Zen Meditation, Tea Ceremony, and Forest Bathing Tour ~ Centre yourself in the nature-abundant city of Sapporo ~

SAPPORO

2024.02.05

The Covid-19 pandemic is settling down and our life has returned to its previous state. Many of you might be back to busy work like before, however it is still important to take time to relax and centre yourself. Why not take a trip in search of such a moment?

Hokkaido is a rich land where you can easily get in touch with nature. Sapporo, in particular, is a blessed place where you can visit nearby forests and parks that preserve an abundant natural environment while still having the convenience of a city. Furthermore, there are many cultural facilities where you can have easy access to Japanese culture such as the tea ceremony and Zen meditation. Why not take advantage of this location to experience nature, Zen meditation and a table style tea ceremony in Sapporo, and turn your focus inwards using all five senses? It will surely be an unforgettable experience.

Tour Overview

In this tour, you can enjoy the calm of forest bathing, a table style tea ceremony, and a Zen meditation experience.

1. You will walk along a wooden trail in the forest and enjoy forest bathing. In the quiet atmosphere surrounded by trees, you can feel the northern air with all your senses.

2. Next, you’ll experience a table style tea ceremony. You may think of the tea ceremony as something where you sit on tatami mats in Japanese style and drink tea according to complicated rules, but here you can sit on a chair at a table and casually experience the tea ceremony, which is said to be a comprehensive art form of Japanese culture.

3. Lastly, you’ll try zazen (Zen meditation) at a Buddhist temple in Sapporo. At a Soto Zen temple, one of Japan’s representative Zen Buddhist sects, a Zen master fluent in English guides you through how to do Zen meditation. You can choose to sit on a tatami mat with a cushion or use a chair during meditation. By experiencing zazen, which has fascinated Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc., and other Silicon Valley executives, you may be able to find a new perspective on the world.

Forest bathing

Sapporo is a big city with a population of 1.9 million, yet it is blessed with nature, with flowers blooming in the city center in the green season, many parks with various kinds of trees and plants, and vast forests in the suburbs. Not only tourists but also locals enjoy strolling through the forests and parks. First, let’s enjoy forest bathing in Maruyama Park, a lush green place of relaxation for local citizens.

Have you ever heard the word “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku? It is a term that originated in Japan and is an effective way of promoting health by relaxing the mind and body while walking in the midst of forests, somewhat like sunbathing at beaches. In recent years, the term forest bathing or shinrin-yoku has been introduced overseas as well, and is attracting attention as a new health therapy. Walking comfortably through the forest, you can enjoy the green scenery, sounds, and scents of nature using all five senses.

Maruyama Park, where this tour takes place, is home to Maruyama Primeval Forest, which has been designated as a national natural monument. This mixed forest of coniferous and broad-leaved trees has also been designated as a wildlife sanctuary and is home to more than 100 species of birds and wild animals. There is a small 225-meter-high mountain called Mt. Maruyama in the park which has an abundant forest with trees over 100 years old, even though it is located right next to the city center. Trees such as katsura, Japanese elm, and oak grow wild, and birds, squirrels, and other small animals can be seen nearby. The park is also home to Hokkaido Shrine, a representative shrine of Hokkaido, and a zoo, making it a place of recreation and relaxation for the citizens.

Take a leisurely walk through its forest, looking at the greenery and listening to the songs of birds. You may even spot a small animal, such as an Ezo squirrel. Forget about work and all the problems that are bothering you, and just focus on walking in this forest right now.

Close your eyes and listen carefully to the sounds you hear in the forest. Do you hear the wind blowing across the forest? How about the birds? Do you recognize the different voices? How many different kinds of birds are there? You may even hear the sound of woodpeckers pecking at the trees. Listen to the sounds of the forest with your whole body focused on your ears. You will surely be able to concentrate deeply.

 

In addition, phytoncide emitted from trees is said to have a relaxing and refreshing effect. Feel the fresh air you can sense as you walk in the forest.

In autumn, the leaves of katsura trees give off a sweet, caramel-like scent. Why don’t you find and smell the heart-shaped fallen leaves of katsura trees? After enjoying forest bathing in this way, you will feel refreshed.

Table style tea ceremony

Next is a tea ceremony experience. The tea ceremony, or the Way of Tea, is one of the traditional Japanese art forms, and it is said that practicing the tea ceremony is one of the most important aspects of Japanese culture. A table style tea ceremony is an easy-to-learn and accessible form of the tea ceremony that can be enjoyed by beginners and foreigners.

The experience will be held at a gallery located in a quiet area near Maruyama Park, slightly secluded from the main street. Tea ceremonies are usually held in a Japanese-style room with tatami mats, but this is held in a western-style room with tables and chairs. Tea utensils are displayed, as well as western-style antique accessories, creating a modern setting. The table style tea ceremony is held in such a cozy space that blends Japanese and Western styles.

