History and development
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Shiatsu site
(still under construction)

Milestones in development of shiatsu and oriental medicine in Japan

  • In 90 BC, Ssu Ma Ch'ien and Ssu Ma Tan wrote the 'Shih Chi' (Historical Records) and recorded that in 218 or 219 BC the emperor of China sent Hsu Fu and other medical specialists east in search of new medicines. They eventually ended up in Japan[1] [7].
  • Bronze needles have been found which date to around the first usages of bronze in Japan (around 2 BC ), and flint needles older than this also found[1].
  • Official documents record a Korean doctor called Konmu was brought to Japan in 414 AD to treat the emperor Ingiyou[1].
  • The "Shin Sen Sei Shi Roku" records a doctor moving to Japan from Southern China in 562 AD, bringing 160 books on medicine[1].
  • The "Nihon Shouki" (volume 22) records that two Japanese men, Enichi and Fukuin, went to China for 15 years to study medicine in 608 AD[1].
  • During the Nara period (710-793) Tui Na massage techniques are introduced from China. An Ma and shiatsu later evolved from this[3].
  • In AD 702, the "Tai Hoo Ritsu Rei" law established a medical college (courses took seven years).
  • Yasuyori Tamba publishes the 30 volume "I Shin Bou" which recorded and established the Japanese medical system as it existed at that time (984 AD)[1].
  • In the 1500s, Buddhist techniques of abdominal massage and theories in the Nan Jing (Classic of Difficult Issues) are intergrated to develop Hara diagnosis.
  • Invasion of China by Manchu forces leads to 20-30000 refugees arriving in Japan, bringing further meical knowledge[2].
  • Waichi Sugiyama (1610-1694) who became blind from smallpox, further systemised and innovated treatments, and had massage and other medical treatments recognised as occupations blind people could practice[2].
  • Konzan Goto (1659-1733) and others around this time bring moxabustion into mainstream medical practice and further popularise it[2].
  • Dutch doctors introduce western medical ideas[2].
  • The Meiji Restoration of 1868 leads to traditional Japanese medicine being sidelined and medical training switching to a German model[2].
  • Ken Sawada (1877-1938) revitalises moxibustion therapy; Sodo Okabe (1907-1984) and others revitalise treatment based on diagnosis of kyo and jitsu[2].
  • In 1915, Tenpaku Tamai publishes the book Shiatsu Ryoho, with the first mention of the term shiatsu (used to distinguish healing techniques from massage for relaxation[4].
  • Tokujiro Namikoshi founded his first clinic for shiatsu therapy in Hokkaido (in 1925)[5].
  • Around 1970, Shizuto Masunaga founds his college teaching Zen style shiatsu[5].
  • Kampo herbal medicine is included in the Japanese health insurance system in 1976, and by 1993 The Lancet reports 70% of Japanese physicians are prescribing traditional herbal medicines[6].

    [1] Omura, Yoshiaki (1982). Acupuncture Medicine: Its Historical and Clinical Background. Dover. p 15-17.

    [2] Yasai, Hiromichi (2010). History of Japanese Acupuncture and Moxibustion (in `The Journal of Kampo, Acupuncture, and Integrative Medicine`). Accessed via
    [3] Masunaga, Shizuto (1977). Zen Shiatsu. Japan Publications. p 5.
    [4] History of Shiatsu (2015). Accessed via
    [5] Jarmey, Chris and Mojay, Gabriel (1991). Shiatsu: The Complete Guide. Thorsons. p. 8-9.
    [6] Tim H. Tanaka (2014). History of Kampo. Accessed via
    [7] Hong-Yen Hsu, William Peacher and Otsuka Keisetsu (1981). Shang Han Lun, The Great Classic of Chinese Medicine. Oriental Healing Arts Institute. Appendix 4, p. 236.

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