Dec 20, 2018

Health in Japan: Body Work

Health in Japan: Body Work photo

Life in Japan does a number on you. Work and family stress, working in a different cultural context, and just simply day to day stuff wears you out.

You aren't necessarily sick or injured, but you hurt, or you're feeling run down, or you're suffering stress. 

My go-to relief for stress and body ache in my area is something I learned to appreciate while on holiday in Thailand. Thai massage. Now, there are many claims about what Thai massage can do, some a little outlandish. And then there are sketchy, not quite suitable for all ages massages. But let me tell you about what I've experienced in Thailand, and here in suburban Tokyo, and what I've learned about this healing art.

Some years ago, on a trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I spied a signboard for a shop called Kinnaree. Kinnaree are angelic creatures in Thai mythos - intermediaries between humans and the divine, possessing characteristics of both. The shop was run by a middle-aged lady who received me, and assigned me to a young woman who worked me over for an hour.  When done I felt like I was a chocolate brownie - solid on the inside, but all the outside was smooth and kind of gooey. She told me to come back in two days, and a tiny grandmotherly lady had another go at my stiff muscles, and literally knocked me out. The massage was so relaxing and took all my stress away. I felt at ease in mind and body. They were earthbound heavenly creatures with magical powers.

On returning to Japan, I was sensitized to the signs and symbols that indicate the many Thai massage salons here in Japan - palms pressed together, sacred elephants, statues of elegantly attired Thai maidens. So I did what I always do when I encounter some cultural thing - I Googled it.

Thai massage is a system of healing that has its origins in healing traditions from Indian and Chinese medicine. Thai massage practioners claim that there are blockages in "energy" that you can clear through breathing, stretching, squeezing and rocking the recipient's body through a series of movements that involve yoga-like poses and a range of pressure on the body. 

Well, is it nonsense? Some sources say that it's largely a placebo effect, and hard to prove, and others claim that studies prove that it is effective pain relief. What I've found is that I'm more limber and aware of my posture and movement, and just very chilled out after Thai massage. I like chatting with the masseuses (I've only received Thai massage from Thai and a very few Thai-trained Japanese women practitioners) during and after. We usually chat about my physical condition and where I'm stiff, or what punishment I've subjected myself to that has resulted in sore muscles. It's a treat to get feedback from them about movement and body position.

The three places I received treatment are run by lovely Thai women. The price varies. You'll pay a premium to get Thai massage in Tokyo, but I've found thorough, kind and pleasant treatment for reasonable prices along the Tobu Urban Park Line through Chiba and into Saitama. 

In front of Kashiwa Station's west exit is Ban Lee Thai Massage. A 60 minute treatment is 5000 yen. The treatment is a typical Thai massage with stretching and deep massage. They're used to non-Japanese guests and all the masseuses are Thai-trained ladies. You might want to book ahead because they can get busy.

Near Kawama Station in Noda City is Sara Thai. A 60 minute session is 4000 yen. Their treatment is adjusted based on you and your body. The more you go, the better they know how to treat your particular characteristics. Sara Thai's approach includes typical massage and use of balm. They have their own formula (not that commercial grade Tiger Balm) which they use to soothe away muscle aches. The masseuses serve you tea and make time for advice and chatting.

At Kasukabe Station's west exit, Ngamjai Thai Massage is a quiet retreat despite being near the train tracks. The masseuses have worked on me until I was limber to their satisfaction, such is their work ethic. The treatment for 60 minutes (sometimes more) is 4500 yen. 

When I'm done receiving Thai massage, I often find that tension in my neck is relieved to the extent that I hear better and don't squint as much. I sleep like a log after, too. This kind of treatment may not be a cure-all, but it can sure relieve a lot of stress and tension. And you can pretend you're on a little holiday away from Japan with the soothing music, balmy temperature and the Thai lilt to the masseuses' Japanese.



Living between the Tone and Edo Rivers in Higashi Katsushika area of Chiba Prefecture.