Japanese Wellness – 9 rituals and practices

Japanese Wellness, also known as J-Wellness is becoming a huge trend amongst health and wellness enthusiasts and experts. However, their wellness rituals and practices are rooted in ancient wisdom and have withstood the test of time.

The Japanese people have the highest life expectancy in the world – 87 years for women and 81 years for men. Their average lifespan keeps increasing – in 2019 there were over 2.3 million Japanese aged 90 and over 71000 centenarians.

Have the Japanese discovered the fountain of youth?

In this article we will explore their unique health and wellness practices and dive into their enticing rituals.  

Japanese wellness rituals and practices

The Japanese people have a number of daily rituals and practices that stem from centuries of ancient wisdom. They are known for eating a low-calorie diet, rich in carbohydrates, fresh seafood, tofu, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Restraint is a big part of their lifestyle but they do enjoy an occasional snack or a cup of sake, an alcoholic rice beverage. Rather than overindulging or being too strict, they strive to strike a balance in pretty much everything they do. Read on to learn about their rituals that are probably the secret to their longevity, harmonious lives and mind-body-soul synergy.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1

Chado Tea ceremony

Japanese tea ceremony known as sadō/chadō (茶道) “The Way of Tea” is a ceremonial preparation and consumption of green tea or its powdered form known as matcha.

Influenced by Zen Budhism, this ceremony is an important part of Japanese culture.

The preparation involves a meditative, calm and mindful attitude, which requires full presence and a respectful heart.

The consumption is done with grace and gratitude.

The sacred ritual of drinking tea is done without distractions, loud chatter or phones.

Chado tea ceremony steps

A full, formal tea ceremony usually lasts for more than an hour and includes a kaiseki course meal, thick tea and thin tea at the end. However, most tea ceremonies today are much shorter events that only involve drinking thin tea.

Among the different schools of tea ceremony, the exact hand movements vary slightly. A basic understanding of the items below will help make the event more dignified, even if regular tourists don’t know all the rules in detail.

An invitation

It is customary for the host to send out formal invitations to guests, to choose the tea bowl and utensils for the ceremony, to order the wagashi sweets, and to prepare the decor a few weeks before the tea ceremony.

Invitation for chado tea ceremony

What to wear

Fashion and fragrance that distract from the experience of drinking tea shouldn’t be worn. Keep your clothes modest, remove jewelry that may damage your tea equipment, and avoid perfumes that are too strong.

The preparation process

A fresh seasonal flower arrangement is displayed on the day of the tea ceremony, and the tools are laid out properly. 

In the meantime, guests also purify themselves spiritually by washing their hands outside the tea ceremony room. 

Welcoming the guests

In order to enter the tea ceremony room, guests must climb through a very small door opened by the host. Entering the room with a bow symbolizes humility. Tea ceremony experience is considered when seating guests. Those who have participated in the ceremony for a longer period of time should be served first. In addition to welcoming guests with sweets, the host offers them one by one.

The garden

Many modern venues do not have gardens, unlike the traditional tea ceremony venue. To cultivate a calm spirit, the garden is intentionally kept simple and tranquil. Colorful flowers and flowers with strong scents should be avoided. An uneven path leads to the teahouse, paved with stones of various shapes and sizes. The entrance to the tearoom has a stone basin where visitors wash their hands before entering. A stone lantern is placed near the basin.

Tools need to be cleaned

A Japanese tea ceremony set will be brought in once guests have settled in. It will be the host’s responsibility to ritually cleanse the tea bowl and whisk, as well as each tool.

Drinking tea and enjoying the bowl

It is common to offer Japanese sweets before tea and to eat them before drinking tea. The tea bowl should be positioned facing the front of you, on top of the tatami mat. You should place it on your left palm after picking it up with your right hand. Rotate it 90 degrees clockwise with your right hand so that its front no longer faces you. Put the tea back on the tatami after drinking several sips. After receiving your tea and finishing it, bow and express gratitude.

