In the Japanese language, shiatsu means "finger pressure". Shiatsu techniques include massages with fingers, thumbs, and palms; assisted stretching; and joint manipulation and mobilization. To examine a patient, a shiatsu practitioner uses palpation and, sometimes, pulse diagnosis.
Shiatsu derives from a Japanese massage modality called anma. The Japanese may have adapted anma from tui na, a Chinese bodywork system that arrived in Japan during the Nara period (710–793 CE). Tokujiro Namikoshi (1905–2000) founded a shiatsu college in the 1940s, and is often credited with inventing modern shiatsu. Shiatsu in Japan is regulated by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Shiatsu evolved from anma, a Japanese massage modality developed in 1320 by Akashi Kan Ichi. Anma was popularised in the seventeenth century by acupuncturist Sugiyama Waichi, and around the same time the first books on the subject, including Fujibayashi Ryohaku's Anma Tebiki ("Manual of Anma"), appeared. The Fujibayashi school carried anma into the modern age. Prior to the emergence of shiatsu in Japan, masseurs were often nomadic, earning their keep in mobile massage capacities, and paying commissions to their referrers.
Since Sugiyama's time, massage in Japan had been strongly associated with the blind. Sugiyama, blind himself, established a number of medical schools for the blind which taught this practice. During the Tokugawa period, edicts were passed which made the practice of anma solely the preserve of the blind – sighted people were prohibited from practicing the art. As a result, the "blind anma" has become a popular trope in Japanese culture. This has continued into the modern era, with a large proportion of the Japanese blind community continuing to work in the profession.
During the Occupation of Japan by the Allies after World War II, traditional medicine practices were banned (along with other aspects of traditional Japanese culture) by General MacArthur. The ban prevented a large proportion of Japan's blind community from earning a living. Many Japanese entreated for this ban to be rescinded. Additionally, writer and advocate for blind rights Helen Keller, on being made aware of the prohibition, interceded with the United States government; at her urging, the ban was rescinded.
Tokujiro Namikoshi (1905-2000) founded his shiatsu college in the 1940s, and is often credited with inventing modern shiatsu. His legacy was the state recognition of Shiatsu as an independent method of treatment in Japan. However, the term shiatsu was already in use in 1919, when a book called "Shiatsu Ho" ("finger pressure method") was published, and in 1925 the Shiatsu Therapists Association began, with the purpose of distancing shiatsu from Anma massage.
Namikoshi's school taught shiatsu within a framework of western medical science. A student and teacher of this school, Shizuto Masunaga, brough shiatsu back to traditional eastern medicine and philosophic framework. He founded Zen Shiatsu and the Iokai Shiatsu Center school.
There is no evidence that shiatsu is an effective medical treatment.
According to Cancer Research UK, "There is no scientific evidence to prove that shiatsu can cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer. Also, a lack of high quality research so far means there is currently no scientific evidence to support the use of shiatsu for controlling cancer symptoms. This doesn't mean that shiatsu doesn't work in controlling symptoms or side effects, simply that it has not yet been tested properly."
- Jarmey, Chris; Mojay, Gabriel (1991). Shiatsu: The Complete Guide. Thorsons. p. 8. ISBN 9780722522431.
Shiatsu therapy is a form of manipulation administered by the thumbs, fingers and palms, without the use of any instrument, mechanical or otherwise, to apply pressure to the human skin, to correct internal malfunctioning, promote and maintain health and treat specific diseases"
- Robinson, Nicola; Lorenc, Ava; Liao, Xing (2011). "The evidence for Shiatsu: A systematic review of Shiatsu and acupressure". BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 11: 88. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-88. PMC 3200172. PMID 21982157.
Shiatsu incorporates acupressure, which is similar but applies pressure for longer on specific pressure points on meridians, following Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
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