Interview with Tetsuro Saito
Shiatsu teacher, researcher, founder of the Shin So Shiatsu Method.
By Patrizia Moschitti
Tetsuro Saito is considered to be “the father of shiatsu in Canada.” That’s reductive because Tetsuro Saito is one of the few masters of shiatsu, probably the only one to have continued the meridian-mapping work started by Masunaga. He is the founder of the Shin So Shiatsu Method.
This interview is a valuable document to read for any shiatsu practitioner.
Saito Sensei, your contribution to shiatsu is unique for complexity and depth. You have continued the meridian-mapping work started by Masunaga, developed an autonomous energy assessment model, taught the Finger Test Method to the acupuncturists of Tadashi Irie Group in Japan who attended your course. How did you manage such a feat?
Five times I invited Masunaga Sensei to Toronto from Japan, and he gave us so rich, so wonderful workshops. I still remember that, during his last workshop in 1980, just before he passed away, his health condition was not great at all.
Even though he was emotionally and physically out, he managed to travel to Canada and gave us his last wonderful lecture.
At that time, it did not occur to me that he had developed cancer, although, during the workshop’s breaks, he was always asking me to treat his Large Intestine meridian . I still do not know if, by then, he had realized he had a very extended intestine cancer.
Upon returning home, he discovered it and, within less than one year, Masunaga Sensei passed away.
I had a very strange dream the day before he died.
He appeared in my dream and asked me to wash his back.
Thinking of it now, to me this was a sort of hinting to his final wish; on the following morning, he departed to the other world. I got a call from his wife, who told me he had passed away.
After his departure, I was left to look after my students who were also students of Masunaga Sensei. As you know, Masunaga Sensei was an extremely sensitive and talented person. He could sense the meridian’s vibration and could even distinguish between all the different regular vibrations of the meridian.
Our history shows that there are no many therapists of this kind. It is possible that, in the long history of Japanese Eastern medicine, I found only one or three other persons like him.
When he passed away, that was the time I was totally out of the question, which means I could not sense the meridian’s flow.
But it was not a good time to be distracted, and I had to develop some methods to help me sense and draw the map of meridians.
I went back to Japan in 1982 where, incidentally, I found some books about the Finger Test Method, written by the acupuncturist Dr.Tadashi Irie.
Back then, it did not occur to me that I would have used the Finger Test Method to sense the meridians.
But after I started to use the Finger Test Method, I gradually noticed that I could have used it to detect the meridian’s location.
Irie Sensei was so impressed by my research and its development that he came to Canada twice to see me.
He ran workshops too, even though I had not invited him. He really liked meeting me. He was a great acupuncturist from Japan and he published five well-known acupuncture books. His group is still active providing the Irie Method in Tokyo.
I have no doubt: had I not found his books, I would have never developed the Shin So Shiatsu approach. In this regard, I appreciate Irie Sensei very much.
Saito Sensei, you studied with Masunaga and Namikoshi. Could you tell us something about the cultural environment in which your passion for shiatsu developed?
Masunaga’s background is unique.
He graduated at the Kyoto University. This university is a top one in Japan; ten Graduates of this University have received the Nobel Award.
Masunaga majored in Psychology and became a Psychologist. When I was a student at the Shiatsu College, he used to teach Psychology.
His mother was a very well known shiatsu therapist, and I believe she influenced him to became a shiatsu therapist.
Anyway, the fact that a Kyoto University Graduate become a shiatsu therapist is exceptionally unusual in Japan.
My impression of Masunaga is that he was not an ordinary shiatsu therapist, but the type of therapist more similar to a Scholar and a Researcher.
When I invited him to Toronto for the workshops, instead of enjoying spending time with us at the end of each day, he used to go back to the hotel to read books and study Eastern medicine.
Besides his extraordinary knowledge of Chinese Medicine, he was an unusually sensitive person, which allowed him to sense the meridians’ vibrations and consequently to draw the Meridians’ Map.
In Japan, the acupuncturist Tsutomu Kishi had this same ability. Other than them, I do not know of anybody else in the history of shiatsu that could sense the meridians’ vibration just by touching them.
After Masunaga passed away, I visited his wife and asked her whether he had done anything to develop such a high sensibility skill; she told me that he had never done anything to develop his ability.
I really believe that Masunaga was a gifted person. I always had the impression that his main goal and dream were to raise the quality of the shiatsu therapy at the same level as medicine’s.
