Japanese style Acupuncture is more gentle than Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques.

After practicing Traditional Chinese acupuncture for more than ten years, I began to study Japanese style acupuncture. Its techniques are gentler and uses gentle palpation to find the cause of the problem.  These gentle treatments are more individualized according to the  health pattern. Instead of treating one symptom like a headache with a point known to help alleviate headaches, which is more of a Traditional Chinese Medicine style of treatment, a full body analysis is taken into consideration before choosing acupuncture points that treat the underlying imbalance causing the headache symptoms. This is a more comprehensive approach and its focus is to strengthen the Vital Qi.

The needles used in Japanese acupuncture are ultra-fine disposable stainless steel. These are typically inserted less than 1/4 of an inch into the skin and usually cause almost no temporary on-site discomfort. In one specialized technique a silver needle is applied only to the surface of the skin without insertion. The video above is of my teacher Sensei Kobayashi. He developed a Japanese style of acupuncture called Shakuju therapy. There is no insertion of a needle, only gentle tapping and holding the needle just on the surface of the skin. I was fortunate enough to study with him in his clinic in Tokyo and to see him several times when he would teach in the U.S.

Japanese acupuncture is based on an understanding that there are roads or channels, called meridians, which map the entire body. Each channel is related to a specific organ such as the liver, kidney, or heart. There are 12 common pathways. A diagnosis made within this medical tradition relies on determining which organ pathway needs the most attention and is described as a sho pattern. Acupuncture techniques are then applied with the intention of regulating excesses and deficiencies and supporting the associated organ of the sho pattern.

Chinese monk-physicians introduced acupuncture to Japan more than 1,400 years ago. Acupuncture needles then were made from silver and gold. For centuries royal families were the main recipients of these treatments; common people relied on traditional plant medicines and manual therapies. Japanese medicine relied on all three of these modalities until the late 19th century, when Western medicine was introduced as a part of European military influence on Japanese society. Traditional Japanese acupuncturists were then denied the title of doctor if they did not receive additional Western medical training. Nevertheless, traditional acupuncture methods were preserved and eventually, a sophisticated therapeutic methodology was developed that fosters the practice of acupuncture in contemporary Japanese medicine.

One characteristic that marked the development of Japanese acupuncture was the introduction of guide tubes designed to aid in the insertion of acupuncture needles into the skin. Before the invention of guide tubes, traditional practitioners of Chinese acupuncture had inserted the needles by hand or used a small hammer to tap needles into position. Guide tubes allowed for the use of thinner needles and caused less pain in the course of treatment; they have become the standard for needle insertion. Historically, it is interesting that a blind Japanese acupuncturist invented the guide tube, which led to a surge of interest in acupuncture as a skilled trade for the blind. Japan developed the world’s first formal vocational school for the blind. Blind acupuncturists rely on gentle Japanese palpation techniques and gentle needling.

Using gentle non painful acupuncture techniques patients usually tell me that they feel both energized and calmer after a treatment. Ultimately the treatments are intended to improve resilience, enhance vitality, and prevent chronic illness.