I guess it depends on how narrow we want to define the word shiatsu. Technically the word was coined in the early part of the 20th century. It is hard to pin down exactly when but it was certainly in use by 1919 when Shiatsu Ho (finger pressure method) by Tamai Tempaku was published. Tempaku is most often credited with the creation of modern day shiatsu. He first used the word shiatsu in an effort to distinguish it from anma, as he considered the traditional form of Japanese body therapy was losing its emphasis on health and being mainly used for pleasure and relaxation. Two of Tempaku’s students (Tokojiro Namikoshi and Shizuto Masunaga) founded schools from which the two main styles of modern day shiatsu have developed. The shiatsu therapists association in Japan was founded in 1925 and shiatsu was defined by the Japanese government in 1955 as a distinct therapy.
However, the roots of shiatsu in a broader sense go much further back. Body work is referred to in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Han Dynasty 206 B.C.E–25 A.C.E) and was developed alongside herbalism and acupuncture as the foundations of health care in China.
Many customs and technologies were imported into Japan from China in the 5th and 6th centuries when a window of trade between the two countries opened up. Buddhism entered into Japan at this time and with the Buddhist monks came the healing arts of China: tuina and anmo being the traditional Chinese body therapies of the time. The Japanese, as with other Chinese imports, adapted and refined tuina and anmo (anma in Japan) to suit their environment and philosophies.
The refinement of anma was particularly pronounced during the feudal era (1185–1868.) The age of the warrior provided an especially rich environment for the healing arts to be practised, experimented with and refined. Even the martial training was brutal by today’s standards. Death and injury were common and anma was regarded as an integral part of the medical system. Six hundred and eighty three years of martial rule created a great deal of opportunity for healing practices to develop.
One of the most poignant aspects of this era was the fact that the warrior class (samurai) were required to adhere to a strict code of conduct known as budo (the way of the warrior.) Budo has a deeply spiritual foundation. As samurai, life was uncertain in the most conscious way. Akin to living with a terminal disease, this had the effect of giving many samurai a deep appreciation for life. If a samurai was fortunate enough to survive to an age where he could turn his attentions to more gentle occupations there were two that most often presented. One, entering a monastery; and two, practising a healing art. Thus, the practice of anma by these samurai was underpinned by a deeply spiritual orientation and code of conduct.
Toward the end of the feudal era an urban lifestyle began to emerge, the softer, pleasure seeking aspect of this lifestyle was known as ukiyo (floating world.) Anma became part of this world and in the second half of the 19th century began to be seen by some, including Tamai Tempaku, as losing its integrity and therapeutic focus. Tempaku coined the name shiatsu with the intent of dissociating himself from the pleasure seeking floating world. He selected a range of anma techniques that suited his style, the predominant one being pressure work, and in the traditional way, began practising and teaching apprentices.
In the next article I will explore the legacy of Tempaku and the Japanese tradition of teaching in the journeyman model.
Honour the art