He always told us that, for shiatsu to be recognized as a medicine, we must develop a very clear approach to meridian diagnosis and treatment. He spent his whole life trying to reach this goal and developed a diagnostic system and a treatment for the Regular Meridians.
His work inspired me so much that it made me realize that I too should have spent much more time and energy in researching a good meridian diagnosis approach and treatment than I had, thus far, done.
Especially in our profession, the diagnostic system was not enough well established.
I believe that shiatsu should be recognized as an important part of the medical diagnostic theory, and that, to do this, now more than ever, a precise approach must be established and performed.
I very much appreciate the contribution that Masunaga has made to lay the foundations of a valuable shiatsu approach.
Compared to Masunaga’s, Namikoshi had a very different personality. Namikoshi was a really open-hearted person, and almost everybody loved him. He always used to laugh very loudly. As soon as we looked at him, we too started laughing: he made us happy. In a way, he had the power to attract people.
His great contribution to the Shiatsu Society was the foundation of a Shiatsu College. He also negotiated with the Japanese Government to regulate licensing of shiatsu therapy.
He was a very talented and skilled shiatsu therapist, but he is foremost known for his shiatsu educational program.
Masunaga used to teach at his college for several years and he left the Shiatsu College upon developed his own teaching group called IOKAI. Masunaga’s System is mainly based on the Chinese Medicine. Namikoshi’s System is based on the conventional Medicine.
This difference couldn’t be accepted for long by Masunaga, and one day he decided to leave the Shiatsu College to follow his own path.
Namikoshi’s personal life had some sad stories. His first wife died of sickness and his second wife passed away with sickness too.
He went through such a hard life, but his passion and the time he devoted to shiatsu education never disappeared. He peacefully passed at the age of ninety-five.
In 1980 I invited Masunaga to hold a workshop, just one year before his death in 1981. At that time, Masunaga told me that the real shiatsu master was Namikoshi. Now I really understand the meaning of Masunaga’s words: to be called master, it is important to have a fine knowledge and a good skill, but much more important is to have a huge and warm heart in order to be able to accept other people.
I am so lucky to have studied with these two shiatsu masters from whom I learnt also how to live as a shiatsu therapist.
According to Masunaga, what distinguished the amateur practitioner in shiatsu from the professional one was the precision of their energy assessment. In the Shin So Shiatsu Method, the energy assessment achieves a rare completeness and needs a precise approach because it connects the operator to the meridians through the touch, the sound and the mudras. How did you develop this method?
Many students asked me this question many times during my workshops. When Masunaga passed away in 1981, I could not yet sense any meridian and did not have enough confidence in the meridians’ energy assessment; however, even in that situation, I had to give my students some guidance and I could not help wondering how I could guide them without confidence.
As I mentioned before, Masunaga had a unique ability to sense the energy of the meridians. He could distinguish the different qualities of each meridian’s vibration and could draw the map of the meridians on the body.
Kyo’s and jitsu’s energy have also their specific energetic vibration. Masunaga could sense their different quality. His way of assessing kyo and jitsu was not based on the feeling of hardness and softness in the hara’s diagnostic zone. This aspect is misunderstood and wrongly taught by many shiatsu therapists, who, during the energetic assessment in hara, check the softness and the hardness in the diagnostic zone to identify kyo and jitsu.
Now, through the Shin So Shiatsu Method, we can accurately assess kyo-jitsu energy and, through the meridians’ system, diagnose our client’s condition much more clearly and accurately. This method allows us to draw the map of the meridians on the human body, just as Masunaga did.
Once we have reached the level at which we can perceive the energy vibrations of the meridians, we can finally speak and communicate with our client through the meridians’ system. We can get information on anything we need for the treatment.
Accurate diagnosis is an essential part of any medical approach. Everyone agrees that it is the essential basis of medicine. It might come as a surprise to realize the amount of information available in the meridians’ system, about the condition of the person we are treating, including information about its past, present, and future. The meridians’ system does not lie and shows to us the condition of the client very accurately. I know many therapists who would like to find out how I developed this system, on which I worked for thirty years; how I became able to create the meridians’ maps and devise diagnostic and treatment methods not only for the Regular meridians’ system, but also for the deeper ones: the Extraordinary, Divergent, and Ocean meridians, the Chakras – and many others.
To explain this process, I would need to write a whole book.
After Masunaga’s death, I began researching and developing my own method, on which I have been working for forty years. Almost every day since, I have worked hard and researched, day and night, directing my studies to discover a method to perceive the meridians. Then, I realized that, if I was not sensing the meridians and was not drawing the map of the deeper meridians, I could not research them at all. I was lucky enough to find the Finger Test Method, which I spent many years researching. Thanks to the Finger Test Method, I finally established a way to perceive meridians.
