What is Japanese Meridian Therapy? And how is it different from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Japanese acupuncture

What is Japanese Meridian Therapy? And how is it different from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

By Tamara L. McClure, LAc., DAOM, MSTOM, LMT

Tamara is a California licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, specializing in Japanese Meridian Therapy, a PCOM-SD alumni with a Doctorate degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She has been studying and practicing Japanese Meridian Therapy for over 7 years under the tutelage of Dr. Elizabeth Talcott and KC Conover.

Acupuncture arrived in Japan early in the fifth century, from mainland China by way of Korean monks, and has been practiced for over 14oo years. Both herbology and acupuncture have undergone some unique developments that distinguish it from its Chinese and Korean relatives. The acupuncture practiced largely in Japan today is a product of the strong influence of Western medicine that started in the 18th century. The dominant form of acupuncture practiced in Japan today is based more on the scientific model than traditional concepts. Nevertheless, there is a large contingent of Neoclassicist acupuncturists in Japan who base their practice on the classics of Chinese medicine, primarily the Nan Jing (The Classic of Difficulties), with influences from the Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic), the Su Wen (Basic Questions), and the Ling Shu (Spiritual Pivot). Keiraku chiryo (Meridian Therapy) is the representative Japanese style based on traditional Chinese concepts. “Some of it was lost with modernization, but a small group of acupuncturists and family traditions in Japan kept variations of it alive. Various professional organizations continue to research, develop, teach and practice their variations. Keiraku chiryo, as an art unto itself, developed over the centuries, but the word itself might have only been used since the 1920s” (Bishop).

Meridian Therapy had an earlier and stronger influence in North America and it continues to dominate the practice of Japanese style acupuncture in the United States today. A steady stream of Meridian Therapy practitioners have come to the United States over the last two decades led by masters such as Shudo Denmai, Masakazu Ikeda, and Okada Akizo.

Features of Japanese style Acupuncture

While Chinese acupuncture today is closely allied with herbal medicine, Japanese styles of acupuncture have developed in close relation to massage and moxibustion. Although there is much variation in styles of acupuncture in Japan, there is great emphasis on skillful palpation and gentle stimulation. In Japanese acupuncture, and especially Meridian Therapy, the skin is seen as the interface by which information is received and transmitted to the body as a whole. It is thought that the body is more readily stimulated and affected on the surface. Therefore the ideal is to find a difference or reaction close to the surface where it can be most readily affected, using very fine needles, and usually shallow or contact needling practices. This makes an acupuncture treatment less invasive and reduces some undesirable side effects including pain.

Features of Meridian Therapy

Among  Japanese styles of acupuncture, Meridian Therapy is a traditional approach that employs very gentle needle techniques. This makes it especially suited to the treatment of the very young, weak, or sensitive patients. Meridian Therapy emphasizes the treatment of the cause of the disease (root treatment) while also addressing the symptoms (branch treatment). Meridian Therapy relies on six position pulse diagnosis, hara (abdominal) diagnosis, and direct palpation of deficiency and/or excess on the meridians themselves. The root treatment is rendered by subtle tonification and dispersion techniques, and the patient usually receives both a front and back treatment to complement the root treatment.  This system of acupuncture “restored the emphasis on the meridians”… “and filled a gap for many practitioners who never before had a practical method to guide them in the selection of acupuncture points” (Denmai, p. 7).

“The acupuncturist's sensing of qi at the point is of primary importance. The anatomical location of the point is the address, while the actual point found through honed palpation abilities is the mailbox” (Bishop). The delivery of the instructions involves the proper use of both hands, as described in the classics. The oshide (left hand) regulates the qi during the needling while the sashide (right hand holding the needle) supports that work. The most important hand according to the classics is the left hand, as it is the hand that is palpating and touching the body. The classics say that qi must be felt at the point. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners might interpret this to mean that the patient needs to feel the qi at the point, while Japanese Meridian Therapists would interpret this to mean that the practitioner must feel the qi at the point. TCM might also argue that the needling stimulates the qi, while JMT might argue that needling regulates the qi.

Influence of Japanese Acupuncture

The use of guide tubes became almost universal since the introduction of disposable needles by the Seirin Co. in Japan in the 1970’s. There has been a steady trend towards thinner needles and gentle insertion techniques in North America in recent years. There is also a growing appreciation for touch-based diagnosis and a greater attention to palpatory findings in deciding where and how to needle. The level of personal attention and skilled touch provided in Japanese acupuncture resonates with many American practitioners and patients today. More patients are seeking individualized care that includes nurturing touch and less invasive, and often painful, techniques.


Bishop, C. (2007). Japanese Meridian Therapy - Preserved Tradition of the Five Phases. Acupuncture Today, January, 2007, Vol. 08, Issue 01. Retrieved From http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=31449

Denmai, S. (1990). Japanese Classical Acupuncture Introduction to Meridian Therapy. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press

Ikeda, M. (2005). The Practice of Japanese Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press

SIOM (2009). Features of Japanese Acupuncture. Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine. Seattle, WA. Retrieved from http://siom.edu/papers-and-translations/articles-by-faculty/187-features-of-japanese-acupuncture

Crane picture from muinan.com

Swallow picture from iamjapanese.tumblr.com