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Japan is currently experiencing a wellness travel boom. With offerings of hot springs, a nutrient-rich cuisine and diverse nature, Japan’s wellness economy is valued at $304 billion. The third-largest in the world. (Global Wellness Institute, 2023)And it doesn’t come as a surprise either.
Well-being has been deep-rooted in Japan’s spiritual culture for centuries. From Onsen (hot springs) and Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) to finding your Ikigai (purpose) and embracing Wabi-Sabi (imperfection), Japan has always been at the forefront of health and wellness.
So let’s take a closer look at each one of these Japanese spiritual practices for well-being and see how they can transform your life for the better.
What does well-being mean?
Before I delve into the 5 Japanese well-being practices you need to know about, let’s first take a moment to understand what well-being truly means.
Well-being is a complex concept that refers to your overall state of being.
It’s not just limited to one aspect of your life but encompasses multiple factors that define your existence — finding happiness and feeling at peace, as well as feeling mentally, physically, emotionally and socially healthy.
Well-being is also strongly linked to having a strong sense of purpose and life satisfaction.
I personally believe you cannot reach optimal health (whatever that looks like to you) unless you have a strong sense of well-being. When your well-being is being taken care of, you can experience positive thoughts and emotions like happiness and joy and can release any negative emotions like stress and anxiety.
In short, you simply cannot succeed without well-being.
In today’s fast-paced world, finding moments of calm and balance is essential for our overall well-being.
How can you expect to show up and perform at your best if you are denying your well-being with the self-care it needs?
And so, I encourage you to prioritize your daily well-being through simple practices that include getting outside in nature, journaling, spending quality time with yourself, and being mindful of your capabilities.
By putting your well-being first, you are opening yourself up to numerous benefits, including:
Improved physical health
Reduced risk of chronic illnesses
Enhanced mental health
Increased emotional resilience and the ability to manage stress
Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression
Boosted productivity and creativity
Stronger and healthier relationships
Overall greater life satisfaction
And lucky for you, each of one of the Japanese well-being practices that I cover below allow you to experience all of these benefits and more.
5 Well-Being Practices Rooted in Japanese Culture
1 | Ikigai: Finding your purpose
Ikigai, meaning ‘reason for being’ is an ancient Japanese philosophy that encourages individuals to discover their life’s purpose. Iki’ in Japanese means ‘life’ and ‘gai’ describes value or worth. (BetterUp, 2021)
It involves identifying the intersection between four parts:
What you love — your passion and mission
What you’re good at — your passion and profession
What the world needs — your mission and vocation
What you can be paid for — your profession and vocation
When you find your Ikigai, you have essentially found your “bliss,” leading to a life of deep satisfaction and fulfillment. You are inspired to get out of bed every day as you are pursuing activities that truly resonate with your inner self.
Overall, practicing Ikigai greatly boosts your mental and emotional well-being as it gives your life meaning.
Japanese culture believes that natural hot springs, also known as Onsen, offer a unique combination of relaxation and therapeutic benefits.
Used for centuries, Onsen bathing not only allows you to unwind in a serene and natural setting but you can also experience the healing properties of the mineral-rich waters which are believed to help ease various ailments.
Exposure to hot water (we’re talking at least 104℉ here) can help relax your muscles, flush out toxins, decrease inflammation, and promote better quality sleep.
Being in nature also allows you to escape the busyness of everyday life, be more present in the moment as you have zero distractions (Onsen = digital detox zone), and practice mindfulness.
There are currently 25,000 hot spring sources in Japan (no wonder it’s a wellness hotspot) giving anyone the opportunity to rejuvenate both mind and body and indulge in some much-needed self-care.
3 | Shinrin-Yoku: Forest Bathing
Shinrin-Yoku, also known as forest bathing, emerged in Japan in the 1980s and involves immersing yourself in nature. Its original purpose was to help people overcome burnout and to reconnect with their local forests.
Despite the slightly “woo-woo” connotation of the word “bathing,” — practicing Shinrin-Yoku doesn’t have to be as complex as it seems or involves a week away in the wilderness.
It can simply mean going on a short or long walk in nature and reconnecting with your surroundings benefiting both your mental and physical well-being.
Spending time in nature is proven to provide you with a sense of calm and peace.
It encourages you to unplug from technology, easing the pressures of modern-day life and allowing you to just be.
Actively engaging in Shinrin-Yoku has also been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and boost mood.
4 | Wabi-Sabi: Embracing Imperfection
Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese philosophy that celebrates the beauty of imperfection and impermanence.
In a world obsessed with perfection and aesthetics (thanks mainly to social media), Wabi-Sabi teaches us to find beauty in the flawed, the aged, and the transient aspects of life.
Although this concept is mainly used for fashion and design, it can still be applied to daily life.
Wabi-Sabi encourages you to let go of high expectations and embrace the authenticity of your experiences. It allows you to accept life’s flaws, find joy in the simple things, and live in a more grounded way.
We’ve all been there — booked a holiday to a world-famous hotspot and queued for hours to get to THE viewpoint, all in the name of getting the perfect Instashot. But somehow, it never goes as planned. Your hair is a sweaty mess, there are people in the background, and the sky is cloudy. You leave feeling annoyed and disheartened. The only memory of you being there was the crap picture your partner took.
But what if you were to apply a little bit of Wabi-Sabi to this scenario — it wouldn’t matter how the picture came out. You’ve learned to embrace the reality that things don’t always go to plan. Instead of hating on the situation, you celebrate the beauty of its realness.
Sounds way better for your well-being, huh? No wonder Wabi-Sabi is known to reduce stress and boost overall happiness.
5 | Kintsugi: Repair and Resilience
Another Japanese concept I’m totally in love with is Kintsugi.
I first learned about this approach in Wagamama, of all places. It is the ancient art of repairing broken pottery by joining it with gold lacquer.
Rather than hiding the cracks, Kintsugi celebrates them as part of the object’s history, making it even more beautiful and unique than before.
Like with Wabi-Sabi, Kintsugi again embraces imperfection by showing us that even broken things can still be beautiful.
Although it’s mainly used in pottery, Kintsugi is again another practice you can apply to your well-being — most notably the mental and emotional aspects.
Instead of viewing your flaws and failures as things to be ashamed of or seeing yourself as “broken” — Kintsugi reminds you that your scars and imperfections can be sources of strength and resilience.
I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.