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Why Japanese Acupuncture?

People often ask me the difference between Japanese and Chinese style acupuncture, and are surprised when I explain that there are dozens of styles to choose from. I think this is vital information in order to choose the style and practitioner best for you.

Japanese acupuncture actually does not refer to one style of acupuncture, just like Chinese acupuncture is not one style either. They are both amalgamations of lineages and regional medicines, boxed up in to one general style at some point in the not too distant history. Still, there are some broad generalizations of differences that tend to occur.

Traditional Chinese Medicine/Acupuncture (TCM) is based in concepts from classical Chinese texts thousands of years old. It has a rich history of practice with varying techniques, but at this point in history it is largely based on the treatment of "meridians" (or neurofascial lines) and their corresponding internal organs, through the insertion of fine needles into specific points in the body to affect wide-reaching change. It tends to be working within the muscle layer, and a major concept around what practitioners call effective treatment is activating the points involved to feel a dull achey sensation known as “de qi”, or arrival of the qi. This brings the conscious nervous system on board, i.e. brings awareness to an area that's been on lock-down.

Qi is a word with no perfect translation, but has been likened (by me) to the life force behind all living things. For Einsteinians out there this lines up well with the concept “all matter is energy.” For the young padawans, the Star Wars term is similar-- “The Force”, but it isn't just a "woowoo" thing. It's the measurable amount of kinetic and potential energy stored within matter--the seed activated by water and sunshine, the oxygen infusing in to the bloodstream, the sunshine turning in to supercharged vitamin D within our skin cells. So when we activate Qi, we activate all manner of cellular function. But I digress.

So as practitioners, we use needles as well as other forms of bodywork such as tui na (a form of massage); moxibustion (the practice of burning moxa/the herb mugwort), and gua sha (rubbing technique) on the body to warm and stimulate blood flow, lymphatic flow, nerve and organ function. In Canada, acupuncturists are trained in this Chinese style.

Japanese acupuncture was based on all these same classic texts, and largely the theory is the same. However, the divides in communication and periods of war between Japan and China throughout the centuries lead to differences in interpretation and practice. Today, some general differences in practice include:

  • Finer needles with more shallow insertion, and not necessarily achieving a deep achey sensation at the points. I compare this to a suggestion vs. "being told" to the nervous system.

  • A greater focus on palpation in Japanese acupuncture. This is a key difference. Acupuncture is so much based on palpation in fact, that in Japan it was primarily a trade practiced by the blind (which to me is very impressive);

  • "Hara diagnosis", or palpation of the abdomen for reflexes, which I LOVE because it provides immediate feedback of the changes occurring during treatment, felt by both practitioner and patient in the moment;

  • A focus on lineage: Kiiko Matsumoto is a living legend in the field of acupuncture. She teaches throughout North America and the world, in the style of her mentor Master Nagano who practiced blind well in to his 80's. Kiiko Matsumoto’s teachings centre around “hara diagnosis” (which itself means 'centre' in Japanese) and involves palpating the abdomen to check for pain, pressure, aortic pulsation or tension at different diagnostic points. Kiiko Matsumoto Style (KMS) Acupuncture is the primary focus of the acupuncture program at Harvard Medical School, taught as a post-doctoral program to Harvard MD’s. This style never ceases to amaze both myself and my patients, as both patient and practitioner can feel the differences in sensation in the abdomen and limbs within a session. Change in the hara signals that the body is shifting to take over its own healing again. It's how we know we are working from the root of the issue.

Both Japanese and Chinese styles of acupuncture treat a wide range conditions like pain, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, immune function, hormone balancing in menopause and otherwise, male/female fertilitiy issues, digestive disorders, post-surgery recovery, etc. KMS Acupuncture provides this with very comfortable gentle needling, and immediate feedback as to its effectiveness. Though every acupuncturist in Canada earns a sufficient depth and breadth of training in acupuncture, for me this style integrates and makes so much sense of the classic teachings, and allows me to really cohesively implement this vast body of healing knowledge.

I hope this information enables you to make an informed decision when chosing a practitioner. Thanks for reading! Message me if you have any more questions or would like another topic on the blog.


"Reflections on the Sea" -Kiiko Matsumoto & Stephen Birch

"Kiikko Matsomoto's Clinical Stragegies Vol. 1", Kiiko Matsumoto & David Euler

For a free consultation on what this can do for you, contact me at 250-391-8811 or

Note: I have currently completed the 3 foundational skills seminars in Kiiko Matsumoto (KMS) style acupuncture plus countless hours and self-study, and will continue to study with Kiiko Matsumoto through her certificate training program with Monika Kobylecka in Portland, Oregon.


©2013 by Black Spruce Acupuncture. Photos courtesy of Bright Photo. Black Spruce Acupuncture operates on the unceded traditional territory of the Esquimalt, Coast Salish and Lekwungen First Nations.