Shiatsu has been a form of body work in the East for more than a thousands years but it was not originally called Shiatsu. The traditional style of Shiatsu is called Namikoshi, after the inventor Tokujiro Namikoshi who was born in 1905.
There is one famous story told many times through out the development of Shiatsu on how he saved his mother from Rheumatoid Arthritis, a pain that spreads from ankles, wrists, elbows and shoulders when he was still a young child. He developed his skill through what his mother would say felt best. She enjoyed the pressing more than the rubbing and so his technique consisted of 80% pressing on the body and 20% rubbing.
He had no knowledge of physiology or anatomy at that time since living in a small northern village in Japan and being young. He focused on the stiffest and coldest areas on his mother’s body causing her ailments to grow less. He pressed along both sides of her spine; unknowingly he was stimulating the suprarenal body to cause it to secrete cortisone, which cures rheumatism. Soon he was able to cure his mother totally of her pains causing him to see the power of self-cure built in the human body.
Many people in the village would go to him for help from his healing hands. He soon realized he needed to know more about the physical body so he went on to study massage, or anma in Japanese. Anma, which is similar to western massage, was usually given to clients from blind practitioners for relaxation. After school he then set up his own clinic incorporating what he had learned and the style that he had created as a child. His first center was opened in 1925. Many of the people that came to him for treatments later became his students. Namikoshi opened his first school in Tokyo in 1940. As a child he didn’t call what he did Shiatsu, later when he came across Tenpeki Tamai’s book “The shiatsu method”, (shiatsu literally means finger-pressure in Japanese, shi for finger and atsufor pressure) he knew that was what he was doing all along in his way of massage.
Namikoshi preferred to focus on western scientific method over the traditional Chinese method of energy and meridian theory. One reason for this was due to the timing. This was just around WW2 and America had taken over Japan. If Namikoshi wanted to have shiatsu recognized he would have to make it comfortable for the new invaders. Namikoshi later sent his older son, Toru Namikoshi to USA to learn at a chiropractic school as well as to introduce the West to Shiatsu. Toru incorporated what he learned in the west to help westernize Shiatsu some more.
Originally Traditional shiatsu was just called Shiatsu and not Namikoshi. After many students left from their training from Namikoshi they started their own styles. Now in the present day there are multiple of major shiatsu styles, which are called Derivatives. Once a student learns the basic style of how to use their thumbs and fingers to press along a map of the body, that Namikoshi created, the student is able to create their own style. Shiatsu is always evolving.