The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Massage

What is Japanese massage?

Who invented it?

And what are the best types of Japanese massage to make you feel great?

You’ll discover all of this plus much more in our ultimate guide below…


What is Japanese Massage?

Japanese massage is something that has grown and evolved over many millennia.

Currently, it encompasses many different methods and techniques. Some of these have been around for over 7000 years. 

Many also believe it has roots in Ayurveda – an ancient Indian practice. In the end, though, there is one ultimate goal.  

Japanese massage uses a combination of kneading, pressure, pulling and tapping. It largely targets the back, arms, legs, and neck.

The goal is to achieve relaxation and healing throughout both the mind and body. It’s a physical experience as much as it is spiritual and emotional. 

“Massage” in Japanese is actually “Anma.” An = to press, and Ma = to rub. 


Who invented Japanese Massage?

The Japanese massage that we know today may have some ties to China.

In the 7th century AD, some students from Japan went over to China to learn about their medicines and culture. They learned massage – among many other things – on this trip. 

They began to use the things they brought back in their daily lives. Massage was especially useful in helping martial arts students recover from injury.

As time passed, the Japanese continued to practice massage as a healing method in many scenarios. 

However, it eventually began to stray from this.

It slowly evolved into more of a method for simple pleasure and relaxation, until certain practitioners realized they needed to preserve the art of massage as a method of healing.

To do this, they adopted some more modern, western disciplines into their techniques. Thus, a new form of massage is born. 

Japanese massage was also popularized in the 17th century by Sugiyama Waichi, a well-known, blind acupuncturist.

He set up schools for the blind and taught them Anma massage. He theorized that their heightened senses would enhance their ability to massage. 


Types of Japanese Massage and how do each type make you feel good?

Japanese massage has evolved over time and several different types are now in existence. Each one has is own purpose and set of techniques.

Different massage therapists will specialize in or prefer certain types, so you may have to look around a little bit depending on which type you’re after. 


Anma (Traditional Japanese Massage)

Anma is the original, traditional form of Japanese massage. To this day, it still holds much of the original methodology from generations ago.

Anma treats both the body and mind. It aims to heal, relax, and eliminate anxiety. 

There are seven traditional techniques Anma uses. These include grasping/kneading, pressing/stroking, strengthening, compressing, tapping, vibrating, and what is referred to as “hand music.”

They are all directed at certain vital points and meridians throughout the body, with strokes moving away from the heart. 

In addition to providing overall healing to the body and benefiting the mind and emotions, Anma massage can be used to treat several specific conditions.

These include: 

  • Chronic pain
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety
  • Poor flexibility 
  • Low back pain
  • Nervous disorders
  • Stimulation of lymph and blood flow

Anma is most often done on a mat on the floor, but a table can be used if this is better or more comfortable for the receiver. 

Anma is an ancient method of massage. It is still popular in Japan and many schools around the world teach it. but there is a more contemporary method known as Shiatsu. This is derived from Anma and is more common in Western areas. 


Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu massage is found easily in many areas. It is a modern, revised variation of Anma massage.

The word itself derives from “shi” which means finger, and “atsu” which means pressure. The basis of this massage is, unsurprisingly, finger pressure. 

However, it does involve more than simple pressure from only the fingers. It also involves tapping, stretching, and kneading with both fingers and palms. 

The massage is based on a very natural and holistic way of healing.

Qi is a term found in traditional Chinese medicine. It refers to the energy that flows through the body. This energy flows to our organs via paths known as meridians. 

Each organ and body part are represented by pressure points or “tsubos” in Japanese. Q is the energy that keeps us functional by nourishing the body, mind, and spirit. 

The idea behind Shiatsu is to keep these pathways clear. If there’s a blockage in any of the pathways, it disrupts the energy flow and potentially causes several diseases.

Shiatsu itself does have several different styles and techniques as it’s a blend of both Western and Asian influences. It breaks down into three different categories: 

  • Zen. Zen Shiatsu is closest to traditional Japanese massage and uses the Five Element Theory, otherwise known as the macrobiotic approach. This is a method of diagnosing sickness based on dominant energy forces within the body. 
  • Nippon. This style is more westernized than Zen and focuses on the holistic theories and practices of Chinese medicine. It’s a more intense experience that focuses on the body’s pressure points. It addresses physical symptoms while simultaneously providing psychological, spiritual, and emotional healing. 
  • Serizawa. This is a method that focuses more on the acupoints and how you can manipulate them to bring therapeutic results.  

Reiki Massage

Reiki is a form of massage that focuses on the spiritual side of things. It is used for stress reduction, relaxation, and healing.

The word Reiki comes from two words: “Rei” = “God’s wisdom.” It can also mean “the higher power.” It also contains Ki = “life for energy.” 

The goal with Reiki is essentially to combine the two in order to create the best possible balance for living life in a spiritually healthy way.

The theory is that if your ki, or “life for energy’ is low, you are more likely to experience stress or illness. When it’s high, you’re happier and healthier. 

Reiki alone is not a massage at all, but a spiritual session of energy flow and healing. Some light touch may be applied, but it can be done with no touch at all.

Reiki sessions are described as making you feel radiant, glowing, and peaceful. It’s when a Reiki practitioner is also a licensed massage therapist that the two can be combined. 

