It isn’t a coincidence or surprise that humans always turn to forests when they need a peaceful atmosphere, stunning scenery and fresh air. I frequented forests and hiking trails throughout Japan’s state of emergency, and it turns out that forests have a tremendous impact on our mental health and overall well-being.
But if I could choose just one trail, it would be in Shiso, my all-time favorite city in Hyogo. Why would a solitude-loving introvert foreigner choose Shiso over other cities? The reason behind this baffling fact is simple. Shiso has something other cities in Hyogo Prefecture don’t have: therapy roads!
Trails surrounded by lush greenery, where you are healed mentally and physically by nature. While there are therapy roads spread all across Japan, these three in Shiso hold special meaning for me.
What is a therapy road?
Shinrinyoku (forest bathing) was always a part of Japanese culture and has become a relaxation and stress management activity in Japan. Blending forest bathing trips with a healthy lifestyle was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan.
And in 2004, INFOM, the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine, was born with the efforts of a research group concentrating on forest therapy. INFOM coined the term “therapy roads” in cities and towns across Japan to promote forest bathing trips. “Therapy Roads” are locations with forests evaluated by experts to be beneficial physically and mentally.
These natural havens have been widely praised from Hokkaido to Okinawa and can be found across Japan. There are three therapy roads in Shiso that I believe everyone who loves the outdoors should visit at least once.
Akasai Therapy Road
Akasai Therapy Road, north of Shiso City, is based within the Akasai Valley. The therapy road continues along the flow of the Akasai River, a scenic spot in Hyogo. It is popular as a hiking and camping spot among locals, and the red and yellow contrast of the large zelkova and maple trees on the mountain is spectacular in the fall.
The gentle flow of the Akasai River is the perfect soundtrack and the smell of the trees fills your heart with serenity and peace all year round. It took me about 45 minutes to walk this 1.6km smooth road. When I reached the end of the trail, I was disappointed only because it ended! Finding food was difficult there, so I brought food and plenty of drinks.
Higashiyama Therapy Road
Higashiyama Therapy Road is in Haga Town, north of Shiso City. Anyone can easily enjoy walking on the well-maintained mountain trails. You can also see the town of Haga surrounded by mountains through the trees while feeling the high altitude in the cool air. The abundance of trees and their fragrance create a magical environment and invite visitors to another world. There are also rock piles and smiley faces along the paths, probably created by other hikers.
I wondered where the enchanting smell came from and learned that it was from the coniferous forests that emit a lot of phytoncides—antibacterial and antifungal qualities that help plants fight disease. And some research suggests they help increase white blood cells in our body that fight tumor and virus-infected cells. No wonder why I felt so refreshed after the hike!
I could also enjoy a light meal at the Forest Station Haga facilities and even took a nap there.
Forest of Kunimi Therapy Road
The Kunimi Forest Therapy Road walks along the mountain’s ridgeline, centering on the summit of Mt. Kunimi. This is a course where you can enjoy the cityscape of Shiso spreading out below. Forest of Kunimi Therapy Road felt more challenging than the other therapy roads but just as rewarding. Kunimi is so lush and vibrant that its endless shades of green always leave me in awe.
Forest of Kunimi also has a mini monorail called the Forest Learning Trajectory that takes you to the summit, where you can take in the mountain scenery and enjoy the crystal clear water of the Ibo River. I ate lunch near the monorail at Sanroku station. On a clear day, they say you can see as far as Ieshima Island on the Seto Inland Sea. I was there on a cloudy day, but it sounds like a perfect excuse to go back there, right?
Remember to respect nature
Here are some quick warnings to remember and be aware of when visiting Shiso therapy roads.
If you travel to Shiso City by public transportation, keep in mind that there are no buses or trains that go to the therapy roads. You will need to walk or bike to your destination after getting off at the closest bus stop.
Although southern Hyogo isn’t snowy in the winter, Shiso City observes long snowy days. The roads can be dangerous during winter if you find yourself off the main roads. Don’t forget to put snow chains on your tires. The Shiso Forest Kingdom Tourism Association does not take any responsibility for the accidents and incidents caused by entering the therapy road without contacting us.
Bears and danger
Finally, remember to respect nature. You may be there for peace of mind and relaxation, but it is still dangerous if you wander off the trail into the depths of the forest. There are also Asiatic black bears in Hyogo Prefecture. You should be cautious at all times to avoid bear encounters.
Check-in with the Shiso Forest Kingdom Tourism Association and let them know where you’ll be. And keep in mind they won’t take responsibility for accidents caused on the therapy road without contacting them first.
The therapy roads in Shiso offer visitors the best of both worlds. I not only felt refreshed after a therapeutic walk but I also felt the scientifically proven physiological relaxation and stress relief. Sound too good to be true? There’s only one way to find out!
For more information about therapy roads and to find one nearest to you, visit the official website (in English and Japanese).
Does your city have a therapy road? What is your favorite place to relax and unwind in Japan? Let us know in the comments!