Shiatsu massage is one of the best-known forms of Japanese physical therapy. It is used to support and strengthen the body’s natural ability to heal and balance itself. Shiatsu massage is considered a holistic form of massage, meaning that it takes into account the whole person – not just the physical body’s attributes but also the psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a person.
What Is Shiatsu Massage?
Shiatsu is known to have originated in Japan; however it was derived from traditional Chinese medicine and influenced by Western therapies. The word ‘shiatsu’ can be translated from Japanese, in which it means ‘finger pressure’. However, in practice, shiatsu massage employs many techniques other than finger pressure, such as touch, comfortable pressure, and manipulative techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance its energy flow. Shiatsu massage is a deeply relaxing process and multiple treatments can reduce long-term stress and illness. Regular treatments have also been known to maintain health and well-being.
History of Shiatsu Massage
The history of shiatsu is very interesting, as it originated in Japan but was obtained from ancient Chinese medicine. Acupuncture, herbalism, and massage were all integral parts of traditional Chinese medicine. This form of healing was introduced to Japan by a Buddhist monk during the sixth century. At that time, the Japanese had their own ways of practicing medicine, which were quite different from Chinese medicine. Over time, the Japanese developed and refined many Chinese methods to suit the Japanese physiology, temperament, and climate. For example, they developed the manual healing and diagnostic arts, which involve various special techniques for abdominal diagnostics, treatments, and massages. Shiatsu uses most of these today.
Over time, the practice of massage, which was known by its old name of ‘Anma’ or ‘Tuina’ in China, gradually separated from medicine and was associated more with relaxation, wellness, and pleasure. In Japan, a number of practitioners were concerned that they would lose the art of healing through massage and therefore sought to preserve massage and its related techniques as an acceptable form of healing. Over the following centuries, shiatsu massage evolved, with the desire to preserve its ability to not only relax but also diagnose and later heal a number of ailments in the human body. Anma is a Japanese massage modality that was developed during the 14th century by someone named Akashi Kan Ichi and that was later popularized during the 17th century by an acupuncturist named Sugiyama Waichi. It was only later that shiatsu became a way to incorporate medical benefits into the massage as well.
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Sugiyama Waichi, the popular practitioner who popularized the Anma massage, established a massage school to spread his skill. At that time, it was not uncommon to associate massage with the blind, as Sugiyama Waichi was himself blind and his medical schools were often established so that the blind could learn his skill. Later, laws in Japan were passed which made the practice of massage solely an occupation for the blind. People with eyesight were prohibited from practicing the art of Anma. Due to this law, ‘blind massage’ has become a popular expression or reference in Japanese culture. This is also common in modern times. Around the same time as Sugiyama’s schools became popular, abdominal palpitations as a form of diagnostics began to develop in Japan. This was researched well into the 18th and 19th centuries as well.
At the start of the 20th century, one practitioner sought to incorporate into ancient massage practices what had been learnt through newer, Western science and medicine. Tamai Tempaku incorporated the newer sciences of anatomy and physiology, and disciplines such as physiotherapy and chiropractics, into a number of new treatment methods. The name ‘shiatsu’ was originally called ‘shiatsu ryoho’, which means ‘finger pressure way of healing’. It was later changed to ‘shiatsu ho’, which means ‘finger pressure me’, and which is what is it known as today. The Japanese government officially recognized shiatsu in 1964, clearly distinguishing it from Anma and any form of Western massage.
Before Shiatsu became a mainstream treatment in Japanese culture, practitioners were often nomadic. They wandered the country as a group, earning a living by providing their massage services in mobile capacities and paying commissions to their referrers.
During the Second World War, at the time when the Allies occupied Japan, traditional medicine practices were banned, as were other practices of Japanese culture. This meant that a large proportion of the Japanese blind community could not make a living. It also resulted in a slowdown in the development of healing massages. As a result, certain knowledge was lost for a period of time. However, it wasn’t long before the ban was lifted and the practice of Shiatsu massage was put back into use.
In the late 1940s, Tokujiro Namikoshi founded a number of shiatsu massage colleges, making the practice more available all over the country. However, his real legacy was getting the state to recognize shiatsu massage as an independent method of treatment in Japan. He is often credited with inventing modern shiatsu.
Over the years, shiatsu has evolved to incorporate Western medicine. It is often thought to blend the two practices as a means of promoting mental and physical healing. Many schools now teach shiatsu within the framework of Western medical science, blended with the traditional Eastern medicine and philosophic framework.
Shiatsu massage has developed over many centuries, and experts in the field are constantly looking for new ways to improve the practice. There is also an increasing demand for traditional Eastern medicine practices all over the world, which means the practice has spread across continents and is being developed in a number of places outside Japan. Many new schools are being founded, including in countries like France, Switzerland, and Italy, where shiatsu massage is quite popular.