Japan: the acupuncturist has acupuncture

Any of you who follow me on Instagram will know I love to travel. And you’ll probably also know how hard I try to find relevance to acupuncture in what I see and do when I’m away! So my trip to Japan last month was no exception.

I could wax lyrical about the fabulous time I had, the food I ate, the things I saw, the people I met, the songs I carelessly destroyed during an hour’s karaoke break on a rainy shopping day in Tokyo, but instead I’ll tell you about the opportunity I took to have acupuncture treatment when staying with a Japanese friend near Nara.

What would it be like? How would it differ from the style of acupuncture I practise? And what should I ask them to treat?

My friend Kaori drove me to the clinic early on a fresh Saturday morning. After taking our shoes off at the door (of course) and being given a friendly welcome, Kaori helped me fill in a registration form. The questions I was asked were very similar to those I ask of new patients: what would I like treatment for, did I have any other health conditions, was I on any medication, could I be pregnant?

Then I was introduced to my practitioner Miss Matsuoka and led into a small cubicle where I put my bag in a basket under the treatment couch (never put your bag directly on the floor in Japan) and had a short translated chat.

We decided to focus on body aches (I’d been hauling an increasingly heavy suitcase on and off trains and buses for a week by then) and help with sleep. So after taking my pulse Miss Matsuoka settled me on the couch and set about needling my upper back.

The treatment she gave me was extremely gentle using familiar points, but much finer needles than we habitually use here. So much so that I barely felt them. However, the overall feeling was one of warmth and a sense of my muscles relaxing.

We took the opportunity to have a chat while my needles were quietly doing their work. It turns out that she, like me, came to acupuncture through injury, and that, like me, she studied for three years followed by six months spent in supervised clinic. Like me, she uses needles with guide tubes, though I have to admit I quizzed her on her superb needle technique, hoping to hone my skills. (I’ve been working on that since my return.) And as well as an acupuncture practitioner, she’s a competitive volleyball player. Does she treat her teammates? Yes, she does.

After around 20 minutes of my back needles being in, during which time there was an earthquake alert (don’t worry, it turned out to be a drill), Miss Matsuoka removed them and then needled a lovely combination of scalp points in a fan shape from my crown to my forehead ‘to help with sleep’.

All in all, it was a lovely relaxing treatment and I felt so much more comfortable afterwards. But it was made even better by meeting and chatting to a practitioner from another country. It turns out we had a lot in common, both in how we trained and practice, but also in what brought us to study in the first place. I’ve told her that if she ever visits the UK, I’d be happy to treat her. Needless to say we now follow each other on Instagram …

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