Translating as 'forest bathing', shinrin-yoku is the Japanese practice of spending time in nature, believed to help manage stress, lower your blood pressure, regulate your temperature and improve sleep quality. What you do in nature is up to you – as long as you are appreciating its power, clearing your mind and engaging all of your five senses to help find peace, it will prove beneficial. This can be as simple as going for a bushwalk or the park and leaving your phone at home. Appreciate your surroundings, listen to the sounds around you and breathe in the fresh air.
Traditional Japanese cuisine, or washoku, is built around a simple bowl of steamed white rice with accompanying seasonal side dishes to provide variety and a balanced meal. Each of the side dishes, usually pickled vegetables, a soup, and tofu, meat or seafood, are served on individual plates or bowls as in Japanese culture different foods should not touch each other. The pickled vegetables, or tsukemono, are usually preserved in salt, rice bran or brine and add essential balancing flavours, textures and colours to each meal.
Being near, or preferably in, water is therapeutic in itself; add mineral-rich hot springs into the mix and you have an instant recipe for wellness and relaxation. Thanks to its hundreds of volcanoes Japan has more than 27,000 natural hot springs, or onsen, throughout its islands and a visit to one is a must on any itinerary – at the very least to soothe your muscles after a day of intensive sightseeing. Regular onsen bathing is also thought to aid stress relief, boost immunity and enhance your mood, among many other benefits. Most onsen are split into male and female facilities and be prepared to go nude. If this makes you uncomfortable or you have tattoos you'll have to go private – tattoos are still seen as taboo in many places in Japan (though there are some places where you can still enjoy the shared bathing facilities even if you have tattoos).
HOW TO: Enjoy Ramen
Eating ramen – egg noodles in a broth with a topping of vegetables and sometimes sliced pork – is an art in itself, but one that is easy to master once you know how. The trick is to separate the noodles entirely from everything else in your bowl, swirl them in the broth, then slurp them like you would a hot drink, perhaps using a soup spoon to catch the drips. Interchange the noodles with the vegetables and/or meat, then tackle the broth at the end by using the spoon provided or lifting the bowl to your mouth with both hands and drinking it down. Delicious. Each region has its own variation on this dish which can now be found in all corners of the world.
The way of tea
Tea ceremonies are an important ritual in most Asian countries and Japan's 'way of tea', or chanoyu, sado or chado, is considered one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement (the other two are flower arrangement and incense appreciation). Influenced by Zen Buddhism, the way of tea dates back to the 9th century and there are many procedures participants must follow to honour its long and important history. These include ritual purification by hand-washing and mouth-rinsing before entering a tea house, removal of footwear, sitting in order of importance and more, meaning that ceremonies can often last up to four hours. Being invited to take part in a tea ceremony is a great honour and offers a real insight into Japanese culture. Make sure you're present in the moment and embrace the significance of this ancient tradition.
Air New Zealand offers year round non-stop flights between Auckland and Tokyo and seasonally between Auckland and Osaka from November through to March, domestic New Zealand connections available from Air New Zealand serviced airports. Book now https://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/flights-to-tokyo. For more information about travelling in Japan, visit jnto.org.au