Wellness Is Big in Japan: Trends to Watch in 2019

What does wellness look like around the world in 2019? To celebrate the launch of the all-new Wanderlust Passport, this series looks to what’s trending.

There are a lot of ways to define wellness. Renowned yoga teacher Elena Brower defines it as “your ability to respond rather than to react;” Dr. Mark Hyman says it’s the integrated care of every aspect of ourselves: Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational. Wellness activist Kerri Kelly believes that “wellness is the culture of how we take care of ourselves and one another.”

However you define it, one thing is certain: Around the world, people are becoming increasingly interested in what it means to be well. And while we wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that wellness necessitates consumerism—you do not need expensive cushions, treatments, or infused juices to be well—a not-so-deep dive into social media reveals that superfood smoothie bowls, cupping marks, and guided meditations are definitely having a moment. Wellness, that is, is trending. And it’s not just in the US: Around the world, teachers, practitioners, and consumers are redefining mindful living through buying choices they make every day.

In celebration of Passport—your ticket to an unlimited number of the 50+ Wanderlust events around the world—we’re taking a deeper-than-social-media dive into worldwide wellness trends looking toward 2019. Journey with us as we stretch our scope and explore both the similarities and differences in our global community.

This week: What’s trending in wellness throughout Japan.


Finding Peace In The Forest

Taking a walk through nature, surrounded by trees, dirt crunching beneath the weight of each step—it can be one of the best ways to clear the mind and find peace.

In Japan, there’s a palpable respect and appreciation for nature and its power and place in the world—particularly as it pertains to wellness. Turning to nature for meditation, inner peace, and as a form of therapy is something the Japanese have been practicing for decades.

While it’s recently gained quite a bit of buzz in the wellness community, Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku has been a practice in Japan since the 1980s. According to AFAR, “immunologists in Japan have found the practice can nearly double your production of some sickness-fighting cells.” It can kick stress to the curb, too, as AFAR goes on to report: “Studies say the aromas in the forest contain phytoncides, chemicals that lower stress hormones.”

Like traditional meditation, it’s at once a seemingly simple but complex practice. Forest Bathing requires one to be entirely present, both physically and mentally, in nature. In Shinrin-yoku you make use of all senses—breathe in and smell the fresh air, feel the sunshine on your skin, the Earth beneath your feet; take in the sights before you, the lifestory a tree stump tells in its rings, the intense and ever changing hues of leaves throughout the seasons of their life.

If you can’t make it to Japan’s forests, Shinrin-yoku is, thankfully, a practice you can take with you anywhere in the world.

A Powerful Wrap

Borrowing a practice from our youth, a new therapeutic treatment is gaining popularity in Japan.

Otonamaki, otherwise known as adult wrapping can be likened to a baby’s swaddle, and has been in practice since 2015. With its influence from a baby’s swaddle, it’s no surprise that the treatment was developed by a midwife. This Japanese wrapping therapy, which lasts, on average, 30-minutes, seems to be part meditation, part physical rejuvenation.

Otonamaki claims to help physical ailments like back and joint pain, poor posture, muscle stiffness, and even sleep disorders, like insomnia. The Tokyo Weekender explains, “The physical benefits of a 20- to 30-minute session include helping the body become more flexible, relieving shoulder and neck stiffness, and broadening joint movements. But perhaps the more interesting effect is how, when you’re rolled up inside that stretchy white fabric, your mind “feels free.”

Worth noting: The Tokyo Weekender writer tried it herself and mentioned that some knowledge of the Japanese language is helpful when going in for this treatment. So if you’re interested in giving it a try, do some background research on key terms and phrases to know ahead of time for maximum comfort and enjoyment.

Gotta Have Green Tea

One word: Matcha. It. Is. Everywhere. And to many people, and their morning routines, it is everything, too.

Green Tea is a staple in Japanese culture—and not just as part of a morning routine. It’s used for its health benefits, it’s used in the cuisine, and it’s something that brings people together socially, too (think coffee dates at Starbucks, but swap the PSL for a delicious Matcha Latte).

