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Saturday, June 2, 2007


The chiropractic masseuse and the starfish

Several friends had recommended Tana-san for massage. "He's a little strange, but he's very good," one friend said. He sure sounded strange — Mr. Shelf?

She gave me his card, which said "Healing House Raku" on the top. "Body Therapist. Gentle Alignment! Feel the precision release of stored bodily tensions!"

He had that Japanese passion for using exclamation marks in English, which gives everything a supernatural, dreamlike quality. I could see the tension running out of my body as if retreating from battle, mounted on horses and carrying spears.

The business card was all in English except for the kanji for raku, which means relaxed, or at ease. What was missing from the business card was the kanji for seitai, which means chiropractic.

There is a form of chiropractic massage done in Japan that doesn't require one to be a licensed chiropractor. Although chiropractic medicine usually deals with bones and massage with muscles, perhaps seitai means you can go in and say "Please massage my femur!"

Tana-san's office was a small four-and-a-half tatami mat room in the back of an ancient minshuku. There was no massage table, just a simple mat on the floor. I had no idea that I was about to receive a chiropractic massage.

First, he had me lie on my stomach so he could look at my "alignment." When he made that hissing sound by sucking air through his teeth, I knew something was wrong. "Your right leg is longer than your left," he said, with clear disapproval. "I will fix it!"

He then started shaking my leg with his hands, as if he was giving a power handshake to the leg. "Nice to meet you," I said, hoping he would stop. Finally, the shaking ended with a YANK!

He repeated this several times, each time using a different number of shakes before the big yank, so it was impossible to prepare for it, causing me to shriek each time he yanked. "This will also make you a little taller," he said.

He then moved to my arms and performed the shake-shake-yank on each one. I thought, this guy should definitely try out for the N.Y. Yankees. Surely I was beginning to look like a starfish.

Finally satisfied with the new length of my arms and legs, he moved to certain trouble spots on my lower back and pushed so hard, I shrieked in pain.

Each shriek was accompanied by an involuntary twitch, usually of the buttocks rising off the mat. So there I lay, a shrieking, pulsating starfish. And so far, no precision release of bodily tensions. No spears or horses. Just tension relocation.

When Tana-san was finished with me, he released me back into the sea. I definitely left taller and more loosely jointed. And as he told me I would, I felt better over the next few days as my wounds healed. But I still longed for a deep muscle tissue massage.

So, a few days later, I was at an onsen that advertised massages for just 4,000 yen per hour. I booked myself for an hour with the masseuse, Mr. Saito. As I lay down on the massage table on my back, ready for my deep muscle tissue massage, I noticed on Mr. Saito's shirt, in tiny red letters, the kanji for seitai.

He clasped my feet together, looked at my alignment and said, "Your right leg is longer than your left!" He really did say that. I am not pulling your leg.

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