What is Shiatsu Massage?

Shiatsu, which literally translates into finger pressure (Shi-Atsu), is a Japanese massage technique in which the therapists use thumbs, fingers and sometimes, knees, elbows and feet to press along the receiver’s meridian or energy lines. These are also commonly known as acupressure points.

There are four popular forms of Shiatsu Massage – Ashiatsu, Ohashiatsu, Five Elements and Zen.

Ashiatsu is a technique where the masseuse holds onto a pole support and walks on the back of the person receiving the therapy. They would use their feet to deeply massage the tissues and muscles. In this manner they are able to apply a stronger level of pressure as compared to using fingers and thumbs.

Ohashiatsu is a form of massage where the therapist focuses on channelling the energy in the body of the receiver to help them feel grounded and relaxed. This massage may involve meditation, and is enjoyed by many people, in spite of being non-traditional.

Five Elements Shiatsu massage is the technique that concentrates on balancing the energy in one’s body. The therapist would feel the knots in the muscles where the flow of energy is getting hindered and use traditional Shiatsu methods to release it.

Zen Shiatsu is an active and deep muscle massage technique that involves applying pressure with palms, elbows, knees, fists and hands to offer a therapeutic massage.   

In-Depth History of Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu has gained immense appreciation as a potent massage therapy and is practiced in many forms across the world. However, its origin is believed to have been in ancient China during the Han Dynasty.

In the 7th century, when communication between Japan and China had opened up, Japanese students were sent to China to study their culture and medicine. During this period martial arts and healing techniques like Jujitsu were gaining much popularity in Japan. This resulted in the evolution of an effective massage technique known as Anma, which was normally performed by blind people and considered to be quite relaxing.

Based on the principles of Anma, Shiatsu massage was developed in the early 20th century, by Tamai Tempaku who published his book ‘Shiatsu Ho’ in the year 1919 and by 1955 Shiatsu was approved as a legal form of therapy under Anma massage.

There are two prominent individuals in the history of Shiatsu massage who have some major contributions towards the evolution of this technique to what it is today. They are Tokujiro Namikoshi, and Shizuto Masunaga.  

Tokujiro came upon Shiatsu purely by a trial and error method. His mother had severe arthritis in the knee and rheumatoid arthritis in many joints. However, due to the lack of medical aid available, the children massaged her to help relieve her pain. While massaging his mother, Tokujiro tried a few different pressure levels and pressing methods to figure out what made his mother feel better. Gradually, when he saw his mother completely healed, he realised it was the art of Shiatsu massage that he was performing.

Following a formal education in Western massage and Anma, Tokujiro, in 1925, established the Shiatsu Institute of Therapy in Hokkaido, following which he opened the Shiatsu Institute in Tokyo in the year 1940. His schools were recognised by the Ministry of Health & Welfare, which helped him gain success in his struggle to get a legal recognition for Shiatsu in Japan.

During Tokujiro’s time, Shiatsu was a vigorous massage form that involved in-depth knowledge of the neuro-muscular points in the human body and would focus on the overall body of the individual seeking the therapy. The massage also included several stretching exercises.

Shizuto Masunaga, who was a student of Chinese medicine and western psychology, worked towards bringing Shiatsu back to its traditional form of balancing the Five elements in the body and creating a harmonious channel to help the energy flow without any blockages.

Towards the end of the 20th century, Shizuto had opened Tokyo’s Iokai Shiatsu Centre and his techniques of this massage form was gaining popularity locally in Japan, as well as in US and Europe.

Eventually, others like Katsusuke Serizawa and Pauline Sasaki, further developed different versions of the Shiatsu massage, tweaking it to cater to the needs of a global audience, thus, making it an extremely popular massage technique.

Key Advantages of Shiatsu Massage

When you undergo a session of Shiatsu massage, it makes the body feel invigorated as it is a very active technique. It helps in relieving muscle pain, lower blood pressure, increase blood circulation and detoxify. It is advisable to hydrate, rest and take things slow for an hour after a Shiatsu massage session.