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Shiatsu Massage: About This Ancient Art

Learn about Shiatsu massage, its origins, and how it differs from other techniques such as Swedish massage and trigger point therapy.

What is Shiatsu Massage?

Shiatsu massage stands as a prominent Japanese therapeutic technique deeply rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

The term "Shiatsu" translates to "finger pressure" in Japanese, signifying its core method involving the application of pressure through fingers, thumbs, palms, and occasionally elbows and knees to specific body points.

The underlying objective of Shiatsu massage is to harmonize the body's energy flow and foster comprehensive health and well-being.

Origins of Shiatsu Massage

The origins of Shiatsu massage can be traced back to ancient China, where its evolution was influenced by the principles and practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM.

Fundamental to TCM is the concept of energy channels known as meridians, conduits through which vital energy, referred to as Qi or Chi, circulates. Any disruption or imbalance in the Qi flow can lead to physical or emotional maladies.

Shiatsu massage endeavors to restore the equilibrium of Qi within the body, consequently supporting health restoration.

Tokujiro Namikoshi y Shigeru Onoda

Tokujiro Namikoshi, right, played a key role in establishing Shiatsu as a recognized therapeutic modality. Photo source

Evolution of Shiatsu Massage

During the 20th century, Japan served as the locus for the continued development and refinement of Shiatsu massage. Tokujiro Namikoshi, revered as the progenitor of contemporary Shiatsu, played a pivotal role in its establishment as a recognized therapeutic modality.

Namikoshi seamlessly integrated Western anatomical knowledge with traditional techniques, and in the 1940s, he founded the Japan Shiatsu College, a crucial agent in the widespread acceptance of Shiatsu massage.

Shiatsu vs. Traditional Swedish Massage Therapy

Shiatsu massage sets itself apart from traditional Swedish massage through several key distinctions:


Shiatsu massage concentrates on rhythmic pressure targeting specific points along the body's meridians, coupled with stretching and joint mobilization methods. On the other hand, Swedish massage predominantly employs techniques like long, gliding strokes, kneading, tapping, and vibration, often with the aid of oils or lotions.


Shiatsu massage sessions are typically conducted with the client fully clothed, in loose, comfortable attire, without the utilization of oils or lotions. Conversely, Swedish massage often entails partial or complete undressing, with direct skin-to-skin contact and the application of oils or lotions.

Philosophy and Approach

Shiatsu massage draws its roots from Eastern philosophies and TCM principles, accentuating the circulation of energy (Qi) within the body and its overarching impact on holistic health. Practitioners employ pressure and techniques to restore energy balance.

Swedish massage derives from Western anatomical and physiological principles, with its emphasis on relaxation, circulation enhancement, and soft tissue manipulation to alleviate muscle tension and foster overall well-being.

Objectives and Benefits

While both Shiatsu and Swedish massage facilitate relaxation and stress relief, Shiatsu massage particularly aims to reinstate and harmonize the body's energy flow, addressing both physical and emotional imbalances. It is believed to yield therapeutic effects for a range of conditions including musculoskeletal pain, digestive disorders, headaches, and fatigue.

Swedish massage is primarily sought after for relaxation, alleviating muscle tension, and enhancing circulation.

Differentiating Trigger Point Therapy from Shiatsu

Both Shiatsu massage and trigger point therapy entail pressure application to mitigate muscle tension and foster pain relief. However, there are key differentiators between Shiatsu massage and trigger point therapy:

  • Shiatsu massage delves into the restoration of the body's energy flow via meridians, employing a holistic framework that encompasses diverse techniques beyond trigger points.
  • Trigger point therapy specifically targets trigger points and their associated pain patterns, aiming to release muscle knots and enhance muscle function.

Ultimately, both Shiatsu and Swedish massage bear unique virtues, each holding relevance within distinct contexts and for varied individuals. The selection between the two hinges upon personal preferences, therapeutic objectives, and the proficiency of the massage practitioner.

Get Started with Shiatsu Massage

I’ve been practicing Shiatsu for over two decades. During that time I’ve seen how Shiatsu facilitates profound change in the body, leading to a shift in how the receiver feels or moves.

If you are located in Toronto and would like to experience Shiatsu massage for yourself, please consider booking a session online.

– Yvonne