History of Shiatsu

Massage, along with acupuncture and herbalism, was for centuries an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine, which was introduced to Japan by a Buddhist monk in the 6th century. The Japanese developed and refined many of its methods to suit their own physiology, temperament and cli­mate. In particular, they developed the manual healing and diagnostic arts, evolving special techniques of abdominal diagnosis, treatment and massage, which are used in Shiatsu today.

However, the practice of massage known by the old name of anma (anmo or tuina in China) became gradually divorced from medicine and more associated with relaxation and pleasure. Certain practitioners were concerned to preserve massage and related techniques as an accepted healing art.

In the early part of the 20th century, one such practitioner, Tamai Tempaku, incorporated the newer Western sciences of anatomy and physiology and disciplines such as physiotherapy and chiropractic into several older meth­ods of treatment. Originally he used the term shiatsu ryoho or finger pressure way of healing, then shiatsu ho or finger pressure method. Now known simply as Shiatsu, it was officially recognized as a therapy by the Japanese Government in 1964, so distinguishing it from anma and Western massage.

Styles of Shiatsu

Many early Shiatsu practitioners developed their own style and some, including Tokojiro Namikoshi and Shizuto Masunaga, founded schools that helped establish Shiatsu as a therapy. Today, Shiatsu has a number of different styles, philosophical approaches and theoretical bases. Practitioners around the world are still evolving new approaches to treatment. Some concentrate on acupressure (acupuncture) points, while others emphasise more general work on the body or along the pathways of energy to influence the Ki that flows in them. Other styles high­light diagnostic systems, such as the Five Element system or the macrobiotic approach, however all are based on traditional Chinese medicine.

The approaches most commonly found in Britain are Zen Shiatsu, Five Element Shiatsu, Movement Shiatsu, Shintai Shiatsu, Barefoot Shiatsu, Healing Shiatsu and Namikoshi Shiatsu. 

Zen Shiatsu

Zen Shiatsu is the popular name for this style, developed by Shizuto Masunaga (1925-1981) – he named his style IOKAI (King) Shiatsu.  He believed Shiatsu was the King of bodywork, with its deep, comfortable penetration, its balancing and detoxifying effects and its theory, developed alongside that of acupuncture and herbal medicine.  The Western publishers of his 1977 book, renamed it Zen.  Zen Shiatsu goes directly to the core of the receiver's present condition via its subtle diagnostic system. The use of a stationary, “listening” hand guiding the penetrating, working hand makes for great sensitivity and effectiveness. It has influenced many other styles. (Source: Carola Beresford-Cooke)

Five Element Shiatsu

Five Element Shiatsu uses the paradigm of the Five Elements or Five Phase theory and the four pillars of examination to identify patterns of disharmony in the client’s body-mind-spirit and to balance those patterns through an appropriate treatment. The intention of the Five Element Shiatsu style is to address all aspects of the client, and considerations of the client's physical symptoms, lifestyle, emotional, and psychological factors are all considered important. Assessment of the client is through detailed verbal history along with abdominal and back palpation and assessment of the pulse. Five Element Shiatsu is effective in both acute and chronic problems and its real strength is working on constitutional issues. (Source: Andrew Parfitt. Email: [email protected] Website: www.shiatsu.co.uk)

Movement Shiatsu

Movement Shiatsu is a style developed by Bill Palmer in the 1980’s inspired by his work with children.  His research seemed to show that the pathways along which infants learn to move in the first year of life exactly follow the Six Divisions (channels joining leg meridians to arm meridians). Movement Shiatsu aims to help empower a client to work on their own development through exploring these movements. It starts by finding the client’s areas of ABILITY rather than focusing on their problems. Then it helps the client to explore themselves from that place of ability and to experiment with the areas that are more challenging.

A Movement Shiatsu session is more interactive than most other forms. The practitioner uses different forms of touch and guided experiments to help the client to explore their energy patterns and to sense which parts of their body are not integrated. The practitioner then helps the client to find new ways of moving by teaching them to directly experience the muscles, organs and fascia in those “shadow areas”. This helps them to re-integrate those parts and gives them the opportunity to safely sense and process buried trauma that may be the cause of the somatic split.

As well as being rooted in East-Asian medicine and philosophy, the evolution of Movement Shiatsu was strongly influenced by Feldenkrais Method and Body-Mind Centering, It is particularly suitable for working with chronic issues and disability where the client is wanting to find ways of working on themselves rather than being passively treated. (Source: Bill Palmer. Email:[email protected] Website:  www.seed.org)

Healing Shiatsu

Healing Shiatsu is an approach developed by Sonia Moriceau Sensei, founder of the Orchard Dharma Centre. Sonia had trained in Satipatthana and Zen meditation with John Garrie Roshi for seven years before training as a Shiatsu therapist with Wataru Ohashi. Her deep insight into the roots of suffering gained through reflective practice informed her approach to the application and teaching of shiatsu. Healing Shiatsu integrates the principles of Zen Shiatsu, working with the quality of Ki in the channels of the body, with an approach based on deep listening and non-invasive touch fostered through the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Working on the body with this approach allows the client to enter into a deep state of relaxation and creating a space where healing can occur on a physical or psychological level. (Source: Tony Austin)


Within Japanese Shiatsu, Sei-ki is the third strand which developed from the original lineage of Namikoshi, through Masunaga to Kishi Akinobu (1949-2012). With roots in Shinto, Sei-ki returns to the heart, echoing the traditional arts in emphasising inner work and resonance as guides. As such, Sei-ki cannot be defined in reference to physical techniques. With minimal outer form, practitioners seek to recognise and appreciate the original person. To achieve this, training requires the student to engage in a spirit of research, working constantly to clarify vision as integral to practise; 'to ‘touch’, so we may breathe again. (Source: Alice Whielden)

Barefoot Shiatsu

Barefoot Shiatsu works with the same principles as Shiatsu but the practitioner uses the feet and whole body to apply stronger and more sustained pressure. This Yang style is dynamic and vigorous and is particularly useful for clients with tight, hard musculature. It includes a variety of powerful yoga-like stretches designed to unwind stiffness and tightness. After a barefoot session clients typically report feeling that their tension has ‘melted away‘ and that they are relaxed but at the same time invigorated. (Source: Maria Serrano. Email: [email protected]  Website: www.mariaserrano.co.uk)

Shiatsu Shin Tai

Shin Tai is an innovative evolution of shiatsu that was developed by Saul Goodman. Shiatsu Shin Tai expands on traditional Shiatsu massage to create an evolutionary system of diagnosis and technique that stimulates the flow of life force in the body. There is a focus on the treatment of the two primary meridians, Governing Vessel and Conception Vessel, creating a powerful system of diagnosis, theory and technique that facilitates deep transformation. A unique synthesis of structural, fascia, meridian, and chakra technique, this therapeutic bodywork clears stress from the body, and naturally stimulates the flow of energy.  (Source: Shintai International)

Namikoshi Shiatsu

Namikoshi Shiatsu is the official Shiatsu of Japan. It is based on western anatomy and physiology and uses pressure on specific points to affect the nervous system and thus the internal physiology of the body. The founder, Tokujiro Namikoshi, found that touch applied to the surface of the body reflexes to the internal organs, releasing blockages and stimulating the body’s own healing power. Technique includes pressure on the Namikoshi system of lines and points, stretching and correcting techniques, 12 techniques for using palms, thumbs and fingers when applying pressure and 8 different types of pressure.