There were no protocols of Shin So Shiatsu to refer to. I had to develop them from scratch, bit by bit, to create this new method.
As I wrote in my book, “SHIN SO SHIATSU”, many of the answers to what I was looking for came from my dreams. It is a bizarre thing to say, but it has happened to me so many times. Day and night, thinking and looking for my answer – no wonder it often happened like this.
Of course, I had to study a lot of Traditional Chinese Medicine to get my answers; but lot of information, in the Traditional Chinese Medicine, was lost in the last thousand years. We cannot always find what we need, especially if we are looking for information about the deeper meridians’ system and the meridians’ charts.
If I were to describe my research process in the simplest way possible, I would place, as the first step, the discovery of an antenna (mudra) that perceives the different vibrations of the meridians. Each regular and Divergent meridian has very different energy vibrations. And all twelve Regular meridians have their own vibration; in order to perceive them, we need to find a particular antenna and sound. You may be wondering how I discovered all these antennas and sounds. I could answer all your questions, but I would need to write a whole book to explain it.
Every effort, every challenge to establish the Shin So Shiatsu System took me so much energy and time. But when I look back at it, now, I think it was worth it.
The Shin So Shiatsu Method works primarily on the deep meridians such as the Divergent, the Cosmic and the Ocean Meridians, stretching to include the Chakras. Can you briefly tell us about these energy entities, which are so little known in the world of shiatsu and also of acupuncture?
There is a vast amount of information contained in the Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, in Eastern medicine we also find this definition of disease, which is very simple to understand:
“In the human body, seiki and jaki always confront each other. If jaki prevails over seiki, we are in a situation of disease. If seiki wins over jaki, then we are in a situation of health.”
One of the functions of the meridians system is to work as a natural defence system of the body. On the one hand, there is jaki, always trying to enter our system and prevail over seiki, thus creating disease. On the other hand, there is seiki trying to eliminate jaki from our body and support good health. jaki and seiki are always present in our body, regardless of whether we are healthy or sick.
When we are sick, our primary natural system of defence is the regular meridians’ system. If, unfortunately, the system fails to expel jaki, the latter will penetrate into the deeper system: the Extraordinary meridians system. If our Extraordinary meridians’ defence system also fails to eliminate it, jaki will further penetrate the deeper meridians’ systems. The last defence system is represented by the Divergent meridians’ system, which is directly connected to the organs. If jaki penetrates the organs and destroys them, life is brought to its end. The yin organs, such as the lungs, spleen, heart, kidneys and liver, are vital in maintaining human life in good health. These days, so many people who develop cancer, if it affects the yin organs, that indicates a seriours situation for their life.
After having penetrated the organs, jaki enters the Ocean meridians’ system. Chronic or severe health problems occur at this level.
In this case, our Cosmic meridians’ system (1 and 2) automatically starts sending out a powerful cosmic energy into the Ocean meridians’ system, trying once again to eliminate jaki.
Now I know that, in the majority of the cases where jaki has reached the Ocean meridians’ level, this is the level of the system that we have to treat, or there will be no effective reactions to other treatments’ strategies and all improvements will be very slow. As I found out, a treatment at this level of the meridians triggers a better and faster reaction to other kinds of treatments. The treatment of the Chakra system is an optimal approach to the elimination of jaki from the oceanic system.
In Japan, acupuncturists do not research deeper meridians systems simply because they cannot map them, especially the Divergent system, the Ocean and the Chakras. Without a meridians’ map, we cannot develop either a diagnostic or a treatment method. Fortunately, the Shin So Shiatsu System has developed a method for perceiving and mapping the deepest meridians. By using these maps, we can therefore create assessment and treatment models.
In the professional landscape of shiatsu in Europe, North America, and even Japan, sometimes the contents of Chinese Medicine are not well known. Unfortunately, many Traditional Chinese Medicine books are not translated and unavailable in Europe. This explains why many practitioners have a limited knowledge of Oriental Medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine contains a lot of incredibly useful information; whether you need all this information or not, it depends on the approach you follow in shiatsu or acupuncture. Furthermore, some parts of Traditional Chinese Medicine do no longer correctly report information which were known in the earliest Oriental Medicine. Well-known acupuncturists in Japan have already highlighted this fact. During my research on the deeper meridians’ system, I have come to realize that some of the information I have discovered would not sound as anything new to traditional Chinese Medicine. I have rediscovered it all over again.
