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August 19, 2020

Japanese Medicine & Shakuju Therapy

AIMC’s Japanese Foundations

Since its founding in 1990 by the Meiji School of Oriental Medicine in Japan & its alumni, AIMC has always had a close relationship with Japanese styles of acupuncture & herbal therapy. Our Board Chair, Dr. Goto, is the president of our sister college, GOTO College of Medical Arts & Sciences in Tokyo. In addition to offering Japanese acupuncture electives & clinical supervision to our Master’s students, we have a continuing education Japanese Medicine certificate program that has been forged in relationship with some of the great teachers of Japanese Medicine in the U.S. and abroad. We regularly bring Japanese teachers to the U.S. for seminars, and we hope to reschedule our 11th annual educational visit to Japan as soon as the situation with COVID-19 allows.

So what is Japanese Medicine?

Much like the martial arts, the practice of East Asian Medicine through acupuncture & herbalism has traditionally been taught in master-protege relationships where wisdom was passed down from generation to generation through demonstration and rigorous practice. Underneath the variations of the different lineage and styles handed down this way, there are through lines from ancient Daoism & philosophy like the principles of Yin & Yang and the 5 Elements, as well as texts such as the I Ching and the Huang di Nei Jing written millenia ago and universally beloved for their wisdom. From these foundations, ancient and modern masters alike have built nuanced and varied applications and approaches to the practice of this medicine.

The threads of East Asian Medicine practice that evolved in Japan over the course of millennia are tied together by their use of gentle needling techniques like contact needling (where the needle is not inserted into the skin but simply makes contact), diagnosis through abdominal palpation & massage, and a love for moxibustion therapy, or the use of warm herbs on the surface of the body to warm & move the qi and blood underneath.

The history of Japanese medicine is filled with examples of variations on these unifying principles, such as the blind acupuncturists of Japan, famed for their pleasant needling techniques & powerful sensory diagnostic skills. Almost all acupuncturists check the pulse to verify their working diagnosis of their patients, but these practitioners in particular are known for their deep insights into a person’s health history after delicately feeling the pulses in the wrist or palpating the abdomen or channels of a patient. Before there were powerful diagnostic imaging techniques like we have today, these practitioners cultivated powerful diagnostic palpation techniques, using manual sensation to “see” the interior condition of the body. The wisdom of this abdominal examination, or Hara diagnosis, is taught & revered, as is the Toyo Hari needling style they employ.

Japanese medicine is also famed for its refined herbal therapy, or Kampo Medicine. Kampo formulations are elegant, simplified and highly standardized refinements of traditional Chinese formulas from classical formulas. Similarly, the Shonishin acupuncture techniques that arose in Japan are highly regarded for pediatric use since they are entirely noninvasive and gentle– like acupuncture without the puncture part. AIMC graduate Ra Adcock uses these Japanese techniques in her practice & research at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Shakuju Therapy

Dr. Shoji Kobayashi created the system of Shakuju diagnosis & therapy after carefully studying the classical texts to understand the theory behind the practice of acupuncture. He became particularly interested in the I Ching, or the Book of Changes, which presents a naturalist’s perspective on how nature, and on a micro-level humans, endure and experience change. From these studies and his own clinical research, he supposed that our bodies naturally decline over time, gaining a coldness that is antithetical to the warmth and spark of life, and exterior circumstances or internal experiences can hasten this decline into coldness.

As practitioner of Shakuju Therapy & recent AIMC doctoral graduate James Constantine explained, “at birth we’re so full of life, and as we age and progress the tank starts to run out of gas”– and so the practitioner enters the scene with tools like pulse, channel, & abdominal palpation to assess where a patient is over-using or losing some of their essential qi, the gas that fills the tank, and to help them rebuild their internal resources.

With that understanding, Shakuju treatment techniques strongly fortify the internal condition of a person– but true to Dr. Kobayashi’s roots as a Japanese practitioner, they are incredibly gentle and deeply relaxing. James Constantine shared, “[Shakuju therapy] is like a gateway drug into acupuncture treatment because tonifying without being invasive or uncomfortable for our patients and its ridiculously relaxing.” Patients often leave Shakuju treatments feeling relieved of pains and ailments and with a renewed joie de vivre thanks to its deeply restorative properties.

The strength of Shakuju therapy lies not only in its use of contact, noninvasive needling techniques but in its use of feedback loops: throughout a treatment, a practitioner will palpate the pulses and the points to make sure that the intended effect of a treatment is unfolding and to guide the next steps of treatment.

Learning Shakuju Therapy

There are only a handful of teachers outside of Japan that are certified to teach this special style of East Asian Medicine. Tisha Mallon, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., received her certification to teach Shakuju Therapy in 2011 and regularly offers Beginning and Advanced Shakuju Therapy Continuing Education courses at AIMC, which can be taken to fulfill the Japanese Medicine certificate hours or as stand alone courses for Acupuncture practitioners & students.
Tisha Mallon

Tisha will teach a free 1-hour Introduction to Japanese Shakuju Therapy & the I-Ching as part of eLotus’s Webinar Weekday series at noon on August 20, 2020. If you can’t make it to the live event, the recording can be accessed after the fact by anyone with a free eLotus account.


James Constantine

Thanks so much to James Constantine, owner of StillWind Personalized Health Care for sharing his experiences as a student and practitioner of Shakuju Therapy, and congratulations on completing your Doctoral thesis!

James has had an interest in Asian culture since his first Saturday afternoon kung fu movie marathon on Channel 57. He went on to earn a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Boston University and studied Shorinji Kempo in Japan. The eclectic path that has led him to practicing acupuncture in Montana has included random film industry jobs in Los Angeles and nine years with the Department of Homeland Security. In addition to a Master’s degree in Traditional Asian Medicine, James also has an M.B.A., and can sling spreadsheets with the best of the them. He is a coffee aficionado, scotch connoisseur, and dictionary owner.

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