Masahiro Toyoda is an academic who is considered one of Japan’s foremost experts on horticultural therapy. A professor at Hyogo University, he practices and leads research in horticultural therapy. Toyoda also teaches in an HT certification program at the Awaji Landscape Planning and Horticulture Academy (ALPHA), the only school offering training for horticultural therapists accredited by a prefecture governor. The program was started in 2002 soon after the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of 2005. Ten years later, 125 graduates have been trained. The one-year program includes a 5-month internship. Often considered a complimentary training by the students, the program is popular with nurses, occupational therapists, nursing aids, landscaping professionals, but also middle-aged adults who are done raising children as well as retirees according to Toyoda. The original program was directly drawn from the AHTA curriculum and has been revised to follow AHTA changes and the reality of the practice in Japan. A mix of classes on horticulture, human sciences and HT program managament, it requires 405 hours of classes and a clinical internship of 800 hours.
It all started in the 1990s
As Toyoda explains in this 2012 article available on ALPHA’s site, horticultural therapy was introduced in Japan in the 1990s by Japanese people who had discovered and studied it in the US. « They were not necessarily medical staffs, which might be one reason horticultural therapy became popular among citizens. The 1990s was the period after the bubble economy burst and Japanese people’s sense of values changed greatly from material affluence to spiritual richness. The Japanese like gardening by nature and a big gardening boom came in the wake of the International Garden and Greenery Exposition held in Osaka in 1990. Around that time, European herbs and English gardens were also introduced and became popular and the number of people who enjoyed gardening increased. People in various kinds of occupational areas showed interest in horticultural therapy: gardening company workers, doctors /nurses/occupational therapists who had interest in gardening or alternative healthcare and teachers searching for effective support methods for students such as school refusal students, students with autism, mentally-retarded students, etc. Many citizens also had much interest― especially gardening-loving housewives who finished child-raising or post-retirement people who wanted to do something for others in need of support. »
Let’s hear more from Toyoda. « Since then, horticultural therapy has been spread by citizens who learned or were interested in it. The citizens who learned horticultural therapy are still taking important roles as volunteers of therapeutic horticulture in the hospitals, welfare facilities for the elderly and institutions for those with intellectual disabilities. The difference between horticultural therapy and therapeutic horticulture was not clear in the 1990s when horticultural therapy was introduced into Japan. But now, horticulture for health is classified into two categories: « horticultural therapy » for people in need of support implemented by specialists who learned horticultural therapy and « therapeutic horticulture » for health done by medical staffs, care workers or citizens. »
Assessment is central to the teachings and is based on the Awaji Horticultural Therapy Assessment Sheet (AHTAS) which Toyoda shares in his text. Motivation, orientation in time, attention, short term and long term memory, reasoning, judgment, comprehension and task execution, communication and satisfaction are the activities that are evaluated though a scale from 0 to 3. Assessment is another area of which the American influence is strongly felt. It would be interesting to hear more about how the Japanese gardening tradition has interacted with the new practice of horticultural therapy imported from the US.
Calling on neurosciences
In 2013, Toyoda participated in the AHTA annual conference where his talk dealt with the fascinating topic of prefrontal cortex activation during gardening activities such as sowing, weeding, planting, watering or talking about familiar vegetables as revealed by a study using NIRS (Near Infra Red Spectroscopy). The talk highlighted how the prefrontal cortex is activated while gardening and particularly the importance of conversation during gardening activities. It also showed the differences in activation patterns in young people, older people and those suffering from Alzheimer’s.
In 2014, another speaker from Japan presented his research at the AHTA conference. Kenshi Nishino (HTR, MD, PhD) presented a paper on the diminution of sensory functions with age and the changes that have been noticed in blood circulation in the brain when nature stimulates the senses. The obvious conclusion is that nature can revive the senses and help bring back mental and cognitive functions. A doctor and a certified horticultural therapist, Nishino works with older patients suffering from dementia. “I am a doctor. Patients need medicine when they are sick. But conventional medicine does not always do a good job of bringing patients back to health. I have noticed it in my practice in the hospital (Nishino created the Nishino Hospital). Nature brings us calm, peace, pleasure and health. This is why I became a registered horticultural therapist,” he explained in AHTA News Magazine (volume 42, 1). This is also why is an advocate for non-drug approaches in the treatment of dementia within the Japan Society for Dementia Prevention, an association he also founded.
TOYODA, Masahiro. YAMANE, Hiroshi.(2008) Present Status of Horticultural Therapy Assessment and Issues in Japan – Analysis of Practical Reports and Research Paper. The Japanese Journal of Clinical Occupational Therapy.5(4).348-352.
TOYODA, Masahiro. YAMANE, Hiroshi.(2008) Approach of Horticultural Therapy Assessment –Validation by Using Awaji Horticultural Therapy Assessment Sheet (AHTAS) and Existing Measures for Evaluation. Bulletin of Human Health Science Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University (5)29-35.