At the end of the ceremony, the tea bowl can be inspected and appreciated by lifting it. In order to turn the bowl to face your host, turn the bowl so that the front now faces you. Once the host has washed the tea utensils and returned the equipment to where it was before the tea ceremony began, guests may ask for another round of tea. If not, the tea ceremony is over.

Departure of guests

Guests depart the tea house after the tea ceremony is over. Each guest is bowed to by the host as they depart. Depending on the type of meal served and the season, a typical ceremony can last up to four hours.

Despite its complexity and evolution, Japanese Tea Ceremonies involve complex movements, priceless antiques, and a deep spirituality. The best way to host a Japanese Tea Ceremony at home is with a few tools and a close group of family and friends.

CHAPTER 2

Onsen

Onsen is the Japanese name for hot spring rituals.

Japan has a number of active volcanoes and a long history of thermal bathing.

The plentiful springs contain distinctive minerals or chemicals including sulphur, sodium chloride, hydrogen carbonate and iron. Soaking in natural mineral springs has many health benefits. It is also done in a respectful and mindful manner.

Washing before entering the onsen is essential, swimsuits are not allowed (except in large water parks), towels are only used to cover your body when walking between the baths and washing area and noise is prohibited.

These bath rituals are an important part of Japanese wellness.

Wellness retreats are designed to nourish the body and mind by connecting with nature in a Japanese way. There are multiple boutique retreats in Hong Kong and Japan sanctuaries where you can relax and rejuvenate your wellbeing away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The Japanese have been using onsens for thousands of years before records were kept. The country’s home islands are home to thousands of them. Onsens can be free-standing or attached to hotels and ryokans. It is not uncommon for pools to be divided by gender, either through partitions or separate bathing areas.

Japanese Hot Springs: Basic Rules

Taking a shower before entering an onsen

You are required to wash your body in an onsen shower area – inside or outside the bathing area. A person who enters an onsen with soap, dirt, or sweat on their body will be dismissed from the spring. Consider this moment a chance to scrub yourself down thoroughly and prepare for a full-body skin treatment. The natural spring is a great place to get your skin in shape as it’s packed with natural compounds and minerals.

It is appreciated to be modest

It is expected that modesty will accompany nudity. As you move from the changing room to the shower to the onsen and back, use your small towel to cover your body. There will be a lot of Japanese men and women doing the same thing.

The bathtub does not allow alcoholic drinks.

There is usually a minimum temperature of 40 degrees (40°C) in Onsens.

Therefore, heavily drunk people should not soak in the bathtub or take a bath.

After drinking too much, avoid taking the bath in order to enjoy Onsen safely.

Take a dip and relax afterwards

After soaking in the hot springs, most onsen offer relaxation areas. There are many onsen facilities to take advantage of, including hot sand rooms, small bars, and lounge areas with massaging chairs and glasses of Kirin or sake. 

CHAPTER 3

Jiriki

Jiriki, or one’s own strength, is a Japanese Buddhist term for self-power.

It is the ability to achieve liberation through acknowledging and embracing your own truth.

A great example of jiriki is the practice of meditation where one observes the body by following the breath and practicing non-attachment to whatever arises.

The practice of self-power teaches that the only one standing in your way is yourself.

Meditation is used as a means of connecting to our own power, truth and alignment, without the external influence or testimony of other people.

Jiriki was founded by Yu Yagami in 1993 as a form of movement therapy to prevent and cure chronic disorder and pain. Chi is released and re established within the body. The Japanese believe that Chi is a path to achieve full potential, referring to the Yin and Yang, the positive and negative energies that flow through every creation. In a harmonized state, physical and mental health will be enhanced. 

What is the best way to practice Jiriki?

Practicing Jiriki means working for yourself, not expecting the answers in books or from gurus. Observing the body and finding truth, alignment and understanding are possible through a dedicated meditation practice.

