Let’s talk about one of my favorite topics: Wellness and Wellbeing and how can we chase it on a daily basis, or in this case, how I have chased it in this trip to Japan.
But first of all, what is Wellness and Wellbeing? A lot of people believe is the same thing but according to the online dictionary: Wellness is the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal. While Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.
Wellness and Wellbeing are not the same thing. Wellbeing refers to a more holistic whole-of-life experience, whereas wellness refers just to physical health.
More and more people are understanding the importance of these 2 components and their impact on our lives. At the same time, more and more people have been replacing their wild holidays for a more W&W (wellness & wellbeing) approach when they travel.
If I look at some of my last trips, I noticed I have been replacing fancy hotels for monasteries, to nights outs partying in clubs for silent and meditation retreats. Is just something that makes sense to me: investing in my health, both mental and physical.
This last trip to Japan, I made sure I organized the entire trip as an adventure to work on feeling better in both body and mind.
Nara is to me the most perfect prefecture if you are looking to relax, focus on your W&W, explore traditions, experiences, and history but also want to live an adventure and collect the most wonderful memories.
This trip to Nara, my primary goal was to be a wellness-minded traveler motivated and whose primary trip purpose was to improve my well-being and seeking to maintain wellness and engage in experiences that will transport me to a W&W vacation, and that is what I managed to achieve.
So I will be sharing my 10 top experiences, to achieve Wellbeing and Wellness while in Nara.
As they are pretty lengthy and I don’t want you to read all in one go, I will be dividing this post in 2.
So check my first 5 top experiences in Nara to WW:
- Onsens / Hot Springs: To do a SPA is something pretty banal these days and wherever you are in the World, you will always have a SPA close by, which is great. But Japan has something very special, the natural Hot springs, also called Onsens. In Japan, they take their onsens very seriously and they have some of the best hot springs in the world. Japanese people have loved and used onsen since ancient times for the comfort they bring to mind & body, the beauty benefits and anti-aging effects offered by hot springs. Luckily, Nara, has some of those most famous onsens in Japan. My favorite was Fujiya Kawayu onsen which is a natural hot springs/river with an amazing view and spectacular waters – funnily enough, isn’t in Nara but at a prefecture next to it, Wakayama. And recommend staying at the Fujiya Kawayu ryokan hotel (a very retro Japanese style hotel) just in front of it with its amazing private onsens too because nothing screams wellbeing more than a hot bath.
- Hiking: “Camino de Santiago” – I am pretty sure most of you have heard about the famous pilgrim walk that has been labeled World Heritage, but did you know there are several famous spiritual hikes all around the World? There’s an equally famous walk in Japan, that is actually considered the “sister” walk of Camino (both of them are titled the “dual pilgrim”) called Kumano Kodo. The Camino trail is an important Christian pilgrimage route, while the Kumano Kodo is a significant part of Shegendo which is mixture of mountain worship, Shinto and Buddhism. Like the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims have been following the journey to Kumano for over 1000 years and I decided that I wanted to be part of the journey, after all, nothing screams wellbeing like a long hike through the forests. I did a part of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage (sadly couldn’t do the entire walk as it takes weeks and even months some of the paths lol)! The walk itself was an integral part of the pilgrimage process as they undertook rigorous religious rites of worship and purification. Walking the ancient Kumano Kodo is a fantastic way to experience the unique cultural landscape of Kumano’s spiritual countryside. Also,Kumano Kodo lies astride in Nara, Wakayama, Mie and Osaka, but mainly Wakayama which i did most of the trekking. As I love getting lost within nature, this was so good for my wellbeing! As many associate Japan with technology and big modern cities… this is another reason why I associate it with wellness.
- Interaction with Nature & Animals: Being connected with Mother Nature it’s key for me. Independent if in the mountains or at the beach, I am so grateful for all the beautiful and majestic wonders Nature provides us. From being a sunset lover to just seat in the quiet of a park appreciating cherry blossom, this trip was wonderful when it came to relaxing in front of stunning landscapes and playing with animals. After all, a country nicknamed after “The Rising Sun” does offer excellent sunrises and sunsets and drinking a matcha tea while appreciating this daily miracle can make even the most negative person smile and feel grateful. It is spectacular. As for Sakura, that was one of the main reasons why I traveled to Japan now as I was dying to experience the famous cherry blossom. Sadly I didn’t see it at its height but saw it enough to completely fall in love and to recharge my wellbeing. From lakes and beautiful mountains to get lost in forests, all were included. But of course, one of the highlights has to be reuniting with all the deer aka Bambies that live free at Nara park. It is such an amazing experience to see how they interact with people and how they live in harmony like they are part of the town. They are such cuties and wish more cities would have parks with such a big number of wild animals running free.
- Spiritual Chase: I am not religious but I am definitely spiritual. In a country where there’s so many Gods (apparently over 1000s), spirits and religious diversity and acceptance, it’s super interesting to see and learn more about Shintoism, Buddhism, Taoism and all the other spiritual paths Japanese choose. Had the opportunity to visit several Shrines and Temples while during this last trip and all of them were pretty spectacular and I’ve learned so much about the culture but also about the human mind and faith. There were some spectacular moments while visiting this beautiful spiritual places, such getting private tours with the head priests to even being lucky enough to have formal ceremonies and watch some pretty awesome and exclusive celebrations – like seeing the oldest Buddha statue at the Hoko-ji temple in Asuka, Nara. Also, Kumano Kodo hike, as the focus of the Kumano pilgrimage, to worship at the three Grand Shrines of Kumano. As a set they are referred to as the Kumano Sanzan: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha and I was blessed enough to check them all. Even got a special passport to stamp all the visits which seem like a big deal. Well, it was, for me at least and for my wellbeing.
- Meditation: has become an important part of my life in the past 6 years. Studies have shown that meditation promotes mindfulness and wellbeing whose benefits are so transformative that can literally change your life. It has been taking me years to perfect the art of meditating and I can honestly say that I am still far to be able to meditate as I would wish, even after intense courses and years of practice. But if you want to improve your meditation skills, then I must recommend you to take a trip to Japan and its zen culture. One of the highlights of my trip was definitely my daily meditation in the proper rooms and spaces that my accommodation offered. And to be able to have a private session with one of the high priests from Zazen meditation at Shorenji Temple is definitely a moment I will collect and cherish through the years to come as it was that special.
Keep an eye open to the next post which will be the second part with the rest of the experiences that I recommend to achieve wellness and wellbeing while in Nara, Japan.