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To Mount Daisen, With Love: Forest-bathing and healing with Nature

To Mount Daisen, With Love: Forest-bathing and healing with Nature

In July 2019, I travelled to Yonago City (米子市) in Tottori Prefecture (鳥取県) using the Seishun-18 kippu, determined to climb Mount Daisen (大山), the highest and holiest peak in the Chugoku Region (中国地方). 

 

Standing at 1,729m, she is beautiful throughout the seasons. Many hikers attempt the various trails around Mount Daisen while admiring the surrounding landscapes. I started hiking from the Natsuyama Trailhead since it is one of the popular routes, known for its moderate difficulty level, covering a distance of approximately 5-6 km one way. 

 

The 4-hour trail took me through lush forests, mountain streams, and occasional steep sections before reaching the summit of Misen Peak.

 

A forest of beech trees (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

I desired a change in scenery upon descent, so I opted for another route down via the Daisenji Temple Trail. Besides, Daisenji Temple (大山寺) is a prominent cultural site for mountain worship and I certainly didn’t want to give it a miss! 

 

I just did not expect to be caught in a downpour in the woods.

 

Soaked and exhausted from the hike, I was making my way down when it finally dawned on me. What exactly is drawing me to go on a constant pursuit of nature trails in Japan? They are physically demanding, energy consuming, and a true test of mental endurance and perseverance.

 

Nature’s calling and I must go

Milestones and confessions of a hiker. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

The Natsuyama trailhead led me straight into the forest. As I ascended the stone steps, I looked up at the canopy primarily covered by beech trees. 

 

Venturing deeper, I spotted these lovely balls of hydrangeas in full bloom. Butterflies fluttered from flower to flower, dancing on the petals within their reach. 

 

Colours of summer. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

The clouds hovered above, shrouding the forest in a blanket of mist, resulting in a theatrical performance between light and shadow in Nature. 

 

The sun peeked through the canopy, playing hide-and-seek, and then the clouds eclipsed its rays almost seconds later, threatening to pour.

All these happened in fleeting moments. 

 

“The weather conditions are extremely unpredictable up in the mountains,” my guesthouse host, Hiroko-san’s voice rang in my ears.

 

Guesthouse Juan: A hiker’s retreat 

An avid hiker who loves the mountains, Hiroko-san wanted her guesthouse to be a cozy hideout for those who share the same interests. 

 

I stayed at Guesthouse Juan for 2 nights. From Guesthouse Juan, Natsuyama Trailhead and Daisenji Temple were 9 and 11 minutes away on foot respectively. 

 

I was there during the low season in July, so there weren’t many hikers. Because of that, I had the luxury of time to chat with Hiroko-san about her experiences living abroad and learning a new language.

 

It amazed me how committed she was to studying English in New Zealand several years ago in order to speak it well. She then travelled to Canada and India before settling back in Japan.

 

I still remember that we talked about some unusual grammatical structures in English, and it was enjoyable listening to her perspectives about language learning and everything in between. 

 

I really appreciated those conversations we shared, albeit punctuated with my broken Japanese (well, I needed more speaking practice) as she navigated smoothly in English. 

 

Shinto: The way of the Gods

Taking a pause at one of the shrines on Mount Daisen. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

After passing by a couple of shrines along our trail, I was curious to know why it is commonplace for shrines and temples to be located up in the mountains.

 

“It is believed that gods (神 kami) reside in the mountains,” she said. Shinto is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people. It remains Japan's major religion alongside Buddhism.

 

Shinto gods are called kami. They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kami

 

Rinsing one’s soul for longevity. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

The beech forest in Mount Daisen is one of the largest in Western Japan. Mount Daisen has been worshipped as a god since long ago, thus flourishing as a holy ground. The beech forest, known for its potential to retain a huge volume of water, often referred to as the "Green Dam", sustains a variety of wildlife and provides a fresh supply of clean water.

 

Guiding me through the woods. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

Our conversation made me think about the essence of Shintoism in their daily lives, the reasons why people visit shrines routinely, and have a deeper understanding of the significance of pilgrimage routes done by people choosing to embark on religious voyages. 

 

Like a daily philosophy that people carry with them, Shintoism occupies an important place in Japanese culture.

 

Forest bathing and healing

Bathing in the woods. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

I came to learn about “forest bathing” (森林浴 shinrin yoku) as a concept years ago. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea at first because it literally meant being enveloped in Nature’s touch and subject to the natural elements. 

 

I wondered to myself then, how is it possible for one’s hearts and minds to be healed just by being out in Nature?

 

But with every hiking trip added to my repertoire, I began to witness and experience Nature’s ability in lifting our spirits. Being deep in the forest allows one to really listen to the therapeutic sounds that echo in our ears, bringing some sort of respite and calmness in our hearts. 

 

Misen Peak. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

And I particularly love it when we greet fellow hikers who are on the same journey although going at our own comfortable paces. Besides, these solitary moments of being present with our thoughts are powerful in helping us heal. 

 

It began pouring in the midst of my descent. There were no huts to seek shelter at, so the only way was to keep going forward. 

 

As the rain fell, bouncing off the leaves and creating streams of water that rushed down, sounds echoed throughout the dense forest like they were produced from a bamboo flute. 

 

Like an orchestra, there were different pitches and tones created by the density of the forest from canopy to forest floor.

 

The loveliest boardwalk. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

By then, I was thoroughly soaked—but also refreshed by the bath that the forest provided. I have never experienced hiking in the rain but as luck would have it, this was one of those opportune moments that led me to discover the beauty of nature—in the rawest form. 

 

Header image credit: Qiu Ting

 

Guesthouse Juan (大山ゲストハウス/寿庵)
Address: 36-5 Daisen, Saihaku-gun, Tottori 689-3318
Nearest station: JR Yonago Station (米子駅)
Access: From JR Yonago Station, take the bus at the No.4 Bus Terminal, and alight at Daisen Temple Bus Stop (Daisen National Park Center). The ride takes approximately 50 minutes.
TEL: +81-859-52-2867 (phone reservation)

 

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