushi Horibe to recall a traditional inn. Guntû has been compared to a haiku, and as you cruise, you’ll find time to reflect, pause, reset and find new meaning.
Your final stop will be Okinawa, in southernmost Japan, as we search for the elixir of youth. This city has the highest number of centenarians globally, and here we’ll explore the secrets behind the population’s long health and happiness: food as medicine (nuchi gusui), community and purpose included. Your base will be Hoshinoya Okinawa, for another ryokan experience in the Taketomi Islands, where the welcome is gracious, easy and elegant. This bastion of serenity has a deep connection to the ocean – here, any remaining woes will simply wash away.