The practice of Jiriki involves methods such as yoga, massage, seated meditation, and chiropractic treatment and is believed to relieve chronic pain, release toxins, and balance the Qi.

We hope you have found some comfort in these Japanese welness methods of wellbeing, and that these ideas can be incorporated into your daily life. The purpose of these methods isn’t to help you achieve new goals, but to help you to change your mindset towards being more calm and mindful, thus allowing you to appreciate the present moment. Your life will be greatly impacted by these small moments and changes.

You will experience positive changes within yourself

Your body, mind and soul will change after practicing Jiriki Seitai for a while. To highlight the power of self-healing bodywork, we listed the most important ones.

Confidence: Because of their parents’ early teaching, children can grow up feeling confident with their own healing abilities.

Leading a healthier lifestyle: You will no longer become distressed if the same symptoms reappear as your self-healing bodywork experience grows. Because you don’t want to experience the same pain again, you will be careful about your lifestyle.

Trust: You are able to trust your body and you become less anxious about your symptoms.

Maintaining good health: By using your muscles and internal organs (digestive system) properly, you can stay healthy.

Breaking personal records: Understanding the source of an injury can help athletes achieve new personal records and improve their performance.

Aging with grace: Understanding your body will decrease your fear of aging, which will allow you to age gracefully.

CHAPTER 4

Kaizen

Kaizen literally translates to improvement and is a concept used in business activities, healthcare and psychotherapy.

First practiced after WWII, kaizen was used as a means to eliminate redundancies and waste. Nowadays this small-step work improvement can be implemented in any situation.

Small but regular actions of improvement lead to great positive change.

In conclusion, Kaizen is an excellent example of how challenging yourself every day to make small changes can lead to establishing healthier habits.

How did Kaizen become so revolutionary?

Over time, consistency will lead to success as you strive constantly to improve yourself. Kaizen was so popular in the ’80s that companies hired Japanese “kaizen consultants” to improve efficiency in their factories, and now Toyota’s business success depends on it, as well as my company applying the same ‘continuous improvement’ method.

CHAPTER 5

Shinrin-yoku

Shinrin-yoku is the ritual of forest bathing. It involves a high level of presence and mindfulness therefore is considered a form of nature therapy with numerous health benefits.

Spending time in forests can improve your mood, raise your focus levels and be especially beneficial to the immune and cardiovascular systems.

Shinrin-yoku is usually practiced alone and obviously without distractions.

Full presence is achieved through witnessing the constant ebb and flow of life for instance by noticing different textures, colors and smells.

It is well known that being in nature makes us feel good. Centuries have passed since we discovered it. Forest sounds, scents, sunlight playing through leaves, fresh, clean air – these are all comforting. By relaxing, we can think more clearly and feel less stressed. The simple act of being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy, vitality, and give us a sense of refreshment and rejuvenation.

The Japanese word shinrin means “forest,” while yoku means “bath.” Shinrin-yoku is the act of immersing ourselves in a forest atmosphere.

Forest bathing – what is it?

Shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing” or “absorbing the forest atmosphere,” was created by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture in 1982. People are encouraged to spend time in nature – no bathing involved.

As well as being low impact, you don’t need to do intense trail running or hiking to benefit from it. Immersing yourself in the sounds and sights of nature is the goal of forest bathing.

What can Shinrin-yoku do for your health?

Cities around the world are dotted with parks, trees, and pockets of nature. Spending time in an urban park can have a positive impact on a person’s sense of well-being, according to a study published in International Journal of Environmental Health Research.

Furthermore, forest bathing appears to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and harmful hormone levels, such as cortisol, which your body produces when you are stressed. Relaxation and calm can be achieved through this.

Studies have also shown that spending 10 to 20 minutes outdoors each day can improve well-being and happiness as well as reduce stress.

CHAPTER 6

Hara Hachi Bu

Hara Hachi Bu translates to “Eat until you are eight parts (out of ten) full”. It is probably one of the most important secrets to living a long and healthy life.