One of the central aspects of your work is the removal of jaki. A concept mostly unknown in the world of shiatsu, and for which you have developed an energy assessment method. Jaki is an immanent reality in the meridians. Could you tell us about this aspect of your research?
邪気 (JA KI)
The word Jaki is composed of the ideogram Ja 邪, which means “fang” – like the sharp fangs of a scary wolf – and the ideogram Ki 気, which means “energy”.
The acupuncture and meridian-based shiatsu approach deals with seiki and jaki as the focus of its treatment. During the treatment, we remove jaki from the energy’s pathway and let seiki flow properly. After which, we expect that the healing process takes its place.
Traditional Chinese Medicine explains where jaki originates. Many researchers point to a mix of elements that are thought to be causing jaki in the modern lifestyle: electromagnetic fields, eating the wrong foods and drinks etc. Jaki exists everywhere in the body; but when an illness or even just an injury occurs, jaki enters the weak areas and interferes with the healthy energy flow (seiki) and with the healing process. Shin So Shiatsu uses treatment protocols such as IP-Cord, Yakihari, moxa and diodes. These treatments focus on removing jaki from the meridians or in the areas where too much jaki has accumulated. Unfortunately, in the teaching of shiatsu, the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine sometimes is not taught correctly. As I mentioned in my previous answer, many practitioners do not know important information such as the definition of the disease, or of jaki etc. It would be a good idea to go back to the sources once again. To study Traditional Chinese Medicine and study the meaning of seiki and jaki.
There are many ways to remove jaki. In Japan, we traditionally know that salt and incense can be used to remove jaki. A lot of incense is burned in japanese temples, because many sick people come to the temples to pray and heal from diseases, and sometimes they release a lot of jaki. To lift up jaki, they burn incense and clear the air.
The monk Mubunsai, the first one to make a map of jaki, also wrote a chapter on the practitioner’s correct disposition. Can you briefly explain this to us, or give us some clarifications on this topic, which is essential for the success of the treatment, but also for the good balance of the practitioner?
I believe Mubunsai was an extraordinarily sensitive therapist, who could sense jaki by touching, whilst, at the same time, make a map of it.
I do not know how he made the jaki map and which method he used to sense the jaki. I am sure some therapists, in our long eastern medicine history, can or could sense jaki and developed their method to eliminate it. In the book “Shin So Shiatsu”, which I published almost twenty years ago, I wrote an article about Mubunsai. Since then, I myself have been spending ever more time researching ways to sense and eliminate jaki. And then I found my own.
When I look at Mubunsai’s map today, though, I interpret it differently than I did twenty years ago, when I published my book. According to my research, the map created by Mubunsai represents only one part of the jaki map. For example, an imbalance of the stomach would manifest itself not only in hara, in the jaki area of the stomach, as shown in Mubunsai’s map. In many cases, I have found a simultaneous weakening of the paired organ; jaki itself was active in different parts of the body. If jaki only showed up in the hara areas as shown in Mubunsai’s map, it would be easier to treat and eliminate it. Jaki is always present in our body, regardless of whether we are healthy or unhealthy, and it’s not easy to eliminate it. When a problem occurs, jaki gathers in our weak spot or any other problematic part of our body. Not only in the abdomen area.
One of the goals of a Shin So Shiatsu treatment is jaki.
Shin So Shiatsu has three treatment goals:
Creating a more powerful Seiki through the organ treatment
Eliminating blockages found along the meridians.
As Shin So Shiatsu practitioners, we are very lucky because we can perceive jaki using the Finger Test Method and tools such as the Ip-Cord, the Yakihari, the diodes and the moxa, to eliminate Jaki along the path of the meridians and in certain parts of the body. The treatment of the Divergent and Ocean meridians’ system is one of the most effective ways to treat a client and eliminate the jaki that is located deeply into the body. The treatment of the organs strengthens seiki. If jaki has accumulated in the Ocean meridians, it must be removed from this system, or the client might not respond optimally to the treatment of the other meridians’ system, or they might have side effects after the treatment, such as headaches.
A good practice for the practitioner is to keep developing the skill to perceive and eliminate jaki through daily exercises.
In the Japanese tradition, the study of martial practices, Zen arts and healing practices takes place under the guidance of a sensei, following the principle I shin den shin, a heart-to-heart transmission beyond the doctrine. A teaching through ki. We are living in a historical moment in which everyone wants to teach, wants to be a model; we often meet people who have studied a lot and yet they are not sensei. A sensei can teach something to his students even in silence. How does this process take place?
