Shiatsu, translating roughly as “finger pressure”, is a style of massage originating in Japan. By the standards of traditional Chinese and Thai medicine it is relatively young, having been developed during the 1920s. However, its roots go much further back, to a traditional Japanese massage modality called “Amna”, itself derived from Chinese Tui Na massage.
Shiatsu’s development is credited to Tokujiro Namikoshi, a Japanese chiropractor trained in Amna massage. Tokujiro gradually developed the modern Shiatsu technique. He opened his first clinic in Hokkaido in 1925 and later established the Japan Shiatsu College in Tokyo, which became a leading institution for shiatsu training and research.
It shares a lot of fundamental ideas with Chinese medicine, and the concepts of “qi” or life force. Shiatsu massage therapists locate the body’s “meridian lines” which they believe channel the body’s energy. The actual massage applies pressure along those lines and the Shiatsu practitioner believes this can unblock and rebalance the flow of energy (qi) along these lines. This is the same objective as traditional Chinese acupuncture, except using pressure rather than needles.
For a customer considering one or the other, Shiatsu and Thai massages are really quite similar. Both modalities in their traditional form are carried out clothed, on a floor futon without oil (but both are typically modified for western customers to use oil and to be carried out on raised massage tables). Therapists in both techniques deploy acupressure along lines up and down the client’s body, using their own body weight. As with Thai massage, the shiatsu therapist applies pressure to the target areas using fingers, palms and knuckles (but unlike Thai, rarely deploys elbows, knees or feet). Unlike Thai massage, sometimes the Shiatsu therapist ‘taps’ an area rather than press it.
In addition to pressure, shiatsu massage can also incorporate stretching and mobilization techniques. The shiatsu therapist may stretch or rotate a client’s limbs and joints to improve flexibility and range of motion. They may also use rocking, shaking, or tapping movements.
The last big difference is duration. You sometimes see shiatsu massage treatments being done in 10, 20 or 30 minutes (and sometimes seated rather than lying). Thai massage treatments are normally longer (traditionally 90+ minutes, but often reduced to 60 minutes to meet demand in western markets for slightly shorter treatments). As our name suggests, we offer only Thai massage treatments at Thai Kosai, but encourage all customers to try different massage modalities to see what works best for them!