The concept is fairly simple, you eat until you are 80% full, meaning you stop eating while you still feel like you could eat more. This retraining of the stomach (and mind) is a great way to improve digestion and promote better overall health.

Choosing smaller bowls and plates can also trick the mind into thinking it is getting plenty of food.

Being mindful and eating slowly is also an important part of the ritual.

The meaning 

It is customary to sit down to eat food in Japan. It’s also more difficult to consume anything in front of you in less than 5 minutes when you’re using chopsticks. Your brain has time to process what you’re doing because it takes longer to eat and you’re eating in a calm-ish environment. Until your brain catches up with your belly, it takes half an hour for the “full” signal to be sent. When you allow your brain and body to recognize when they’ve had enough, you’ll be able to eat longer meals, eat slowly, and concentrate on what you’re doing.

This type of eating is ideal for Japanese food. Our advice is not to eat pizza with chopsticks or eat burgers for over 30 minutes. The key to this is to have multiple small plates, whether they are Japanese or tapas-style. You will eat less and not overindulge because it slows down the eating process.

Implementing Hara Hachi Bu

It is possible to put the secrets of hara hachi bu into practice for improved health or weight loss by making small changes in everyday eating habits. Changing eating patterns or environments, enjoying food, and eating only until 80 percent full are all things anyone can learn.  Take advantage of these easy tips to get started.

  • Eat more slowly: When you eat faster, you eat more. Your body knows when you’re no longer hungry when you slow down.
  • Focus on food: The TV and computer should be turned off.  Just eat if you’re going to eat. Slow down, consume less, and savor your food more.
  • Use small plates: Use tall, narrow glasses and smaller plates when eating. This way you’re likely to eat significantly less.

CHAPTER 7

Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-Sabi is the art of embracing imperfection and finding beauty in asymmetry, simplicity and impermanence. It stems from the ancient Buddhist concept of Three Marks of Existence which involve impermanence, suffering and emptiness.

The practice of Wabi-Sabi involves a mindful acceptance of imperfections in any form. It can be practiced in both easy and hard life circumstances.

Japanese wellness is about finding beauty in the simple, everyday things that we so often taken for granted.

Moreover, Wabi-Sabi is an amazing form of retraining your mind to be at peace with everything life has to offer.

The concepts of wabi and sabi can be viewed separately:

  • In Wabi, beauty is found in humble simplicity. Spiritual richness can be experienced when we open our hearts and detach from material vanity.
  • Sabi is fascinated by the passage of time, the way all things grow, age, and decay, and how it manifests itself beautifully in objects. We can find beauty beneath the surface of what we actually see, even in what appears broken at first glance.

Accepting what is, staying in the present moment, and appreciating the simple, transient stages of life create an overarching philosophical approach to life.

What Is the Origin of Wabi Sabi?

As it is still practiced in contemporary Japan, the tea ceremony was conceived by Zen monk Sen no Rikyu in the sixteenth century.

Rikyu went to Takeeno Joo, a respected tea master, to learn the codes of the ancestral ritual of tea ceremony, according to legend. It was his intention to test the abilities of his new apprentice, so he asked him to maintain the garden. In order to make it perfect, Rikyu cleaned it from top to bottom and raked it a lot. A cherry tree was shaken by his master before he presented his work to him, and sakura flowers fell from it. As a result of this imperfection, the concept of wabi sabi was born.

CHAPTER 8

Shukanka

Shukanka is the practice of developing new, healthy habits. It is done by practicing simple tasks, similar to Kaizen, over and over again until a new habit is formed.

Shukanka is a lifelong practice of forming new habits through patience and balance. It is also done in a mindful and disciplined manner, taking small steps each and every day.

These new habits therefore serve the purpose of improving both your life and health. 

In what ways can Shukanka be practiced?