In addition to just simply being good, green tea, and matcha, deliver a host of good for you benefits, too. Both are loaded with antioxidants, can help detox the body and aid in metabolism, offer a boost in focus and brain activity, and can help in preventing cancer, too. These drinks may also be a good alternative for those who get the jitters from coffee, as they contain less caffeine—Women’s Health reports that there are “about 100 milligrams in an eight-ounce cup [of coffee] compared to about 30 milligrams you’d get in green tea.”

Also, fun Fact, according to The Wanderpedia, “Buddhist monks found green tea conducive to meditation and Samurai warriors drank Matcha green tea before going into battle for a boost of energy.”

Flower Power

Usually centered around the famed Cherry Blossom season in Japan, the practice of Hanami is literally translated as viewing flowers, but it’s so much more than that. We already know that the Japanese culture hold nature in high regard (case in point: forest bathing), so it’s no surprise that there’s a movement that focuses on appreciating the beauty of these beloved flowers.

The tradition of Hanami, which aligns with the Cherry Blossom season, is a way of welcoming the new season, coming together as a community, and enjoying time outside whether it’s simply sitting in the grass beneath a Cherry Blossom tree or preparing a picnic with friends.

The Cherry Blossom Festival itself is said to be a celebration of beauty, and the acceptance of its impermanence. As we all know, the life cycle of a flower from bud to bloom seems to take an eternity, but the moment of beauty in blooming is fleeting. As Trip Savvy notes, The Cherry Blossom Festival, and Hanami, are a nod to the Japanese “concept of mono no aware, the wistful realization that “nothing lasts forever.”

According to Trip Savvy, “It’s said that the origin of hanami dates back more than a 1,000 years to when aristocrats enjoyed looking at beautiful cherry blossoms and wrote poems inspired by them.”

Embrace Imperfections

Ever drop your favorite platter and shatter it, believing it’s no longer worth keeping? The Japanese have a solution for that. In fact, there’s an art movement, Kintsugi, whose sole focus is taking on broken objects—usually pottery—and repairing them by using metals like gold, silver, or platinum, to fill in the cracks. Through Kintsugi, people are taking a seemingly broken, useless object and making it whole again, making it entirely unique, strengthening it at the spots where it was once broken, and possibly even making it more beautiful than before.

It may not be the most obvious form of “wellness,” but if we take a deeper dive into this artistic practice, and what it’s symbolizing, it shows us that imperfections can be beautiful, embraced, and a true work of art.

Water As A Wellness Tool

A recurring theme we’re seeing as we take a deep dive into wellness trends around the world is the importance of water in various practices, treatments, and therapies. It’s an essential element of life, and, as research has proven, an essential element in achieving mind-body wellness, too. From alleviating stress, to soothing sore muscles, improving skin health, and cleansing the mind, body, and soul, water might just be one of the wellness world’s most valued and powerful tool.

Throughout Japan, steam rooms, baths (sento), and mineral rich hot springs or spring fed baths (onsen) are highly regarded for their therapeutic, healing, and medicinal properties. Some may prefer onsens as they can be enjoyed outdoors, where one can be fully immersed in the healing waters, while taking in the beauty of the surrounding environment (like a traditional Japanese Zen Garden, or possibly even views of Mt. Fuji!). Hotels and spas alike make water-focused facilities a pillar in their wellness offerings and ensure that they are highly accessible to visitors and locals throughout Japan.

Travelogues From Remote Lands reports on the offerings at Amanemu hotel—specifically, the spa, noting that the spa “is themed around water, and the salt-infused onsens offer respite for aching limbs while expert practitioners stretch and mobilize your limbs in the traditional watsu pool.”

Wellness is a state of being and a way of living. For some, a wellness practice could be laying in a hammock, listening to a podcast, watching the clouds roll by; for others it’s bounding up a 14,000-foot summit, blood pumping, adrenaline screaming. There’s no wrong path to take on the journey to mind-body wellness, and there are countless interesting and inspiring trends within the wellness world to get you there. 

We hope this series will bring new practices, new experiences, and new thoughts around wellness, and how to find the perfect recipe of what works for you—wherever you are in your wellness journey, and wherever you are in the world.

scrolling words passport over topo map

Maggie Peikon is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine. Follow her musings on Instagram and Twitter.