The Price of Subconsciousness: A Guide to Spiritual Tourism Part II

The Price of Subconsciousness: A Guide to Spiritual Tourism Part II

Foregoing the fly-and-flop holiday, Alexandra Pereira embarks on a quest for happiness that takes her from Berlin to Bali, Svalbard to Japan. This is spiritual tourism at its most raw, a series of pilgrimages and retreats that form a journey of self discovery. In the second of a three-part series, she surrenders herself to the tranquil powers of nature and nudity

I took an hour-long bullet train to the historic spa town of
Karuizawa, home to epic secular stone churches, forests frequented
by moon bears, deer, wild boar and flying squirrels, as well as
Japan’s first geothermically powered resort, Hoshinoya Karuizawa.
The hour-long journey there was delectably peaceful, almost
meditative, and perhaps the most un-public of public transport
experiences. Stepping off the shinkansen train, I was in the right
frame of mind to shinrin-yoku – forest bathe – with abandon.

A transformative few days followed, during which I partook in
sunrise- and moonlit-yoga, and swam naked in a pitch-black,
womb-like cave with strangers. On the last night some stargazing
afforded me a sighting of the North Star, Cassiopeia and a moving
satellite – it seems even the cosmos is getting a slice of the
spiritual tourism industry’s celestial pie.

In lieu of a monk or nun, the resident naturist and astronomer
regaled the group with stories about each star as we marvelled at
the constellations. Some hours later, when I was speaking to my
Scandinavian lover, I would realise he was gazing at these very
same stars from across the world in Norway. It was a particularly
stirring moment on my solo sojourn – no cringe.

At Hoshinoya Karuizawa the focus is on connecting,
Emerson-style, with nature. It was here in the early 20th century
that writers, poets and academics – national luminaries such as
Tōson Shimazaki, Uchimura Kanzō, Yosano Akiko and Hakushū Kitahara
– would come for a time-out from Tokyo. In between onsen sessions
and reading, they’d while away the hours in what was the country’s
first wild bird sanctuary or perusing the on-site literary


I continued to explore
, every building emanated a certain tranquility. A sake
brewery had its own shrine while the restored former house of
Lafcadio Hearn – one of the first famed western writers on Japan –
resembled that of a feudal lord. One of the gardens I visited here
looked so akin to a painting I was rendered speechless – a feeling
that any gallery or museum has been unable to inspire in me. Even
in Tokyo’s lively district of Shibuya, a pacific calm even

Downtime here is spent in a traditional ryōkan such as Yumoto
Kanko. Imagine it as an old-school Japanese take on Butlins, except
with more communal hot-spring baths and nudity alongside bowling
alleys and karaoke rooms. Visiting the onsen is a time to free the
mind. Thanks to my time spent living in Berlin where
freikörperkultur – free body culture – is embraced, the liberal
approach toward physical body here felt natural.

Any soul-searching traveller will appreciate the resort’s
east-meets-west aesthetics: chunky futon beds, wooden baths with
buckets for washing your hair, sunken seating areas and a distinct,
welcome lack of televisions. Under the cover of moonlight, I
couldn’t help but think this would be the perfect, untouched
setting for a Secret History-esque bacchanal.

Dreams of wild celebrations aside, this calm and measured
setting is also ideal for kaiseki, an elaborate, multi-course
Japanese meal and one of the most mindful feasts I have ever
experienced. It’s closest Western relative would be a decadent
tasting menu, minus the painful pretentiousness of whipped air and
saucy swirls. Lifting tiny ceramic lids, I’d find shiso
leaf-wrapped carp sashimi sourced from the surrounding river. I
sipped wild boar broth and devoured a kaleidoscopic array of fungi
that I, as a recent mushroom convert and shroom-dabbler, found
nothing short of dazzling.

Japan had me transfixed. I was at once bloodthirsty for order
and routine, and liberated from bothersome bathing suits.

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The Price of Subconsciousness: A Guide to Spiritual Tourism Part III