So the simple answer to the question of what is Japanese acupuncture is… there is no such thing. There are a wide variety of acupuncture physicians in Japan today. Some practice the contemporary Chinese style, some practice medical acupuncture, and a small but growing minority practice the neoclassical traditions as described above.
The different styles of acupuncture practiced in Japan can be broadly viewed as follows:
- Contemporary Chinese Acupuncture is the form of acupuncture practiced in modern China today. It is based on the classical theories of medicine developed in China, but it was vastly simplified after the communist revolution in 1949. This style of treatment focuses on the specific functions of acupuncture points and uses larger needles with a strong stimulation to address specific problems.
- Medical Acupuncture is often utilized by modern medical professionals as a secondary treatment used in conjunction with modern pharmaceuticals and physical therapy. The emphasis of this technique is placing needles at the site of the pain or problem and utilizing strong stimulation to affect a change. Meridian theory and classical concepts of organ physiology and pathophysiology are not part of this treatment approach.
- Meridian Therapy (Keiryaku Chiryo) is the result of the neoclassical approach in Japan and is based on using acupuncture and moxibustion within the context of classical Chinese and Japanese theory to balance the flow of energy (Qi or Ki) and blood in the body’s meridians. In addition, each patient is assessed using classical techniques to determine the root of the problem and what is allowing their specific set of symptoms to manifest. This form of therapy is based on the classical texts such as the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal medicine and the Classic of Difficult Issues. In addition, it is heavily based on 5 element theory that is presented in these classical texts. This form of acupuncture uses very thin needles and gentle stimulation to move stagnant energy and supplement any energetic deficiencies. The emphasis of this style of acupuncture and moxibustion is not just the treatment of disease, but also the promotion of good health and wellness.
- Toyo Hari Acupuncture is a very gentle form of meridian therapy that is predominantly practiced by blind practitioners in Japan. It is similar to meridian therapy in that the emphasis is on the meridians and very gentle needle stimulation. In this form of acupuncture, needles are often just touched to the skin and then quickly removed. Extraordinary sensitivity to energy (Qi or Ki) is required to practice this form of acupuncture
As we can see, the idea of Japanese acupuncture is quite misleading as there are a wide variety of acupuncture styles practiced in Japan today. Only about 20-30% of the practitioners in Japan practice any form of Meridian Therapy as it requires years, if not a lifetime, of extensive training in an art form whose roots go back thousands of years. Many of the great physicians we have trained with have been practicing this unique form of medicine for 40 to 50 years and they openly admit that they are still learning and developing their skills even after working with hundreds of thousands of patients.
In the United States today, likely less than 5% of the licensed acupuncturists practice this classical from of Meridian Therapy. It is generally not taught in most acupuncture schools here in the west and if it is, it is usually just an introduction. Japanese Meridian Therapy requires years and years of study, practice, and devotion. For many practitioners who need to get out of school and quickly start making a living, the years necessary to perfect their technique are too high a price to pay. Unfortunately, many people claim to practice “Japanese Acupuncture” unknowingly believing that using fine needles and gentle stimulation is all there is to this classic art form.
Many people who have experienced other forms of acupuncture try Japanese Meridian Therapy because they have not gotten better or the treatments were painful. When they experience Meridian Therapy, they are in awe of how painless and effective it can be. This style of treatment holds great benefit to many people, but we all must come to understand that all acupuncture is not the same. True classical acupuncture is the result of years of study, dedication, practice, and a profound desire to help those in need.