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Exploring Japanese Medicine

Updated: Dec 6, 2022


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At Red Bridge Family Acupuncture Healesville, we describe our practice and Scott’s treatment style as being greatly inspired by the Japanese approach to treatment. Scott has been drawn to Japanese therapeutic styles throughout his career it makes sense that this is reflected at Red Bridge, from the clinic aesthetic through to the acupuncture you receive within the clinic rooms. If you have had acupuncture treatment in the past you certainly might notice that Scott’s approach varies from what you have encountered in other practices.


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The study of Acupuncture has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Once that training is completed practitioners then further their learning, focusing on paths unique to their interests and fields of specialty. It’s at this time that a practitioner wishing to incorporate Japanese medicine techniques into their craft would turn their attention towards the relevant training.


Over the course of his career Scott has undertaken a great deal of further learning in Japanese medicine teachings and techniques. This includes training under Kiko and Shimmamura both of whom were trained by the Japanese Master Kiyoshi Nagano.


It is a fusion of Japanese and TCM medicine that Scott practices at Red Bridge. As a therapist Scott is able to use his exploration of a variety of styles to elicit the best results for each individual patient. The incorporation of Japanese techniques into Scott’s treatment room can mostly be found in his diagnostic style, needling methods, and additional treatment techniques all of which we will detail in this blog.

 

A (very) Quick History Lesson:

Originating thousands of years ago in ancient China, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the oldest examples of medicine in the world.


TCM practices made their way from China into Japan around the beginning of the 6th century and eventually became known locally as Kampo, which quite literally translates to "method from the Han period (206 BC to 220 AD) of ancient China”.

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TCM has a focus theories such as yin yang and five elements where Japanese treat according to the 'Sho'

During the 15th and 16th centuries Japanese physicians began to adapt the principles of TCM to reflect a more independent approach. This was followed by more change in the 18th century when Japanese physician Yoshimasu Todo, a vocal critic of some of the Chinese Medicine practices, expressed the view “In clinical medicine, we should only rely on what we actually have observed by examination of the patient”. It was at this time that development of the abdominal palpation technique as a diagnostic tool occurred. Japanese medicine continued to be developed and evolved into its own unique practice with clear cultural variations. The use of palpation went on to become a strong influence and notable difference between Japanese (Kampo) and TCM approaches.


Interestingly in 1876 the Japanese government actually regulated physicians making the study of Western Medicine a requirement. It did not exclude or forbid the clinical practice of Kampo but there was a significant decline as a result. Thankfully post the second world war there was a resurgence.


Today, the distinction between these two forms of medicine can be most clearly found in their approach to diagnosis and treatment. Where the focus of TCM lies in the traditional concepts such as Yin and Yang theory and Five Element theory, Japanese medicine looks to develop treatment based on the 'Sho' which means the patients symptoms in the moment. Both practices, who share in their roots and core values, are extremely powerful therapies in their own right.

 

The Japanese Acupuncture Needle:

The most well-known distinction between TCM and Japanese styles of acupuncture is the gauge of needle used and method of insertion.


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The Japanese style acupuncture needles are generally of a much smaller in gauge and are sharper than the needles that TCM practitioners prefer. Japanese acupuncture holds the belief that Qi flow can be adequately stimulated with a more superficial needling style. In most cases, due to the thinner and sharper nature of the Japanese needle the patient reports minimal to no sensation of needle insertion. Along with the thinner needle the Japanese method of needling tends towards minimal manipulation of the needle once it has been inserted as opposed to TCM where stronger insertion and manipulation is more common.


By no means are we suggesting that Traditional Chinese forms of needling is painful! All acupuncture needles are of an extremely small gauge and reports of pain or discomfort are uncommon. What we do find is that the lighter Japanese style of needling and minimal needle manipulation does result in a more subtle experience of the Qi movement which may be more desirable for patients who have some anxiety around needling or have disliked the strong response of past more traditional Chinese acupuncture experience.

 

Diagnosis by Touch:


The use of Hara diagnosis is one of the most integral parts of Scott’s clinical application of his Japanese learnings.

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Pictured is Hara diagnosis being performed in a peadiatric consult. Hara diagnosis is also used in adult consultations

Palpation ( Hara diagnosis) as a diagnostic tool is, as stated earlier one of the signature tools used by Japanese medicine practitioners. Hara diagnosis is the use of touch, by means of gentle palpation of the abdomen. By using the Hara diagnosis, the abdomen acts as somewhat of a roadmap of the body. Different areas of the abdomen correlate to individual systems in the body. The use of palpation allows Scott to identify any areas of deficiency and excess within the various body systems and guides the resulting treatment.


