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Japanese massage opens doors for blind

By | February 11th 2012 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Henry Kiboi

Even though he has returned to his native Japan, Tokunaga Hidemasa’s two-year stay in Kenya will always be remembered.

Many visually impaired people he taught Shiatsu say they are forever thankful to him.

Faith Ituru, one of his students, says she will remember him as a man who gave her a purpose to live.

Faith’s classmates say they can now take charge of their own lives without depending on other people as do a majority of the estimated 500,000 visually impaired people in Kenya.

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“I shall remember travelling across the country seeking placement for my Shiatsu stud

Joseph Njuguna during a Shiatsu training session at the  Machakos Technical Institute for the Blind.

ents and I thank those who opened doors for me,” said Hidemasa, just days before he left Kenya.

Hidemasa, 35, is a teacher of Shiatsu, a traditional Japanese massage therapy skill.

Before coming to Kenya he had worked for nine years as a professional Shiatsu therapist.

He came to the country under a Japan International Co-operation Agency (Jica)-supported programme and was posted to Machakos Technical Institute for the Blind to teach Shiatsu in 2009.

Shiatsu is practised by the visually impaired persons because of their sensitive fingers.

Even at airports

The technique uses the fingers and the palm of the hands to apply stimulation to particular muscles and nerves of the body in order to promote good health and relaxation.

It is best for relaxation, backache, muscle pull, stiff shoulders, fatigue, headache, constipation, insomnia and many others. It does not need any ointments, oil or medicine and all the therapist uses is a piece of cloth held in the hands. It is done with all the clothes on and the therapist only needs a massage bed and a few sheets to get into business.

For the visually impaired, practising Shiatsu helps them to compete in life with the able sighted people. It also helps them to earn a living and gives them a chance to contribute to society.

In Japan, Shiatsu is practised almost everywhere, even at airports.  It naturally favours the blind because of their advanced touch senses and when mastered, the blind can practise it as a form of self-employment.

Some of the 20 or so visually impaired people who have graduated from the school since the course was introduced by Jica in 2006 are now practising in Nairobi and other towns in Kenya and their services are slowly gaining acceptance.

Tokunaga Hidemasa and some of his students.[PHOTOS:HENRY KIBOI]

Paul Mwaura, who graduated a few years ago from the institute, is today practising in Nairobi.  Aged 30, he would have been wasting away somewhere in Kiambu home for lack of something do.

Today, he has a clientele base and the money he makes supports his wife and a son. He is proud he is earning a living without having to depend on relatives.

Human anatomy

He says he would like to open his Shiatsu clinic after the salon he was operating on Riverside Drive closed down and he now has to move from house to house. 

Leah Achiyo, 28, operates from a salon on Ngong Road. She too would want to open her own clinic as a friend is accommodating her currently.

She started practising in Machakos before relocating to Nairobi where she says there is better business.

One of Hidemasa’s students, Joseph Njuguna, 28, says the training in Shiatsu has given him hope. When Njuguna lost his sight in 2008 he thought his life was over. “I closed my shop and in desperation retreated home wondering what my life had come to. It was not until my uncle who lives in Nairobi suggested that I enrol at Machakos Technical Institute for the Blind to learn a skill that would be fit for a blind person. And when I came here, I chose Shiatsu and that is how I ended up in Hidemasa’s class.”

Njuguna is eager to complete his course and open a clinic in Nakuru.

Faith Ituru is excited about learning Shiatsu and says her future shall probably be in Shiatsu. “I want to complete this as soon as possible so that I can go out and earn my living through Shiatsu”, she says.

Faith, who lost her sight at a young age, first attended Thika School for the Blind before enrolling at the Machakos Technical Institute for the Blind to learn Shiatsu. “If I can make people feel well and relaxed every day, I would be most happy,” she states. She says she is inspired by stories of fellow blind people who are now earning a living from Shiatsu.

She appeals to the Government to take graduates of Shiatsu now numbering about 20 (and all visually impaired) and employ them in physiotherapy departments of hospitals. “If such a policy was implemented, all the graduates of Shiatsu would be employed,” she adds.

Shiatsu has much in common with physiotherapy and both can be combined for patients for curative purposes.

These sentiments are shared by many Shiatsu students.

Hidemasa says by the time the students graduate, they are as good as others anywhere in the world.

 “We teach them the art of massage itself and also elementary human anatomy so that they can understand the muscles and nerves of the body as well as related diseases. This enables them to apply the skills from a basic understanding of the human body, which is important,” he explains.


Japanese massage Japan Tokunaga Hidemasa visually impaired Shiatsu Japan International Co-operation Agency Jica
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