One hot summer day in July, my Forest Therapy in Iinan-cho began with waking up in a hotel called Mori no Su, a stylish “nest in the forest.” The food had been imaginative and delicious, and the night had been comfortingly dark, save for the active fireflies around the windows. The warm tones of the interior, the woven design of the furniture, and the understated calmness without distractions like televisions and computers made it feel like a comforting place to nestle into the forest, breathe deeply, and let go of my stressors.

This put me in the right mind set for the guided Forest Therapy that Iinan-cho specializes in. Our guide brought my attention to little things I often overlook in the woods. We learned about different kinds of trees and shrubs, and I found myself looking for new little mysteries among the dirt and greenery. What sort of bug had made those bubbly nests? What sort of flowers was that fragrance coming from? I could hear many kinds of birds, to my chagrin I could not spot a single one among the lush ceiling of leaves. No matter, I thought as I swayed in a hammock prepared in advance for us. Nature is not about seeing everything; sometimes it is about closing your eyes.

What a wonder, though, that nature provides so much for us! Oxygen, raw materials, and food. I was struck later by how much I take that for granted when we went fishing for yamame (landlocked salmon). A little pool was filled with them, and fishing lines and bait, charcoal pits, and experienced fishermen were all immediately available to ensure that even the most inexperienced of fishers could catch something. I count myself among those fishers.

My friends pulled out fish after fish, it seemed, all healthy and wriggling at the ends of the lines. The fish at the end of my line, however, were healthiest. By this, I mean they all got a free lunch and swam away.

Soon, all of my friends were waiting for me in the shade as I continued to let after fish after fish get away. I was ready to forego a fresh-caught lunch, but my more experienced supporters stayed with me—going so far as to prep the bait on my hook for me, and coach me through the whole process. Unluckily for one single fish, I was at last successful.

My sojourn in the depths of nature was certainly pleasurable, but perhaps I need more practice before I can be a little more self-sufficient. For now, I will happily accept all the pampering and coaching the locals provide.

[Originally published on Shimane: Explore Unfamiliar Japan, but I have embellished a bit on the photos here. All photos were used with permission.]

(Note: This article was also published on the official Shimane tourism website, Shimane: Explore Unfamiliar Japan. All photos were used with permission.)

As much as I have always loved clear mountain streams, green forests, and fresh air, I never thought I had much of an interest in straw. The bright green rice paddies this time of year are charming and Shimane’s rice is delicious, but their dried remains? Although I expected to enjoy the nature, cuisine, and onsen of Iinan-cho, I was taken by surprise by how fascinating long strands of dried rice plants can be. Granted, the 16 meter shimenawa at the Kagura-den of Izumo Taisha has always been my favorite part of the shrine, so perhaps I should have taken an interest sooner in the amazing things that can be done with simple materials.

We started our visit to Ohshimenawa Sousakukan, where the shimenawa at Izumo Taisha is constructed, by making small shimenawa charms to take home. In my daily life I mostly do computer related work or create two-dimensional art, so it was a step outside of my usual activities which required me to pour my energy into a material I had always overlooked.

Even more engaging was when we all worked together to weave a giant shimenawa destined for a shrine in Hiroshima. I literally felt the full weight of the amount of work that the artisans there had already poured into assembling so many individual straws! I may have broken a sweat twisting the ropes (which I could barely fit my arms around), and carrying them back and forth as we wove them together and it took shape. The hard labor made the finished product all the more satisfying. It was one of the most unique and memorable experiences I have had in Japan yet.

The little shimenawa I was so proud of is now hanging in my room, a reminder to step away from my digital life, breathe fresh air, and note the wonder in simple things.