While the term “self-care” is having a bit of a moment in the UK and America right now, it’s existed in many forms in East Asia for centuries. And it’s not just face masks and hashtags on social media, Japanese self-care includes rituals, mindfulness and practising healthy habits. These are the best of Japan’s wellness traditions to try today.
Usually referred to as ‘ofuro’, bathing is a ritualistic activity in Japan. It’s about much more than washing off the day’s dirt – daily baths are considered a way to wash away fatigue and stress and an important part of the culture. Just look at the history of Onsen – the tradition of bathing in mineral-rich hot springs throughout the country that dates back centuries. It’s easy to mimic at home with bath minerals and taking some quiet time for yourself.
This term is making its way into the mainstream, and it means ‘a reason for being’. It’s a practice that helps find meaning and motivation in your life, which is perfect for anyone feeling a little lost right now. It looks at what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for, and finds a middle ground between all those things. Ikigai promotes being happy in what you do day-to-day and making mindful decisions about your life, so is self-care for the long-term.
We have all heard of Marie Kondo’s The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying by now and its wild success has shown how much we value clearer spaces. After all, clutter is linked to increased stress, so the calming effects of keeping a less-is-more space are worthwhile for self-care.
A lot of the minimalist designs in Japanese homes are inspired by Zen Buddhism, making use of only what you need and without introducing unnecessary clutter. The focus is on high-quality items that you love instead of lots and lots of stuff.
Accepting that things are imperfect and not permanent is a vital part of Japanese culture. While we are confronted with constant ideals of perfection through social media, film, TV, and magazines, the concept of wabi-sabi encourages us to go outside and see the beauty in nature as well as looking past those unachievable ideas of perfection, to embrace flaws and changes.
Taking joy in hobbies
There are many beautiful phrases and sayings in Japan that are akin to self-care, and a lot of them are around hobbies and using your spare time well. For example, ‘ikebana’ is the art of flower arranging that’s as much about the doing as it is the final product. It’s often done in silence, in a calm, meditative way, considering the colours and angles of the flowers and branches.
It goes hand in hand with the ancient tea ceremonies, or Chadō, which are focused on being calm and serene, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. They can be hours long and include several ‘courses’ of tea.
These ancient traditions are all about slowing down and taking joy in small things.
High quality skincare
Japanese skin care is already world-famous for its scientific approach and focus on efficacy. Instead of 10-step routines or gimmicky ingredients, brands are known for creating clinical products that really work, even if they usually come with a luxury price tag.
It’s easy to recreate this step in Japanese self-care though – it’s all about moisture and nourishment, and making sure to use SPF in the day to protect the skin. It’s not just the products either, it’s how you apply them. Facial massage is a big part of a Japanese beauty routine, helping with blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
Shojin Ryori: Healthy eating
One of the best forms of self-care is being mindful of what you put in your body. Shojin Ryori is a type of Buddhist cuisine that can be found all over East Asia and is entirely vegetarian. It includes lots of bright colours and different ways of cooking things like tofu, daikon radishes and tempura vegetables.
Different areas have different traditions; so some places will avoid eating anything that’s come from the ground (and so ended its lifecycle) like potatoes or carrots, whereas other areas avoid strong flavours like onion and garlic.
Shojin Ryori uses a ‘rule of 5’ which includes 5 different colours and 5 flavour groups and is simple but delicious.
Raijo Taiso: Consistent exercise
Raijo taiso is a short exercise routine that’s broadcast every day on Japanese radio and Youtube. It’s also taught from a really young age in school and designed to be accessible to anyone. The 3-minute routine makes the most of momentum in moving your body.
Think swinging the arms like a pendulum and very gentle star jumps – nothing to resemble army drill workouts here. Raijo taiso is designed to use the whole body gently and is even done in workplaces. It’s been linked to helping with longevity in the older population, too!
Reiki divides opinions a little bit. It’s an old practice of energy healing, so it’s difficult to prove its efficacy through scientific means, but many people love it. A session would take place in a quiet room, where the practitioner would hover their hands over various parts of the body to ‘transfer’ energy.
It can be used for relaxation, reducing stress and has even been used to treat physical conditions like chronic pain. Regardless of whether it has healing properties or not, the de-stressing benefits of reiki make it great for self-care.