Notes from Japan: Shinomori – Woods Meditation

Iwate Province, Japan. To those Americans who have experienced Shinomori, it is much more than a foreign sounding word.   It is the memories of the distant ocean as seen from the mountains, the smell of freshly cut brush, the satisfied feeling of achieved cross-cultural community.


Working with the Waseda University Buddhist Association “Shinomori.”

Shinomori, to those have known it, is more than just another Waseda University club.   More like an extended family than simply an organization, Shinomori is a philosophy, almost a lifestyle in itself.

Every summer, about two dozen university students escape the heat of Tokyo to travel north and dedicate their vacation to communing with each other and with nature.   Rising with the sun, this urban group prepares for a day of rigorous labor on the steep mountain slopes overlooking the Pacific.

After sharpening their kamas, or Japanese styled sickles, the group walks to the work site several miles across the valley. Disregarding sweltering heat or pouring rain, the Shinomori members clear the brush around young pine trees ` planted during previous vacations.

Singing the Waseda school song on the slopes of northern Japan

Shinomori’s uniqueness, however, lies not in its strong group dynamics, nor in its back to nature philosophy.   These traits may be found from Fukuoka to Sapporo.   Shinomori, rather, is known for its contribution to national and international understanding.

This year nine American college students are spending two weeks of their summer here working with the Waseda club, as students from Earlham College and other Great Lakes College Association (GLCA) schools have done for the past eight years.

These events have not gone unnoticed.   Presently a Japanese television documentary is in production centering on their bi-cultural community known as Shinomori.

To be an actual part of a Japanese organization is an accomplishment of which few gaijin, or foreigners, can be proud.   Thus, Shinomori is unique to the Western world as well, because it allows non-Asians to glimpse a segment of Japanese society as it actually exists.

Working side by side with the Japanese, this cultural introduction is special because it creates an atmosphere of cooperation and accomplishment.   In this manner, the American students can begin to understand the uniqueness and commonality of both cultures and a more general sense: what it means to be Japanese.

Located near Tanohata-mura in Iwate Province, the Shinomori compound is jointly owned by Waseda University, Tokyo, and the village of Tanohata.


Once a week, the students volunteer their time and effort to local farmers in return for supper and a night’s lodging.   In this way the group attempts to bridge the gap between their own cosmopolitan environment and this provincial fishing village, as well as between east and west.

This summer marks the third decade of Shinomori’s existence.   American students have played an important role in this organization for eight of these years.   The College of Wooster has now been affiliated with Shinomori for three years, as in 1978 both Malcolm Porter and Glenn Hammet joined the community for its summer session.

The exact reasons for which the Waseda students join Shinomori are as varied as the students themselves; however one theme seems to pervade.

For these young adults, Shinomori symbolizes a oneness that is not to be found elsewhere.   Shinomori is a search for oneness with the villagers, with the group, with oneself, and above all else, with nature.

As one Waseda student comments, “the answers to life lie in nature; they will not crawl into the city to find us.   Instead, we must come here to the country and search for the answers ourselves.”   Thus it comes as no surprise that the word Shinomori in Japanese means, literally, “to meditate in the woods.”

For deep thought is exactly what occurs each summer when students from Waseda and the GLCA meet here in the far north of Honshu, Japan.

Originally published in The Wooster Voice, College of Wooster, October 3, 1980.


Read other stories by Jim Luce on Japan:


NYC’s Japan American Association Funds Haitian Students Dream of International Study


Yoko Ono Supports Mayor Akiba and Nuclear Disarmament at John Catsimatidis’ Home


2,870 Mayors for Peace: Does Yours Belong?


Japan’s PIKADON Project & Hiroshima Yes! Campaign in New York City


Keiko Tsuyama: Japanese Woman of the World



Park Avenue’s Nichibei Exchange – and the Japanese Flute


Notes From Japan: From Harajuku to Waseda


Notes from Japan: Shinomori – Mediating in the Woods


Notes from Japan: A Rural Village in Iwate Province


Notes from Japan: Hitchhiking Through the Storm to Hokkaido


Notes from Japan: Japanese and English Language Very Far Apart


Notes from Japan: Living with a Former Samurai Family


Notes from Japan: Fat American (Me!) Races 500 Junior High Students


Notes from Japan: From Zen Life in the Country to Tokyo – Help!



For the complete listing of thematic stories, see Jim Luce Writes.


The Editors
The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation ( There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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