What is shiatsu?


                            What is shiatsu?                                     

Definiton of shiatsu   指 圧



Shiatsu technique refers to the use of the fingers and the palm of one's hands to apply pressure to particular sections on the surface of the body for the purpose of correcting the imbalances of the body,

and for maintaining and promoting health.

It is also a method contributing to the healing of specific illnesses.

Official definition of shiatsu in Japan. From the book 指圧の理論と実技 "Theory and Practice of Shiatsu" published by the medical department

of The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (Dec 1957, Japan). 

The meaning of shiatsu in Japanese is finger pressure, 指 (shi: finger) 圧 (atsu: pressure). In Japan there is an official national exam to obtain a licence to practise shiatsu from the Ministry of Health and Welfare1.

The official Japanese definition of shiatsu2 is not always used outside Japan, although it encompasses all the different shiatsu styles. Depending on the style practised, different definitions are found.

Those styles that use Traditional Chinese Medicine as a theoretical basis (Masunaga-based styles), link shiatsu to the meridians of acupuncture, and the concept of energy or Qi (Ki in Japanese)3 4.

On the other hand, the styles that ressemble more the official shiatsu of Japan (Namikoshi-based styles), use points and areas outside the meridians of acupuncture5, hardly mention Traditional Chinese Medicine, and emphasise the effects of shiatsu on anatomical and physiological systems, such as the nervous and skeletal systems6 7.

   The aim of shiatsu is also defined differently.

Namikoshi-based shiatsu applies manual and digital pressure with the aim of preventing and curing illness by stimulating the body's natural powers of recuperation (self-healing), eliminating fatigue-producing elements, and promoting general good health8.

The aim of Masunaga-based shiatsu is to promote the processes of self healing and personal growth through balancing the circulation of the body's energy: Ki or Chi9, or to free blockages in the flow of Ki.

These differences in theoretical approaches to shiatsu, depending on style, can also be seen in almost any book on shiatsu.

Quoting from 'The Complete Illustrated Guide to Shiatsu': "Where Namikoshi places no reliance on the meridian system, Masunaga brought shiatsu firmly back into the realms of traditional oriental theory"10.


Most styles favour one or the other theoretical approach, and depending on which is the most favoured, books may define shiatsu in different ways11 12.

Some of these differences may also be perceived in the fact that most therapists practise shiatsu in Britain differently from the way it is practised in Japan13.

In spite of their theoretical differences, all shiatsu styles have much in common.

Shiatsu is always defined as a hands-on therapy that applies "pressure", which comes from leaning and using body weight, instead of one's own strength, and from the correct use of fingers, hands, etc, to transmit this pressure to the receiver in the correct way.

The relaxed use of body weight is the basis of all shiatsu techniques, and it is what distinguishes shiatsu from other massage techniques, including the predecessors of shiatsu, anma and tui na14 15.

1. http://e.shiatsu.ac.jp/pro/    Retrieved 14/March/2015

2. http://www.shiatsutherapy.org/english001.htm  Retrieved 18/July/2015

Tokujiro Namikoshi, the founder of the Japan Shiatsu College has a slightly different translation: Shiatsu is a treatment in which the thumbs and palms of the hands are used to apply pressure to certain points in order to correct irregularities of the living body, maintain or improve health, and contribute to the cure of certain illnesses.

Namikoshi, Tokujiro (1975), Japanese finger-pressure therapy, shiatsu, Tokyo, Japan Publications Inc, p. 10.

3. http://www.staa.org.au/about/what-is-shiatsu     Retrieved 11/May/2015

4. http://www.nicola-endicott.co.uk/about_shiatsu.html   

Retrieved 8/August/2014

5. Namikoshi Shiatsu Therapy, Australia    Retrieved 11/May/2015

6. http://www.shiatsupractor.org/aboutshiatsu.html#definition   

Retrieved 11/May/2015

7. http://e.shiatsu.ac.jp/about/      Retrieved 6/April/2015

8. http://www.namikoshi-shiatsu.com.au/about.html    Retrieved 23/May/2015

9. http://www.shiatsufederation.eu/about-shiatsu.html    Retrieved 23/May/2015

10. Liechti, Elaine (2001), Complete Illustrated Guide to Shiatsu, London, HarperCollins Publishers, p. 28.

11. Namikoshi, Toru (2006), The Complete Book of Shiatsu Therapy, Tokyo, Japan Publications, Inc., pp. 23-43.

12. Jarmey, Chris (1999), Shiatsu Foundation Course, Alresford, Godsfield Press,

pp. 14-16.

13. Shiatsu in Britain and Japan: personhood, holism and embodied aesthetics.

Written by Adams, Glyn. Anthropology & Medicine, 2002 Dec; 9 (3): 245-65

14. Lundberg, Paul (1992), The Book of Shiatsu, New York, Simon and Schuster,

pp. 44 - 48.

15. Jarmey, Chris (1999), Shiatsu Foundation Course, Alresford, Godsfield Press, p. 36.