When the average person is asked about acupuncture they assume that it is Chinese traditional medicine that is being discussed. No westerner thinks about acupuncture without assuming the topic deals with the Chinese philosophy of using thin needles placed under the skin to relieve pain or help ward off illness. But this is not always the case. Acupuncture is not just a Chinese traditional medicine. Japan has its own form of acupuncture and while it is very similar, it does have its differences.
To begin with the Japanese method uses a different kind of needle. They tend to be somewhat thinner and are not inserted as far under the skin in the Japanese form of acupuncture. The benefit in this method seems to be that the needles are not even felt as they go into the skin making the patients more comfortable and more relaxed during their treatments. Japanese acupuncture looks at two types of treatment; root and local treatments. Local treatments are used for relief of the symptoms of what is bothering the patient. This is the type of treatment that is used for acute problems. Root treatments are used for the imbalances that cause the illness. These two treatments are often combined.
In Japan the body’s vital energy is called Ki, a similar name to the Chinese term which is Qi. The philosophy is similar in that the Japanese believe that the body’s energy must be in balance to keep the body healthy. They believe that the Ki cares for and nourishes the body and the mind. It provides warmth, assists the blood circulating through the body and fights illness when it attacks. But if this flow of energy is interrupted or blocked, if it weakens then illness can triumph.
So the acupuncturist must rebalance the Ki either by the use of the needles or by putting pressure, by using Shiatsu or acupressure, on the right points along the meridian lines. This can be all the body needs to slip back into a balanced position. Acupuncture is also used as a preventive treatment in Japan.
Japanese acupuncture uses a variety of different needles for different purposes. There is the goshin needle which is the one commonly used. These needles are the same as used by the Chinese but they are .12 mm to .18 mm in diameter which is dramatically smaller than those used by the Chinese acupuncturists. Their needles are usually .32 mm to as large as .38 mm. That is a significant difference. As well the needles are not inserted beyond 10 mm in Japan.
The hinaishin, or intra-dermal needle, was invented in Japan. It is a tiny needle that is barely inserted under the skin. The enshin needle is not for inserting at all but is used to massage the pressure points. It is often used for children or other patient who may find needles too scary. The ryu or press-sphere is a steel ball around 2 mm and is used to apply gentle pressure directly onto points that are painful.