While the Japanese are known for sushi, sake and forward-thinking tech, they are also renowned for having insightful wellness methods that have been passed down from generation to generation. These wellbeing practices have stemmed from centuries of ancient wisdom and many are ingrained in Japanese society to this day. People of all ages practice these wellness art forms in Japan, so it’s no wonder the country has a happily aging population and that the masses are able to deal with long working hours with more balance and aplomb than we are able to in the West.
It also helps that Japan has a huge collection of sayings and proverbs that are centred around growth and wellbeing! Whether you find meaning in the proverb:しっかりとした目標、夢見つけて負けずに頑張ろ。- Shikkari to shita mejirushi, yume mitsukete makezuni ganbarou – I’ll do my best to find my dreams and goals, or the simple phrase 前向きにね。 – Mae muki ni ne – Stay positive speaks to you, there’s sure to be a Japanese saying that helps you on your path towards wellness.
Here we have collated our favourite Japanese art forms that can be practiced no matter where you are in the world, and that help leads to a life of calm, harmony and wellbeing.
Ikigai (Finding your life’s value)
The Japanese concept of Ikigai is linked to a person’s purpose and values, and while it cannot be directly translated into English it refers to ‘the reason you get up in the morning’. For many people this reason is work, but the concept of Ikigai helps people to find value in the little things that combine to allow you to live a happy and fulfilled life.
Ikigai is about finding a purpose outside of yourself, be that passing on wisdom to younger generations or being part of a team. It is important to be able to adapt your actions to your Ikigai, to ensure your life still has purpose even as you change from being a young professional to a parent to being retired.
How to practice the concept of Ikigai?
The best way to start practicing the concept of Ikigai is to get a pen and paper and write down your values, things you like to do and things you are good at. Then look at the lists to see what overlaps. This cross-section is your Ikigai!
You then need to start living your Ikigai by putting your values and skills into action. This may be in the workplace, at home with your family or out in the community. The key is keeping your values at the forefront of your mind when you undertake tasks and challenges. By doing this you are ensuring that you are living in line with your Ikigai and that your life’s purpose will be true to you.
Hara Hachi Bu (80% fullness)
Another practice that the Japanese feel is key to their longevity is Hara Hachi Bu, or the practice of eating until you are 80% full. This concept comes from ancient Japanese wisdom that suggests eating until you are only 80% full allows your body the space it needs to digest more efficiently and in turn lowers your risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other age-related diseases. This concept is followed by many Japanese people all over the country, in particular those who live in Okinawa, and may be one of the wellness traditions that help these islanders live so long!
How to practice the concept of Hara Hachi Bu?
Overeating can be a habit that is difficult to break, most likely because we often don’t even realise we’re doing it! Therefore, mindful eating is key to changing our lifestyle and practicing Hara Hachi Bu. When you first start out, choose smaller bowls and plates on which to serve your meals (so your mind doesn’t think you are missing out) and take the time to eat slowly and mindfully. It is likely to take at least 15-20 meals for your body’s muscle memory to adjust to eating in the Hara Hachi Bu style, so perseverance here is essential.
Continue to eat regularly throughout the day, with varied dishes of proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables but try to stop before you can physically feel your stomach feeling stretched or full.
Kaizen (Small but important improvements)
Kaizen is all about continuous improvement, taking small actions towards greater positive change. Instead of focusing on large goals that may seem unobtainable, the concept of Kaizen helps us see where we can change our daily habits to continually improve the quality and processes of our actions. This makes change much more achievable as we remove the mental barrier that so often stops us from implementing change in the first place.
How to practice the concept of Kaizen?
As Kaizen is about taking small steps you only need to challenge yourself to start tiny changes in order to be practicing this Japanese method of wellness. If you want to increase your fitness levels, start by putting on your trainers once a day. If you want to eat more healthily, begin your routine by adding in one fruit snack or one stick of celery each day.
While these changes may seem so small that you don’t believe they’ll ever make a difference, the idea is that it’s the starting that’s the hardest part. Through repetition these simple practices become easier, and once you have accomplished them, you’ll feel more confident in adding to your challenges which will, in turn, lead to greater change.
Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing)
The Japanese art of forest bathing, aka Shinrin-yoku, is essentially practicing mindfulness in nature. This is a form of nature therapy that supports health and wellness through the use of the natural environments. Spending time in forests or other green spaces has been proven to improve your mood, boost your concentration levels and even have a positive effect on your cardiovascular and immune systems. Forest bathers connect to nature as their healer, and through mindfulness and having a reciprocal relationship with the natural world, the practioner is likely to see an improvement of their personal wellbeing.
How to practice the concept of Shinrin-yoku?
While spending time in nature in general is good for you, Shinrin-yoku takes it to the next level by asking you to practice mindfulness while out in the forest. Instead of going for a walk or a run, or taking your kids out to play in the forest, try to take a trip out in nature for the sole purpose of being there.
Take time sitting or standing in one place in the forest, listening, looking and sensing everything around you. You don’t have to attach meaning or connotations to what you hear or feel, but simply notice it and let it pass. Notice textures, colours and smells of the forest and the constant ebb and flow of life all around. This mindful practice is Shinrin-yoku.
