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The History of Shiatsu 

Shiatsu History

Shiatsu has its roots in ancient Asian healing practices, drawing influences from traditional Chinese medicine and Japanese traditional medicine. The development of Shiatsu as a distinct form of therapy occurred in Japan in the early 20th century.

The founder of Shiatsu, Tokujiro Namikoshi, played a crucial role in its modern development. Born in 1905, Namikoshi developed an interest in massage and bodywork from a young age. In 1912, at the age of seven, he reportedly used Shiatsu techniques to alleviate his mother's rheumatism. This early experience sparked his curiosity and led him to study anatomy and traditional Japanese massage techniques.

In 1925, Namikoshi opened a clinic in Hokkaido, Japan, where he began to formally practice and teach his approach to bodywork. He combined his knowledge of anatomy with traditional Japanese massage and the principles of Chinese medicine, developing a systematic and therapeutic method. His approach involved applying pressure to specific points on the body to promote overall well-being and address various health issues.

Namikoshi's method gained recognition, and in 1940, he established the Japan Shiatsu Institute. He continued to refine and promote Shiatsu both in Japan and internationally. In 1964, the Japanese government officially recognized Shiatsu as a legitimate form of therapy, contributing to its widespread acceptance.

Over time, different styles and approaches to Shiatsu have emerged. Some practitioners adhere more closely to Namikoshi's methods, while others incorporate elements from other traditional healing systems. Zen Shiatsu, a style developed by Shizuto Masunaga, integrates traditional Shiatsu with aspects of traditional Chinese medicine, including the concept of the meridians and the Five Elements.

Today, Shiatsu is practiced worldwide and is often considered part of complementary and alternative medicine. It has gained popularity for its holistic approach to health, focusing on the balance of energy within the body to promote physical and mental well-being.

Shizuto Masunaga was a significant figure in the development and popularization of Shiatsu. Born in 1925 in Osaka, Japan, Masunaga was a licensed psychologist and also held a degree in medicine. He played a crucial role in expanding and refining the practice of Shiatsu, introducing new concepts that have influenced its modern expression. Here are some key contributions of Shizuto Masunaga to Shiatsu:

  1. Meridian Therapy: Masunaga expanded on the traditional meridian system of Chinese medicine and incorporated it into Shiatsu. He introduced the concept of "Zen Shiatsu," which integrates traditional Shiatsu techniques with the meridian system. Masunaga's approach includes specific sequences of pressure and stretches along the meridians to balance the flow of energy (qi) in the body.

  2. Five Elements Theory: Masunaga incorporated the Five Elements theory from Chinese medicine into his Zen Shiatsu approach. This theory associates each of the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water) with specific organs and meridians. By considering the relationships between these elements, Zen Shiatsu practitioners aim to address imbalances in the body's energy and promote overall well-being.

  3. Hara Diagnosis: Masunaga emphasized the significance of the hara, the abdominal area, in Shiatsu diagnosis. He developed a system of hara diagnosis where practitioners assess the condition of the internal organs and the overall energy balance of the body. The hara is considered a key area for understanding the state of a person's health and determining appropriate Shiatsu techniques.

  4. Psychological Aspects: Given his background in psychology, Masunaga incorporated psychological elements into his Shiatsu teachings. He recognized the interconnectedness of the mind and body and emphasized the role of emotions in influencing physical health. This holistic approach considers the emotional and psychological aspects of an individual in addition to physical symptoms.

  5. Movement and Stretching: Masunaga introduced movement and stretching exercises as part of Zen Shiatsu. These exercises are designed to complement the pressure point work and contribute to the overall balance and flexibility of the body.


Shizuto Masunaga's contributions have had a lasting impact on the practice of Shiatsu, and his teachings have influenced many practitioners worldwide. His integration of traditional Eastern concepts with modern psychology has helped to shape Shiatsu as a holistic and therapeutic approach to health and well-being.

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