The Hara diagnosis is an extremely interactive tool to use as it relies on gaining real time feedback from the patient as they respond to the palpation and resulting treatment. When a patient of Scott’s presents in clinic with a primary complaint or pain he can utilise the Hara diagnosis to clarify underlying patterns and causative factors. Where there is an area of pain there is a corresponding point on the body that Scott can apply pressure to resulting in the release of the pain. These are ‘reflex’ areas. Healing is instigated by eliminating the pressure pain at the reflex point.

 

Moxabustion – Heat and Herbal therapy:

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Needle Head Moxa (Kyutoshin) is one of the many ways moxa is incorporated into treatments at Red Bridge

Moxabustion is a relaxing healing therapy that has been used in Japanese medicine for thousands of years. It involves the burning of moxa which is dried mugwort. The moxa is used to strengthen blood and stimulate flow of Qi by stimulating the acupuncture points with gentle heat. The use of Moxa is a therapy within itself with a wide range of styles and applications.

Some of the ways you will see Scott use moxa in clinic include:

  • Needle Head Moxa (Kyutoshin) A small ball of the mugwort is added to head of the acupuncture needle and lit. This directs a gentle and soothing heat directly to the acupuncture point via the needle. This technique would be chosen when we want to introduce warmth to a localised area invigorating the movement of the blood to shift any congestion.

  • The Moxa Stick This is the most commonly recognised form of moxa. Famous for home use when encouraging breech babies into the optimal position. The compacted mugwort is rolled into a cigar like shape which can be lit and extinguished for multiple uses. It is a mild form of moxa therapy and depending on the individual patients needs might be used over the points in a circular or pecking motion.

  • Moxa Cones These cone shaped moxa are formed by the practitioner from loose moxa. These can be applied to the points either directly or indirectly. Direct = placed directly on the skin and removed before it burns down. Indirect = the moxa cone will be sat on a base of ginger, garlic, herbs, or salt. Each of these bases are chosen for their own healing qualities.

  • Rice Grain Moxa (Tonetskyu) This involves the use of a high-grade loose moxa which is rolled into tiny ‘worms’ and then applied directly to the skin. When ignited it burns only for a few seconds then it is plucked off. This quick application of heat directly to the point may be repeated several times intensifying the depth of the heat therapy.

  • A Tiger Warmer This is a thin metal tube in which a stick of moxa can be placed. By rubbing or pressing the Tiger Warmer over the skins surface the acupuncture points can be warmed and stimulated.

  • The Moxa Box Drumroll for the fav moxa treatment in clinic. The moxa box is an excellent way to applying healing heat to larger areas such as the kidney area of the lower back or belly for period pain.

Moxibustion in one of its forms is incorporated into almost all of Scott’s treatments at Red Bridge. You can read more about heat therapy in our past blog "Healing with Heat"

 

Paediatric Needle Free Acupuncture – Shonishin:

As parents and with a family focus to our clinic children’s health care has been an area that Scott has focused much time and further study. The Japanese technique of Shonishin is a gentle and non-invasive needle free acupuncture that brings about great healing results for our tiniest patients at Red Bridge.

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Using a range of specialised tools Scott can stimulate the acupuncture points and meridians of the child by tapping, stroking, and massaging the skins surface. This method is typically used and patients from birth to around 12 years old however it can also be adapted for use in adolescents and adults where needle insertion is either not desired or counter intuitive.

You can find more detailed information on our paediatric treatments on a past blog post “Paediatric Acupuncture - Shonishin Explained"

 

Herbal medicine at Red Bridge

Whilst herbs certainly play a role in Japanese Medicine, and we certainly do prescribe traditional Chinese herbal medicine at Red Bridge, they are play less of an integral role in an overall treatment plan from Scott than you might experience with a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner who is also specifically a Chinese herbalist.

 

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Like any modality there is a great variety in the treatment styles amongst Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. As a patient you will find that certain approaches resonate with you more than others.


We do not consider either Japanese or Traditional Chinese Medicine to be superior. Scott has had the wonderful opportunity to be exposed to a diverse selection of teachings over the course of his training and career which allows him to provide flexibility in his approach to his patients and deliver treatments unique to the needs of the individual in front of him.

If you are interested in finding out how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine at Red Bridge may benefit you please get in touch with us at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture on (03)59061494.

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