I recently found out I’ve been been doing shinrin-yoku for years.
For readers that are hopelessly out of vogue, shinrin-yoku is the Japanese art of “forest bathing” which has been surging up the West Coast trendiness rankings lately.
Dr. Qing Li, a contributor to Time magazine and author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, defines it as “simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.”
There are formal sessions with experienced trainers available in California, but at its most basic it simply involves turning off your phone and spending some time in the forest to relax, breathe and contemplate.
Upon discovering that I already practiced a primitive personal version of shinrin-yoku, I was as pleased as the wannabe intellectual in Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme who is delighted when his philosophy tutor informs him he has just been speaking prose.
The internet has sadly taken it too far. Some declare it is an antidote to “nature deficit disorder.” And you can now buy essential tree oils and an inhaler so you can oxymoronically forest bathe in your urban apartment. The product is called the Forest Bathing Seven Trees to Please Kit and is available online for $130.
One of the seven pleasing trees is even that Yukon favourite, the black spruce.
Most readers of this column probably have their own version of shinrin-yoku, which may also involve chopping firewood or shooting moose, so I won’t get too far into the details.
Instead, let’s talk about the economics of forest bathing. The phenomenon interests me—and annoys me—since it is the latest example of someone else stealing what should have been the Yukon’s economic opportunity.
We have more trees than Japan, and most of our forest is already cellphone-free. It is absolutely outrageous that forest bathing consultants in San Francisco figured out how to make money off the forest before we did. The fact that the website selling black spruce forest bathing oil is in Ontario only rubs salt in the wound.
I hold myself as responsible as the rest of you, but why didn’t a Yukoner figure out how to turn a charming Japanese custom into a North American cash cow?
We’ve been living among millions of spruce and pine trees for years, and despite the efforts of our forest industry, only red squirrels have so far figured out how to make a living from them.
It’s especially disappointing since, as a few old friends from F.H. Collins keep saying, a lot of trendy people from big cities Outside have moved to the Yukon lately. Surely one of these trendspotters could have realized the potential. Especially since our territorial tree, the sub-alpine fir, is especially aromatic.
Anyway, it’s not too late. If you’re running an aurora-viewing business, you should immediately add forest bathing therapy sessions to your website.
While complaining about missing the boat on shinrin-yoku, another friend reminded me of hygge. This is a Danish term that made the 2016 Oxford Dictionaries’ “word of the year” shortlist. It means “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”
The Danes have turned it into an industry. There are courses, activities for tourists and dozens of books. The Washington Post even reports that marketing geniuses at the Danish government have applied to UNESCO’s global list of items of “intangible cultural heritage” such as yoga from India and Neapolitan pizza from Italy.
Like shinrin-yoku, hygge is something Yukoners have been enjoying for years. We just failed to think of a short, exotic-sounding word for “cuddling around the woodstove with friends and family and a hot drink after a ski on a cold evening.”
Every few years, the Yukon government tries to figure out how to take advantage of all the Yukon-related brand names used by major global companies. Think of the Yukon XL from General Motors, Klondike ice cream bars or Yukon blend coffee from Starbucks.
They should go even farther and try to create a new brand. Think of it as the next big thing after forest bathing and hygge. It should be something consistent with the Yukon’s image that encourages people to visit and spend money.
To help them get started, I challenge you all to do some brain-blizzarding. Please send your best ideas for a Yukon equivalent of forest bathing or a newly minted Yukon-y word that is even better than hygge to me at email@example.com. We’ll publish the best entries.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.