This Japanese massage therapy guide provides an overview of shiatsu, a traditional massage therapy originating in Japan. Shiatsu has two main disciplines–one based on western anatomy and physiology, and the other based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, a cabinet-level agency in Japanese government, regulates shiatsu as a licensed medical therapy. Outside Japan, the practice is regulated by governing bodies established by shiatsu practitioners. Shiatsu combines aspects of Japanese tradition, Chinese healing medicine, and western practices.
Japanese Massage Therapy Forms
“Shiatsu” means “finger pressure” in Japanese. A shiatsu practitioner uses rhythmic pressure on precise areas of the body, called acupressure points. These pressure points are thought to play an important role in the flow of the body’s energy, called chi.Proponents believe Japanese massage relieves blockages at various acupressure points, enabling the flow of chi and restoring harmony. Practitioners employ various forms of Japanese massage. These include traditional shiatsu, five element shiatsu, macrobiotic shiatsu, and Zen shiatsu.
- Traditional Shiatsu. Traditional shiatsu therapy usually involves pressure applied with the thumbs to certain acupressure points. Treatment often includes soft tissue manipulation, exercise, and stretching.
- Five Element Shiatsu. Five element shiatsu seeks to enhance traditional massage therapy with TCM. The therapy focuses on five elemental manifestations—earth, fire, water, metal, and wood—in relation to various parts of human anatomy.
- Macrobiotic Shiatsu. Macrobiotic shiatsu combines the Japanese healing art of massage with a macrobiotic diet. A macrobiotic diet is one that is high in natural, unrefined foods, rich in essential fats, and low in saturated fats.
- Zen Shiatsu. Zen shiatsu is most popular in the west. It combines Japanese shiatsu, western psychology, Chinese healing medicine, and Buddhism. Zen shiatsu believes that health problems are related to an imbalance in yin and yang, and it attempts to correct the imbalance and restore harmony.
Japanese Massage Therapy Benefits
Japanese massage therapy falls in the category of alternative and complementary medicine. Doctors increasingly recommend shiatsu and other massage therapies along with standard medical treatment for a variety of medical conditions.
Many studies have investigated the benefits of massage, and research is ongoing. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have found massage to be beneficial for the following:
- Stress and anxiety relief
- Depression management
- Physical pain and stiffness
- Blood pressure control
- Sports injuries
- Immunity boosts
- Cancer treatment
- Infant growth
Beyond the health and medical benefits, people often derive emotional and spiritual benefit from Japanese massage and other massage therapies. Doctors warn that massage should not replace regular medical care, but it can be beneficial as a complement to medical treatments.