Shinto Shrine Forests and Happiness in Japan

Massey Marks, Ashley; Kitatani, Ken and Bhagwat, Shonil A. (2023). Shinto Shrine Forests and Happiness in Japan. In: Borde, Radhika; Ormaby, Alison A.; Awoyemi, Stephen M. and Gosler, Andrew G. eds. Religion and Nature Conservation: Global Case Studies. Oxford, UK: Taylor and Francis.



Over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and 67.2% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. The effects of urban expansion and decreased daily interaction with the natural world have a considerable impact on human well-being and happiness. Urban green space has been shown to decrease stress and improve health, and people report increased happiness in green spaces. In addition to governmental urban planning, sacred natural sites persist despite urban growth, conserved by religions as churchyards, shrine forests, and cemeteries. In Japan, Shinto shrine forests form an integral component of the landscape and provide cultural ecosystem services, including social cohesion and stress relief. This study asks, what is the relationship between the distribution of Shinto shrine forests across Japan and happiness? We found that Shinto shrine forests were prevalent in urban areas where green space is scarce; over half of the prefectures had densities of at least one Shinto shrine forest for every 2 km2 in both core and surrounding urban areas. We also found that the number of Shinto shrine forests per capita is positively correlated with the ‘Happiness Ranking’ for the 47 prefectures in Japan.

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