Features Of Japanese Acupuncture

By Stephen Brown

Development of Japanese Acupuncture

Chinese medicine arrived in Japan through Korea in the 6th century and has been practiced for over 14 centuries. Both herbology and acupuncture have undergone some unique developments that distinguish traditional Japanese medicine from its Chinese or Korean counterparts. The acupuncture practiced in Japan today is a product of the strong influence of Western medicine starting in the 18th century. The dominant form of acupuncture practiced in Japan today is based more on the scientific model than traditional concepts.

Be that as it may, there is a large contingent of acupuncturists in Japan who base their practice on the classics of Chinese medicine. "Meridian Therapy" is the representative style of Japanese acupuncture based on traditional Chinese concepts. Meridian Therapy had an earlier and stronger influence in North America and it continues to dominate the practice of Japanese style acupuncture in the U.S. A steady stream of Meridian Therapy practitioners have come to the U.S. over the last two decades led by masers like Shudo Denmei, Masakazu Ikeda and Okada Akizo.

While Chinese acupuncture today is closely allied with herbal medicine, Japanese acupuncture has developed in close proximity to massage and moxibustion. Great importance is placed on palpation, careful location and stimulation of reactive points in Japanese acupuncture. So even though there is great variation in styles of acupuncture in Japan, there is a tendency to emphasize skillful palpation and gentle stimulation. In Japanese acupuncture, and especially Meridian Therapy, the skin is seen as the interface by which information is received and conveyed to the body as a whole. It is thought that the body is more readily stimulated and affected on the surface. Therefore the ideal is to find a difference or reaction close to the surface where it can be most readily affected. This makes Japanese acupuncture treatment less invasive and reduces undesirable side effects including pain.

Meridian Therapy, the more traditional approach to Japanese acupuncture, employs very gentle needle techniques so it is especially suited to the treatment of the very young, weak or sensitive patient. Meridian Therapy emphasizes the treatment of the cause of disease (root treatment) while also addressing the symptoms (branch treatment). Meridian Therapy relies on six position pulse diagnosis, abdominal diagnosis and direct palpation of deficiency and excess on the meridians. The root treatment is rendered by subtle tonification and dispersion techniques.

Influence of Japanese Acupuncture

Use of guide tubes for needle insertion became almost universal since the introduction of disposable needles by Seirin Co. in Japan in the 1970s.

There has been a steady trend towards thinner needles and more gentle needle insertion techniques in North America in recent years.

There is a growing appreciation for touch-based diagnosis and a greater attention to palpatory findings in deciding where and how to needle.

The level of personal attention and skilled touch provided in Japanese acupuncture resonates with many American practitioners and patients. More patients are seeking individualized care that includes nurturing touch and less invasive techniques.

Techniques Used in Japanese Acupuncture

  • Contact needling: The needle, rather than being inserted, is used to prick or stroke the skin surface.

  • Simple insertion: The needle is withdrawn after reaching a certain depth without applying additional techniques.

  • Retaining needles: The needle is left in after insertion.

  • Sparrow pecking: Once the needle reaches a certain depth, the needle is repeatedly moved up and down a few millimeters.

  • Twisting: Once the needle reaches a certain depth, the needle is twisted back and forth about half a turn.

  • Flicking: After the needle reaches a certain depth, it is flicked for a certain time with the nail of the thumb or index finger. This may also be done with contact needling.

  • Moxa needle: A ball of moxa is placed on the head of the inserted needle and burned.

  • Intradermal needles and press tacks: A miniscule needle is inserted in the skin, taped on and left in place for one day to one week.

  • Scraping needles: Needles are used to stimulate the skin by scratching and scraping.

  • Press needles: Needles are used to press and stimulate points on the skin surface.

  • SSP (silver spike point) treatments: Instead of needles, silver-pointed electrodes are attached to acupuncture points and a low frequency current is applied.

  • Electro-acupuncture: Electrodes are attached after needles are inserted to apply a low frequency current (1 to 100 Hz).

Some Popular Approaches of Japanese Acupuncture

  • Traditional Japanese Acupuncture (includes Meridian Therapy): An imbalance in Qi and Blood flowing in the meridians is considered to be the cause of disease. The aim is to regulate the flow of Qi and Blood.

  • Sawada-style treatment (Taikyoku Therapy): A system of treating standard points originated by the moxibustion master Ken Sawada and popularized by his student Shirota Bunshi M.D. The emphasis is on strengthening the Spleen and Kidneys through the use of direct moxibustion.

  • Trigger point and tender point treatment: These treatment systems are based primarily on palpation and treatment of myofascial restrictions. This is the most common style of acupuncture in Japan and treats mostly musculo-skeletal pain.

  • Ryodoraku acupucture: A Ryodoraku point locator is used to probe points with low electrical resistance. For treatment, a low frequency current is applied through needles inserted in points (electro-acupuncture).

Japanese Acupuncture at SIOM

In order to practice Japanese acupuncture, one needs to master its basic techniques and learn the art of palpation. Since Japanese acupuncture is about the art of skilled touch, hands-on practice is more important than lectures and book learning. This is what makes the low student-to-teacher ratio and practice-based learning environment of SIOM so valuable. 
There are a number of faculty members who teach various styles of Japanese acupuncture including Meridian Therapy and Manaka's Yin Yang Balancing System (which includes the use of ion pumping cords). Stephen Brown, L.Ac., the primary Japanese acupuncture instructor at SIOM, received his acupuncture and moxibustion license in Japan and has studied extensively with Japanese masters since 1980. His primary teacher is Shudo Denmei and he has co-authored two texts with him including Introduction to Meridian Therapy.

Key Concepts of Japanese Acupuncture

TOUCH. It is a palpation-based acupuncture.
Japanese acupuncture relies more on information from palpation.

VARIETY. Palpation leads to individual variation.
There is considerable variation within Japanese acupuncture.

GENTLE. The tendency is to use milder stimulation.
Japanese acupuncture tends to use milder stimulation and seek patient comfort.