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History of Massage (Part 3): The Evolution of Massage in Japan

by | May 28, 2024 | History of Massage

Massage therapy has a rich history that spans the globe, and Japan is no exception.

The Japanese traditions of massage, known as anma and shiatsu, have evolved over centuries. It combines influences from ancient Chinese medicine with unique Japanese innovations. This blend has produced a highly respected, effective form of bodywork that’s practiced worldwide today.

In our first two installments, we explored the history of massage in Egypt and in India. Today, let’s venture to the Far East and explore the history of massage in Japan!

Ancient Origins: Anma Massage

The history of massage in Japan begins with anma, which translates to “press and rub.” This form of massage therapy was introduced to Japan from China around the 6th century, during the Asuka and Nara periods.

Chinese anmo (which also means “press and rub”) techniques were the foundation of anma. These methods were brought to Japan by Buddhist monks who traveled between the two countries, sharing knowledge and cultural practices.

Anma massage focuses on balancing the body’s energy, known as qi (or ki in Japanese). Practitioners use a combination of rubbing, kneading, tapping, and shaking to stimulate the body’s meridians and acupuncture points. This approach is believed to improve circulation, alleviate pain, and promote relaxation.

The Evolution of Shiatsu

While anma laid the groundwork, shiatsu (meaning “finger pressure”) emerged as a modern form of Japanese massage in the early 20th century. Shiatsu was developed by Tokujiro Namikoshi, who began formalizing the practice in 1912. Namikoshi’s techniques were rooted in traditional anma but also incorporated elements of Western anatomy and physiology.

Shiatsu practitioners use their fingers, thumbs, and palms to apply pressure to specific points on the body, similar to acupressure. The goal is to unblock the flow of ki and restore balance within the body’s energy pathways. Unlike anma, shiatsu places a greater emphasis on static pressure rather than dynamic movements.

Namikoshi founded the Japan Shiatsu College in 1940, which played a crucial role in standardizing and promoting shiatsu therapy. His work helped gain recognition for shiatsu as a legitimate form of medical treatment, both in Japan and internationally.

Massage in Japan: Global Influence

Today, both anma and shiatsu are widely practiced in Japan and have gained popularity around the world. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare officially recognizes shiatsu as a therapeutic practice. This official endorsement has helped maintain high standards for training and practice in Japan.

The influence of Japanese massage extends beyond its borders. Shiatsu, in particular, has found a global audience. Many massage therapists in the West have incorporated shiatsu techniques into their practice, appreciating its holistic approach and therapeutic benefits.

Japanese massage is deeply ingrained in the culture, with roots in traditional medicine and daily wellness practices. The benefits of anma and shiatsu include:

  1. Pain Relief: Effective in managing chronic pain and tension, particularly in the back, neck, and shoulders.
  2. Stress Reduction: Promotes relaxation and reduces stress levels, enhancing mental well-being.
  3. Improved Circulation: Stimulates blood flow and lymphatic drainage, which supports overall health.
  4. Enhanced Flexibility: Helps maintain and improve joint and muscle flexibility.

The Best Massage in Colorado

Have you enjoyed this journey through the history of massage in Japan?

Until your travel plans take you there, you’ll be happy to know that you can receive stellar bodywork much closer to home. In fact, some of our most popular therapists are trained in the art of shiatsu massage!

Use our online booking form or call us at 970-748-1600 to ask us a question or to schedule your next massage session.