Zen and wellness retreats have gained popularity in recent years as many seek to disconnect from their busy daily lives and prioritize mental and physical health. In the northern part of Awaji Island lies the building ZEN Wellness SEINEI, designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect, Shigeru Ban. It opened to the public in March 2022 to promote health and wellness. Here in Japan’s serene and picturesque landscape you can find a perfect setting for a zen retreat, to connect not only with oneself but with nature and reach a state of mental and spiritual “wholeness” also known as “全・ぜん” – zen.
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ZEN Wellness experience
I took part in the ZEN Wellness Day plan that included lunch at arrival, then some yoga and meditation, followed by tea and leisure time before the final meditation exercise.
I do not actively practice yoga or know much about zen meditation and so on, so getting a full, authentic experience was exciting for me and I indulged in it during the 4-hour course. After general greeting words and explanations on the building itself, we were shown to our rooms for the course’s period, all named after Japanese words or phrases that have a deep meaning.
During lunch, Chef Nobuaki Fushiki, famous in Japan for his fermented cuisine, gave a detailed explanation on each of the dishes and their ingredients. I could not understand half of it but could only admire the intricate layout of the dishes displayed on a bamboo leaf. The foods are all vegan made without any sugar, oil, dairy, or flour products. When he finished informing us of the cuisine we were given the option to go and eat where we wanted, since it was warm outside, we chose to sit along the 100-meter-long wooden deck. The entire building is made of wood and radiates a calming earthly energy, making it easy to ascend to that Zen feeling we always wants to have in life. The surroundings certainly aid in the cause. ZEN Wellness SEINEI stands along the mountain surrounded by lush nature. I finished photographing the beautifully laid out meal, enjoying all the different flavors, all the while watching the forest sway in a gentle breeze.
Yoga and Meditation Session
After lunch, our group had the first yoga and meditation session of the day plan. I’m not well practiced in either and, since all the instructions were in Japanese, I often had to peek between my eyelids to see what to do next. Nevertheless I loved it. Even if we were outside, there was a roof protecting us from the sun and I could feel the breeze blowing softly through the deck’s open spaces, hear the nearby birds and the gentle rustling of the trees. It was peaceful and calming and I enjoyed every minute of it. The yoga exercises were easy enough to follow along and did not need super high flexibility or tough muscle work.
Japanese Matcha Tea and Sweets
I did not want the meditation that had us lying on the deck, and simply being in the present in the moment, to end, but the excitement of dessert and Japanese green tea, was enough to rouse me. Once again I got to choose whether to eat me dish in the dining area or somewhere else. I also got to make the green tea myself. The materials were ready on the trays and I mixed the boiled water with the matcha powder and blended my own Japanese green tea. Later I spent some time in my room alone just to sit on the plain tatami bed and look outside admiring the view. You can also use this time to try the ancient art of Japanese calligraphy.
The Second Meditation Session
The day plan is designed to stimulate all your senses. Food for the taste, view for the eyes, yoga for the body and touch, scented pouches for smell and the relaxing chimes of the gong for hearing (plus of course the sounds of nature). The second meditation practice focused more on breathing and sensing your surroundings, inner thoughts and body’s feelings. It all ended too soon for me. I could have stayed there breathing in the warm air and the scenic views for hours and, if I get the chance, I would love to go back for a Zen stay or other event.
Even after only four hours, I felt more relaxed and more connected with my senses and surroundings, than I had in a long, long time. Even though the day zen course seemed to end too soon, there was plenty of time to either relax on my own and take all the pictures you wanted to in this unique wooden environment.
|2594-5 Aza-Banaka, Kusumoto, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-2301
Closed: Varies depending on a month. Please inquire.