Shukanka, if practiced properly, becomes a life-long practice that helps you balance your workload, check in with your feelings, and stay on track with your values and goals. Keep a daily or weekly list of things you want to accomplish, and hold yourself accountable to completing them. Though you may add these items to your list every week, the joy lies in completing them while also realizing that nothing is really finished.

CHAPTER 9

Yuima-ru

Yuima-ru translates to your circle or the circle of the people. It is an ancient tradition originating from the island of Okinawa.

The concept refers to having a strong circle of positive people around you. It is also centred around the idea of unity, compassion and sincerity for other people, no matter their background or cultural, racial and societal differences.

What is the best way to practice Yuima-Ru?

Yuima-Ru can be practiced in various ways, but as with most Japanese wellness methods, it begins with a mental shift. Instead of focusing on the differences between us, focus on our connections and similarities. First and foremost, we are all human, so acting from a place of compassion and sincerity is much more likely than acting from a place of fear or judgment when you acknowledge this deep within yourself.

Secondly, ensure that your circle of friends is filled with love and good energy. Your closest friends and family will support you and hold you in positive and motivating ways.

CHAPTER 10

Ikigai

Ikigai is the Japanese wellness concept of having a life purpose and direction.

The practice of Ikigai can be used for both the betterment of society and the betterment of self.

For the older generation ikigai is usually connected to company and family, while the younger generations generally find it through “dreams of what they might become in the future” according to anthropologist Chikako Ozawa-de Silva.

One way to discover your ikigai is for instance through writing down your values, things you like to do and things you’re good at.

Adapt your ikigai in a way that it’s timeless, meaning you will still have it no matter whether you’re a working professional, a parent or retired.

Why is ikigai gaining popularity and where does it come from?

Between 794 and 1185, the Heian period is when ikigai originated in Japan.

In the south of the Japanese mainland lies the island of Okinawa. Ikigai plays a major role in Okinawan culture and has the highest age distribution in the world. 

It’s not just the elderly who know this Japanese wellness secret. Japanese and foreign young people interested in meaningful work are becoming more interested in it.

Ikigai consists of four components

Your list for finding your ikigai should include four items. In order to continue your search, you will need to determine what these four things are. 

Describe your strengths

Knowing what you are good at, or what you would like to be good at, can also help you find your ikigai. Is there something you are naturally talented at? Can you effortlessly accomplish something or are you considered an expert in it? What are you willing to learn, what have you strived to learn or what have you worked hard for? 

Videography, public speaking, fashion design, marketing, counseling, or computer programming are all skills that you have spent years perfecting. In order to find your ikigai, you need to do something you love and are good at.

The things you love

It should be something you enjoy doing as your ikigai. You can do anything that makes you feel good; something that makes you want to do it all the time. It’s something that makes your dopamine levels rise, and you would gladly share it with others whenever the opportunity arises. Writing, creating videos, taking photos, painting, dancing, baking cakes, and even collecting stamps can be considered hobbies.

Your options for getting paid or rewarded

Knowing what you can get financially rewarded for can also help you find your ikigai. Our daily needs and expenses require us to earn money in order to survive. As a result, your ikigai should ideally be something you can get paid for. Simply loving what you do or being good at it isn’t enough. Additionally, it is important that you are properly compensated for it and that it helps you put food on the table.

Needs of the world

Find your ikigai by finding something the world, or a community, needs. Having the knowledge that our work contributes to a better world makes us feel good. We feel important in our community when we play a part in it. Most people today don’t always recognize the value of what they do, which is why they aren’t happy with what they do. You can find your ikigai if you know your work can change the lives of others.

Takeaway

The Japanese people are often associated with their artful culture, otherworldly discipline, admirable sense of integrity and ethereal spiritual wealth.

Their rich culture and spiritual life are rooted in ancient as well as timeless wisdom.

By practising these Japanese wellness rituals on a daily basis, we have the amazing opportunity to not only dive into their rich culture but improve our own lives along the way too.

Do you practice any of these concepts and rituals?

Have you ever visited Japan?

Or maybe it’s on your bucket list?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.

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