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Japanese Vs. Chinese Acupuncture

One of the most frequently asked questions that pops up in people's mind when they hear about “Japanese acupuncture style” is how is it different than the Chinese style? This question is mostly asked by people who experienced one of the two styles, or none of them, since once you experience both styles, the differences become apparent.

It is important to clarify, before we discuss these differences, that there are many Japanese schools just as there are many Chinese. So, in this post, whenever I refer to “Chinese style”, I am referring to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) style, that interesting enough is actually a modern compilation of practices, some old and some modern, that originate from modern days China. This is the mainstream school of acupuncture taught in all accredited acupuncture schools in the west. In fact, all official acupuncture licensing tests in the US are based on TCM theory.

By “Japanese acupuncture” I refer specifically to the Kiiko Matsumoto style (KMS), which is the most popular Japanese style of acupuncture in the US.

Kiiko Matsumo, who lives among us in the US compiled this style based on the practices of masters she learned from. These masters include some of the most prominent physicians in Japan, of which many are western MDs practicing acupuncture as an integral part of their clinic.

There are many theoretical differences between the two styles, many of which have to do with the fact that most of the Japanese masters of this style were western MDs, working in modern hospitals, with western training. So naturally they frequently used western terminology and theory.

But perhaps what is more important to our clients are the significant practical differences between the styles.

One of the most blatant differences between the two style is the use of palpation, and particularly hara (abdomen) diagnosis in the Japanese style. While the Chinese acupuncturist inserts the needles according to a theoretical training they received, the Japanese acupuncturist typically finds the exact needling location of each needle by checking how this point affects the area they are palpating before they even insert the needle. Therefore, this style is more empirical than TCM.

Although palpation is used mostly for diagnostic purposes, the use of palpation in typical Japanese acupuncture sessions is so frequent that patients often feel as if this is a type of manual therapy.

The needling style Japanese acupuncture uses is also very different than Chinese acupuncture. A Chinese acupuncturist is typically trying to reach a sensation called in Chinese “De Qi”: a little jolt, a bit like a gentle electric shock that indicates that the point is fully stimulated. Traditionally needles in this style are inserted without the use of an applicator, and they are inserted quite deeply, at least deeper than the dermis.

Japanese acupuncture uses needles that are inserted very superficially. At times the needle isn’t even felt while it is inserted. To enhance the stimulation, often another technique is applied, called Rice moxa.

Though moxa is used in Chinese acupuncture as well, the rice moxa technique is unique to the Japanese styles. Thread sized pieces of moxa are repeatedly lit where the needle touches the skin, thus adding another type of gentle stimulation to the acupuncture point.

As far as the effectivity and the scope of conditions both styles can treat, that depends on the skill level of the practitioner. Both styles can yield spectacular results in the hands of a competent clinician, but both cannot guarantee they will always work.

A slight advantage a Japanese clinician has is the fact that all Japanese acupuncturists in the west are fully trained in TCM as well, since it is their basic training. So, if a certain condition does not receive proper answer within the scope of Japanese acupuncture, the practitioner can still fall back on a TCM protocol.

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