What is the history of Shiatsu massage?

It was almost seven centuries ago in 1320 A.D. that Akanshi Kan Ichi developed the first evolution of Japanese Shiatsu massage. It emerged from a system of Chinese traditional medicine brought over by Buddhist monks that had existed and had already been refined by the Japanese for over a millennium.

The development from the Chinese ‘tui na’ to the Japanese ‘anma’ was the first step in creating Shiatsu as a massage practice in its own right. The term Shiatsu has been shown to have existed by 1919. However, it was not until the 1940s that a gentleman by the name of Tokujiro Namikoshi started a Shiatsu college. Namikoshi is widely considered as the father of modern Shiatsu.

We all know Shiatsu today as the practice of using fingers to apply pressure to particular points of the body. This is preceded by the Shiatsu specialist using his sense of touch – and possibly extrasensory perception – to diagnose problem areas in the body. However, the development of this skill has a very unique genesis – in the enhanced touch abilities of the blind.

What is the history of Shiatsu massage - photo

Shiatsu and Blindness – A Strong Historic Bond

Japanese Shiatsu has a strong and unbreakable bond to the visually challenged – some of its most renowned founders were blind and during the Tokugawa Shogunate, the practice of anma was reserved exclusively for the blind.

This was no longer the case by the time of the Second World War; however, large numbers of Japan’s blind population were still relied on it for a living when the Americans occupied it after the Japanese surrender.

While the majority of traditional practices were banned, healing Shiatsu as practiced by the blind was allowed to continue, thanks to the intervention of international blind rights advocate, Helen Keller.

East Meets West

By that time, Shiatsu was already shedding its strictly Oriental roots and was embracing a unified assessment and diagnosis system which incorporated ideas from the West.

This was due in large part to the efforts and personal research of Tamai Tempaku, who streamlined teachings from the fields of anatomy and physiology as well as many elements of chiropractic care and physiotherapy with traditional Eastern methods.

Modern Shiatsu

Despite its rich history and development virtually completely apart from the rest of the world, Shiatsu was only officially recognized as a form of therapy by the Japanese government in 1964.

Shiatsu continued to evolve as the world was exposed to this revolutionary form of healing that seemed to outperform conventional healing methods. It branched off several times, with the most apparent schism being the differing approaches of those who seek to concentrate on pressure points (similar to the Chinese acupressure) and those who emphasize the need for correcting the balance of ‘Chi’ or Life Force that flows through the body.

Other differences that have emerged are split on the system of diagnosis. For example, the Five Element approach seeks to achieve harmony between the proportions of:

  • Earth;
  • Water;
  • Fire;
  • Wood;
  • Metal.

On the other hand, Macrobiotic Shiatsu holds that the Chi of the food in your diet will alter the flow of Chi of your body.

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