Wabi-Sabi (Embracing imperfection)
Wabi-Sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and the transience of all things. This ancient concept understands that there is no such thing as perfection and therefore striving for it is futile. Instead, authenticity is key.
The joy of this concept is that it can be applied to absolutely everything, reminding us that not only is there beauty in all things, but also that life is cyclical and that in the end everything will return to dust. Instead of being morbid, this is a beautiful practice which makes space for gratitude and acceptance.
How to practice the concept of Wabi-Sabi?
Practicing Wabi-Sabi simply takes a change of mindset, using mindfulness to notice simple things around you that are full of beauty. We have been conditioned to believe that ‘perfect’ is beautiful, with ripe, rosy apples in our fruit bowls and air-brushed bodies in our magazines, but Wabi-Sabi helps us to appreciate the blemishes as wonderful too!
Try to combine the practices of Kaizen and Wabi-Sabi by challenging yourself to find the beauty in one thing each day.
Yuima-ru (Your circle)
Yuima-ru, also referred to as ‘the circle of the people’, is another tradition that stems from the happy island of Okinawa. The concept centres around the idea of showing unity, compassion and sincerity towards people, no matter what racial, cultural or societal differences there may be between you.
In addition, the practice also refers to having a strong circle of positive influence to help support you through any personal difficulties. Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, is often quoted as saying ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with’ and the practice of Yuima-Ru suggests that you choose a circle of people who offer mutual help and support.
How to practice the concept of Yuima-Ru?
There are various ways to practice Yuima-Ru, but as with most of these Japanese wellness methods they start with a shift in your mindset. Begin by detaching yourself from the idea that each of us is ‘different’ and instead focus on the connections and similarities between us. When you understand deep within your being that first and foremost, we are all human, you are much more likely to be able to act from a place of compassion and sincerity than from a place of fear or judgement.
Secondly, you’ll want to look at your circle of friends and ensure that you are surrounding yourself with people who provide you with love and energy. This allows you to be positive and motivated as well as feeling held and supported by those closest to you.
Onsen (Japanese hot spring rituals)
For centuries Japanese people have been using the geothermal water of onsens to help them relax and recover from physical ailments, and more recently it seems clear that this pastime also helps reduce your chances of having health issues in the first place. Bathing in the hot water of an onsen not only allows you to cleanse yourself of stress and strains, but also gives you space for self-contemplation, or, if you’re enjoying a communal onsen, the connect with others through mindful conversation. When people are sitting together in an onsen, stripped bare of material wealth and status, everyone is equal which allows for balanced and honest connection.
How to practice the concept of Onsen rituals?
The most authentic way to enjoy an onsen is to find a bath in a Japanese town or village. These may be public or private, separated by gender or mixed, but all will offer the healing benefits of hot mineral water and physical and metaphorical cleansing.
Try not to feel embarrassed by the nudity aspect of an onsen – it’s all part of the practice and once you can get past feeling shy, you’ll hopefully find self-love and equanimity in the process!
Shukanka (Forming new habits)
Similarly to Kaizen, Shukanka is the practice of developing positive habits until they become second nature. This is done by practicing simple tasks over and over again, using will-power and self-discipline to help you break through the desire to stop. Shukanka is not about reaching an end goal, but instead is about adding processes to your life that will make you happier in the long run. While it may feel tedious or time-consuming to put in the leg-work at the beginning, if these are habits that will make your life easier or calmer long-term then they will be more than worth it!
How to practice the concept of Shukanka?
Shukanka, if done right, will become a life-long practice that helps you to balance your workload, check in with how you are feeling and keep doing things that are in line with your goals and values. Create lists of things that you want to accomplish on a daily or weekly basis, and hold yourself accountable to completing them. While these may be things that you add to your list every week, the joy is in accomplishing them while at the same time realising that nothing is ever really finished.
The concept of Jiriki comes from Japanese Buddhism and refers to self-power. Jiriki, as opposed to Tariki (other power), helps us to see that the only thing standing in the way of true liberation is ourselves, and if we can tap into our own strength and truth, we can use our own efforts to reach nirvana. As such, Jiriki asks us not to rely on external powers or the truth or testimony of another, and instead use meditation to connect with our own power.
How to practice the concept of Jiriki?
In order to practice Jiriki, you need to be ready to work for yourself, not expecting to find the answers in a book or in the words of a guru. Through a dedicated personal meditation practice, you are able to observe the body, finding truth, alignment and understanding.
Jiriki can be practiced using yoga techniques, self-administered massage, seated meditation and chiropractic treatments and is believed to help cure chronic pain, release toxins, balance your Qi and improve your overall wellbeing.
Hopefully you feel as though some of these Japanese methods of wellness and wellbeing have spoken to you and that you will be able to implement these ideas into your daily life. Rather than being new goals you can accomplish, these methods are there to help change your mindset towards being calmer and more mindful, allowing you to appreciate the present moment and the little things in life. It is these small moments and changes that will have a large positive impact on your life.
Let us know which are your favourite practices in the comments below!