There are many schools of tea ceremony, or the Way of Tea, and this table style tea ceremony is served according to the Ura-senke school, one of the mainstream ones. First, you will see the instructor serving the tea and enjoy the tea she prepares. Next, you will follow her instructions to prepare your own tea and drink it. This is a valuable experience, as it is rare to have the opportunity to prepare tea by yourself, even though you may have the experience of being served by the tea master at a tea ceremony.

The tea used in the ceremony is a green tea powder called matcha. The matcha is made by grinding tips of fresh tea leaves with a millstone to make a powder. Hot water is poured over a small amount of matcha in a cup, and stirred with a small whisk called a chasen. Since all of the tea leaves are used, the nutritional value of the tea leaves is retained.

Tea originated in China and was introduced to Japan in the 9th century by a Buddhist monk. The tea ceremony was refined by Sen-no-Rikyu in the 16th century. Rikyu added a deep philosophy to the tea ceremony and its spirituality, and through tea he proposed a harmonious way of life to people. He also had a close relationship with Zen, a Buddhist discipline, and shared many of the same ideas, such as the importance of concentrating on the “here and now”. It also has something in common with mindfulness, adopted by many people in recent years. It can be said that the tea ceremony is good for your mind and body.

The flow of a tea ceremony

First, sweets are served and you taste them. At the tea ceremony, various kinds of wagashi or Japanese confectionery are served according to the season. Wagashi are fragile and colorful, and so beautiful, and please us with their appearance, textures, and tastes. Then you drink tea or matcha after having wagashi. Drinking the tea after the sweets refreshes the palate and enhances the taste of the tea.

The tea ceremony has a set of rules for serving tea, and each rule has meaning. For example, just before drinking tea, we turn the tea bowl clockwise to avoid the front so that the beautiful painting or pattern at the front of the tea bowl is kept clean. And it is important to make a slurping sound when you finish the tea; that sound is a signal that the tea has been enjoyed and that the drink is finished. The host of the ceremony prepares to make the next move when he/she hears the sound of slurping. Some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of slurping tea, but since this is part of Japanese culture, why not give it a try?

One of the most important things in the tea ceremony is the spirit of hospitality. The host uses all the elements of the tea room to entertain the guests. The guests enjoy the decorations in the room, savour the delicious Japanese sweets with their eyes and palate, and enjoy the aroma of matcha and the taste of tea. The owner and guests communicate with each other through pleasant conversation and the sound of slurping tea. The master of the tea ceremony hopes that the guests will relax and enjoy the tea ceremony using all five senses.

Zazen experience

Finally, you’ll try zazen (Zen meditation) at a Soto Zen temple in the northern area of Sapporo. The chief monk has lived abroad and he is fluent in English. Zen is spreading not only in Japan but also in many other countries.

Zen Etiquette

Breathing is very important in Zen. Slow and calm breathing allows you to concentrate on the “here and now”.

Half-close your eyes and look down at an angle of 45 degrees. But don’t focus on anything, just gaze vacantly. If some thoughts come to mind, do not dwell on them, but simply let them go. There is no need to try not to think about anything. You don’t need to worry about anything coming to your mind. “Imagine yourself as if you were a tree in the garden or a statue of Buddha,” explains the master.

People usually practice zazen sitting cross-legged on tatami mats in the zazendo, a room for Zen meditation, but depending on each person’s physical condition, one can also sit in a chair or sit without crossing one’s legs. There is absolutely no need to endure pain. It is important to do zazen in a comfortable state without stress.

The duration of meditation can be from 10 minutes. Some people sit for 40 minutes. If your legs hurt, you can ask to do walking zazen.

If you feel something in your mind and you cannot concentrate on meditation, you can receive a kyo-saku (be hit on your right shoulder with a long wooden stick held by the master). Don’t be afraid. This is only for those who wish for it. It is not so painful. Think of it as being done by the Buddha, not a monk. It makes a nice sound when it happens. When you hear the sound of others’ kyo-saku, you can improve your concentration.

There are nine sects of Buddhism in Japan. Zen Buddhism is one group of Buddhism, and Soto Zen is one sect of Zen Buddhism. Apple’s founder Steve Jobs was also devoted to Soto Zen. In this sect, you sit facing a wall. While sitting, one empties one’s mind and tries not to think about anything. The approach to Zen differs from sect to sect. Some sects sit with their backs against a wall and think about various issues while sitting.

Zen Buddhists consider not only zazen, but also eating, cooking, cleaning, and even walking to be forms of ascetic practice. It is important to concentrate on the here and now, to be in the present moment in every action. This is also the same as the spirit of mindfulness.

A participant who experienced zazen said, “I felt very relaxed and my mind was cleared. I did 10 minutes of zazen, but it felt very short. Zazen was very comfortable”.

Conclusion

All of these experiences can be had in Sapporo. It is a great place to experience nature, culture, and self-discovery without having to go deep into the mountains.

Here, you can experience the unique Japanese culture, experience the nature of Hokkaido, relax your body and mind, and feel a new sense of yourself. Why not come to Sapporo?