What is a Shiatsu Massage?

There are varieties of massage therapies being offered today to achieve the body’s relaxation. One of those is the Shiatsu massage therapy. Shiatsu is a form of bodywork that originated in Japan. It is based on traditional Chinese medicine with the elements of Western therapies. In Japanese, Shiatsu means finger pressure.

In Shiatsu massage therapy, fingers, thumb, and palm are used to apply pressure to the various parts of the body. A Shiatsu practitioner uses palpitation and sometimes pulse diagnosis to examine a patient. The pressure applied to the different parts of the body promotes the energy flow and corrects disharmonies in the patient’s body. It helps in healing common ailments and conditions and corrects the body’s imbalances as well. Aside from giving the body relaxation, Shiatsu massage also helps relieve stress, treat pain and illness, and contribute to the patient’s overall health and wellbeing.

Some techniques used in Shiatsu massage include stretching, holding, and leaning body weight into various points along key channels. It can regulate the automatic nervous system activity and it can also stimulate the circulatory, lymphatic, and hormonal systems. Shiatsu massage can also help in treating poor posture, joint problems, sprains, arthritis, sciatica, acute and chronic neck and back pain, sinusitis, and bronchitis.


Shiatsu evolved from a Japanese massage modality called anma. Anma was developed by Akashi Kan Ichi in 1320 and was popularized in the 17th century by Sugiyama Waichi, who is an acupuncturist. Anma was then carried into the modern age by the Fujibayashi school.

Massage in Japan had been associated with the blind ever since Sugiyama’s time because he was blind as well. He established medical schools for the blind which taught anma. When the Tokugawa period came, the practice of anma was solely reserved for the blind. Meaning, sighted people were prohibited to practice the art. Because of that, the blind anma became a popular trope in Japanese culture. The practice continued into the modern era with a large proportion of the Japanese blind community working in the profession. In the 17th century, Shinsai Ota developed abdominal palpitation as a Japanese diagnostic technique.

Traditional medicine was then banned by General MacArthur during the Occupation of Japan by the Allies after World War II. This had prevented Japan’s blind community from earning a living. A lot of Japanese pleaded for the ban to be withdrawn. Also, Helen Keller, a writer, and advocate for blind rights interceded with the United States government when she was made aware of the prohibition. Because of her arguments, the ban was withdrawn.

In 1925, the Shiatsu Therapists Association began with the purpose of separating shiatsu from anma massage. In 1940, Tokujiro Namikoshi founded a Shiatsu college. The state recognition of Shiatsu as an independent method of treatment in Japan became his legacy. He was credited for the invention of modern Shiatsu. However, the term Shiatsu has already been used in 1919 in a book called Shiatsu Ho or finger pressure method in English which was published by Tamain Tempaku.

Namikoshi’s Shiatsu college taught shiatsu within a framework of Western medical science. Shizuto Masunaga, a student, and teacher of Namikoshi’s school carried shiatsu back to the traditional Eastern medicine and philosophic structure. He then founded Zen Shiatsu and the local Shiatsu Center school.

Hiroshi Nozaki, another student from Namikoshi’s school founded the Hiron Shiatsu, which is a holistic technique of Shiatsu that uses spiritual approach to healing which recognizes ways on how to take responsibility to have a healthy and happy life in your own hands. This Shiatsu technique is practiced mostly in France, Switzerland, and Italy where Nozaki opened several schools.


There is no proven evidence yet that Shiatsu massage can treat many types of disease including cancer. However, this does not mean that Shiatsu does not work in controlling symptoms or side effects. It is simply not tested properly yet.

Though there’s no proof that it can heal diseases, Shiatsu massage can help in improving the overall health by affecting the internal energy system. Like other therapies, Shiatsu is used as either a primary or complementary therapy. It is a combination of assisted-stretching techniques and acupressure which helps restore muscle and bone structure.

So if you’re experiencing muscle tension and fatigue, you might want to give Shiatsu massage a try.