Because Reiki is a practice of its own, there is no specific way to massage, if you are going to combine the two things. You can add Reiki to your practice no matter which type of massage you offer.

If you learn the practice of Reiki, you can even consider offering Reiki sessions on their own. 


Jin Shin Jyutsu Massage

Jin Shin Jyutsu is a method that focuses on 26 specific points on the body that represent different areas of the meridian system.

The belief is that energy blockages in any area of the body can cause disharmony, tension, and imbalance. 

This type of massage uses fingers to apply pressure to these points in various combinations in order to clear and restore them.

It will release the flow of the energy, bringing proper balance and harmony back to the meridian system. 

The method is based on the formalization of Japanese energy healing traditions. “Jin” means art, “shin” means creator, and “jyutsu” means man of knowing and compassion. 

It was founded by a man who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness at only 26 years old. But through the studying and practice of ancient Japanese energy healing traditions, he was able to cure himself.

The practice of Jin Shin Jyutsu was brought to North America by this man’s apprentice in the 1950s


Watsu

Watsu is a method of healing that combines Shiatsu massage and the healing powers of water.

The name itself comes from combining the words “water” and “Shiatsu.”

For a watsu massage, you will be submerged in a shallow pool of water that is precisely 36 degrees Celcius. 

Like any massage, this practice will benefit your body, but it’s also a powerful way to calm your mind and spirit. The warm water combined with massage techniques is the ultimate way to relax. 

During a watsu massage, the therapist will combine stretching, cradling, and fluid movements with Shiatsu techniques.

This is all done while you float freely in the water, effectively washing all your troubles away. 

It’s a fairly new practice, developed and trademarked by a man named Harold Dull in 1980.

At first, it was mostly about stretching and how doing this in the water can be beneficial. But, both therapists and recipients began to notice the incredible emotional effect it had on people.

It soon became more of an emotional and energetic experience, as opposed to merely physical. 

In addition to the physical benefits it brings, the act itself can restore a sense of oneness and connection with other people. 

Water itself is known for having a host of therapeutic benefits. As a workout, it’s gentle on the body because there is no pressure put on the joints.

Watsu massage brings the same gentleness as the body is allowed to move in ways that it can’t on land. 


What are the benefits of Japanese Massage?

Regardless of which method of massage you go with, all still have deep roots in traditional Japanese massage and healing practices.

They all focus, in one way or another, on mind, body, and spirit – and how to connect them all. 

Each session will reap you many benefits, and regular massage treatments will contribute to ongoing health, peace, and vitality. 

There are several key benefits of Japanese massage: 

  • Massage is a non-invasive form of therapy and can be incredibly gentle if necessary. 
  • Some forms of massage don’t need to be performed on bare skin, therefore light clothing is kept on which makes some more comfortable.
  • It can be both preventative and remedial of many illnesses and diseases such as chronic pain, frozen shoulder, sciatica, fatigue, headache, insomnia, and anxiety.
  • A massage eases muscle tension and as a result, muscle stiffness and pain. 
  • It restores and maintains the body’s energy. 
  • It can significantly reduce mental and emotional stress and turmoil.
  • Massage increases energy levels and therefore helps in faster healing from injury. 
  • It can help relieve the pain of arthritis. 
  • It can help reduce respiratory issues like colds and sinus problems. 

This list certainly isn’t exhaustive. It covers the main benefits you will experience during a massage, but there are many more you may find, especially if you are suffering from specific illnesses or issues. 


FAQs – The Short Answers

What is Japanese Massage?

Japanese massage uses the application of kneading, pulling, stretching, and tapping to muscles and pressure points throughout the body.

It heals and relaxes both the mind and body while assisting with the management of certain illnesses. 

Japanese massage is a combination of physical and spiritual methods and experiences. There are several different styles and practices.

However, all of them ultimately come back to the same ancient practices and theories. 


Why does Japanese Massage make you feel relaxed?

There is no denying that Japanese massage is a relaxing experience. Coming out of a massage not feeling relaxed is virtually unheard of. But – why is that? 

Massage works out knots and tension in your muscles. This relieves pain and stiffness, allowing you to physically relax as you begin to feel better.

It causes your heart rate and breathing to slow, and blood pressure to go down. 

The restoration of energy flow and spiritual wellness also contribute to a relaxed state of mind.

This is done as peace and harmony are brought back into your body. This also effectively reduces stress, anxiety, and can ease feelings of depression. 


What is the difference between Anma and Shiatsu Massage?

The difference between Anma and Shiatsu massage is not huge. Anma is the original, traditional form of Japanese massage.

It uses pressure points to release toxins and stimulate positive energy.  It originated in China but was brought to Japan many thousands of years ago. 

Shiatsu is a derivative of Anma. It uses many of the traditional methods found in Anma massage, but it has also incorporated several more modern and westernized methods and ideas.

Additionally, Anma is typically administered on bare skin. During Shiatsu, you remain fully clothed.

While the two are similar, there are several techniques that are still exclusive to Anma massage. 


What is the most popular Japanese Massage?

While each method of Japanese massage has its place, Shiatsu is most popular in many areas of the world, particularly in the Western world.

It has become so popular and common due to its combination of traditional and modern methods. 

It mixes in a little of both and it carries a whole host of health benefits – emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical.