Published in the U.S by Timber Press, 2018
Reviewed by Maureen Sundberg
Yoshifumi Miyazaki connected with nature in his family’s garden at a young age and followed a winding career path that led to research into Shinrin-yoku, the practice of walking slowly through the woods, or forest bathing. Recognizing intuitively that people seemed more relaxed after spending time in nature, specifically in forests, Miyazaki began experiments exploring the connection between human stress levels and exposure to nature.
In Shinrin Yoku, The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing, Miyazaki first defines the concept of nature therapy as a solution to stress and stress-related diseases that accompany a modern society disconnected from the natural world. In 1800, only three percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 1900, 14 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, and by 2016 the percentage had increased to 54 percent. In a relatively short time, humans had to adapt from life in close proximity with nature, to life in urban centers. Miyazaki argues that rapid urbanization has affected the health and well-being of city-dwellers who live in fast-paced, super-mechanized environments. The solution: ample doses of nature in a variety of forms.
Japanese culture has deep connections with nature, and Miyazaki taps that culture for examples of nature therapy. In particular, he studies the importance of trees to humans, from tall, ancient trees to miniature bonsai trees. Miyazaki then looks at the ways Shinrin-yoku is practiced at forest therapy bases in Japan and provides a number of specific examples of sessions. In addition to strolling through the forest, practices incorporate many other elements such as observations of nature and activities in nature. From stargazing and cherry blossom viewing to literal tree hugging and tea picking, participants are encouraged to identify and participate in those activities they find relaxing – if someone likes the idea of an activity, the activity is more likely to have a positive physiological effect.
Next the author examines the many ways nature has been introduced into urban settings around the world. However, Miyazaki points out that even when green outdoor spaces are nearby, not everyone can easily make time to visit a green space on a regular basis. Hence, in addition to outdoor parks, greenways, and community gardens, he considers the relaxation benefits of plants and flowers brought indoors and even the introduction of essential oils into the environment.
Finally, Miyazaki offers a close look at his various experiments on stress and how contact with nature or natural objects affects stress reduction. He offers details into the ways stress can be measured and then summarizes a number of experiments testing the health benefits of various forest bathing regimens as well as a few other activities such as simply viewing plants or smelling raw wood. Though some of the tests included small numbers of participants, their results were consistent and offer opportunities for replication and validation.
Shinrin Yoku, both the book and the practice, offers fodder for design inspiration. Overall, the layout of the book is very appealing. Beautiful photographs of trees and forests adorn the pages and quotations from literature and poetry further enhance the text. For those developing landscapes in cities and suburbs, the takeaway is that there are measurable public health benefits to be gained by connecting urban workers and residents to green spaces. By offering varied opportunities for nature-human connection, landscapes can provide populations with not just beneficial, but delightful stress relief in a stressful world.
About the Reviewer
Maureen Sundberg has edited the ELA Newsletter since 2010. She plans to take more time to walk slowly through the woods in Andover, MA where she works and gardens.
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