Japanese “forest medicine” is the science of using nature to heal yourself


In 1982, the Japanese government introduced the concept of shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing,” urging citizens to make use of the country’s 3,000 wooded miles for therapy. Tomohide Akiyama, then chief of the forestry ministry, understood intuitively that the woods do people good, while distance from nature makes us sick.

While Japan was championing forest bathing, an American scientist was formulating a thesis that explains why nature moves all people, wherever they are from. According to Biophilia, the 1984 book by evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson, people have a biological urge to commune with the primordial mother, Earth, which nurtures us. He believed that humans have evolved to love all forms of life and the processes that reflect our existence, which are everywhere visible in nature. Wilson called that attachment biophilia, from the Greek bios, meaning life, and philos, meaning loving.

Our urge to merge with nature is impossible to measure biologically, Wilson said. Yet he believed that “our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hopes rise on its currents.”