Once we reached the master’s level, the body releases some unique, special energy. We can perceive this unique energy in shiatsu masters and artists, such as a painter, a musician, even a politician and other people who have reached the master’s level. We can also feel this unique energy in works made by people who have reached the level of master, in painting, sculpture and other works. To sense this type of energy, you can place the palm of your hand in front of the master’s photo (at a distance of about 15-20 cm) and practice the Finger Test. No image or sound is required. Just practice the Finger Test. If you get a “sticky” sensation, it means you can consider this person in the photo a master.
To sense this energy yourself, you will need to have a high energy level; otherwise, you might not perceive this vibration. We often hear the phrase: “The master knows who the master would be”. Once the master level is reached, this energy can be easily felt and indicate who would be a master. When practising with a master, the master’s energy always reaches the student, opening their energy channel, making it easier to follow the master’s instructions. In most cases, those who have reached this level have also developed a good personality.
Therefore, it is essential to find good instructors who have good knowledge and a good personality.
Shiatsu has always been an underestimated technique. What is the potential of shiatsu, its strengths? Why should a person decide to choose shiatsu over acupuncture or osteopathy? What does it have to offer that is different? And could you tell us what a shiatsu practitioner should never forget, in order to develop an accurate and profound treatment method ?
When I talk about this subject, I always think about Masunaga sensei. As I have previously explained, he had an extraordinary fine educational background. Additionally, he had an amazing knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Furthermore, he had an unusual sensitivity in perceiving the energetic vibrations. I have no doubt that, had he taken up the acupuncture profession, he would have been one of the top acupuncturists of his time.
Of course he loved shiatsu. He could see that shiatsu had such a huge advantage over other approaches. I still remember when he told us that no perfect medical approach exists in this world. Even shiatsu has strong and weak points, the same as any other medical practice.
Masunaga told us that we, as shiatsu therapists, should know the weak point of shiatsu and make all our efforts to turn it into its point of strength. Otherwise, shiatsu will never be recognized as a medical approach and will always be left hanging between ‘home remedies’ and medicine. He believed that shiatsu therapists should not expect shiatsu to be recognized as a medical approach by a wide public; instead, we should correct shiatsu’s weak point and bring shiatsu closer to the recognized medicine. Then, finally, the public would stop underestimating shiatsu. Masunaga knew all about shiatsu’s weak point; he knew why the public did not recognize it as a medicine. He spent his whole life building up the first step for the recognition of shiatsu as a proper medical practice. He developed a meridians’ shiatsu diagnostic and a proper practical approach. I am convinced that his efforts brought us a step closer to the public recognition of shiatsu as a medical approach.
One of the most critical issues that weakens the shiatsu position as a medical practice is the energetic evaluation of the meridians. How can the public accept that shiatsu shall be considered from a medical perspective, if there is not one correct energy assessment method that could also be used to explain the results to the client? The client is waiting for the result and will be pleased to hear an appropriate explanation of what the practitioner has discovered through the assessment, which will also be the treatment’s goal.
The work of shiatsu has many artistic elements in it.
Each practitioner treats their clients differently, and this is acceptable because shiatsu is an art. But the result of the meridians’ energy assessment should not be different. Masunaga thought that the Meridians’ assessment should be one of the most important aspects of the treatment, and I agree with him. To develop the subtle skill of assessing the meridians, one might need a whole life of practice, a good knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine, etc. I agree with Masunaga: shiatsu practitioners must devote most of their time and efforts to developing high-quality energy assessment skills, so that shiatsu could be finally considered from a medical practice perspective.
Shiatsu therapists generally pay a lot of attention to fancy techniques, yet not many pay attention to diagnosis. But we should ask ourselves again if, in this way, we are missing the most important point, and who is to blame if the public keeps underestimating shiatsu.
No man is an island. What we do is always the result of a relationship and mutual stimuli.
Thanks to Tetsuro Saito Sensei, Manuela Pallotto Strickland, Pietro Roat, Massimiliano Sbezzi.
Patrizia Moschitti, Certified Shiatsu Practitioner graduated in 2010 from Istituto Europeo di Shiatsu.
The conclusion of her training path marked the beginning of personal research that led her to deepen her shiatsu practice with Akinobu Kishi and Tetsuro Saito sensei, meanwhile practicing Katsugen Undo and approaching the Seitai Method.