shiatsu - kataCredit: Flickr ( by khatawat )This is a form of therapy that’s unique to the Japanese but it dates back to Chinese philosophical ideas. The oldest text which is the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine goes back to the Han Dynasty 206 BC - AD 25. This shows up a bit of how philosophy and medicine were tied together during that time. The text showed how geography and the environment have impact on the health of a person.

Early Techniques before Shiatsu

Four Classical approaches to medicine in early China were developed in specific geographical regions:

  • South – It was warmer in this location in China but with the vegetation many herbal remedies were possible.
  • North – Here there was moxibustion, which is the burning of mugwort for acupuncture.
  • East – This area has a diet based on salt and fish so stomach ulcers were common. Stone flint needling of precise points on the body was used in the form of acupuncture.
  • China Center – Here physical techniques such as breathing, massage, and exercises were used.

Around the 6th century AD Chinese monks brought Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism to Japan. Here was trade and communication opened up between the two countries. In the 7th Century Japanese students went there to study culture and medicine. A form of massage called Anma evolved during the Edo period (1602-1868) in Japan and was mainly performed by blind people. This was only known as a relaxation technique since the blind didn’t have the education of herbalists or doctors.


Tokujiro Namikoshi discovered his system of Shiatsu through trial and error in 1905 on Hokkaido and this is where it first developed. He worked on his mother’s knee as there were no doctors where he lived. He used different rubbing techniques and found that they helped her arthritic knee. Tokujiro was to realize that by pressing on the muscles he was helping heal her.

Introduction of Shiatsu

In the early 20th century another Japanese man named Tamai Tempaku helped bring Shiatsu to where it is today. He created a book called Shiatsu Ho in 1919. This combined Anma, Do-In, with physiology and Western anatomy.

In the Taisho Period (1911-1925) Shiatsu was defined under Shiatsu Law and in 1955 it was approved to be a apart of Anma massage. In 1957 the first Shiatsu School was licensed by the Minister of Health and Welfare and in 1964, Shiatsu was recognized as a therapy. Today Shiatsu is incorporated into the Japanese Health Care System.