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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Feet, feet . . . where would we be without them?

As the weather warms up, off come the tights and socks and it's time for sandals. But what are these? Yes, the two possibly pale, calloused, misshapen — for which read "mistreated" — things upon which you are now standing, called feet.

Josselyn Gourret, Tokyo's sole foreign medically approved foot specialist
Josselyn Gourret, Tokyo's sole foreign medically approved foot specialist, treats one of Angela Jeffs' feet with her holistic approach. ANGELA JEFFS PHOTO

My own right (pale, calloused, misshapen) foot lies now in the gentle and professional hands of Josselyn Gourret, currently the only foreign medically approved chiropodist/podiatrist practicing in Tokyo.

What is the difference, I ask, as she oils my foot and it visibly relaxes and begins to cheer up.

"The layperson thinks of 'podiatrist' as a American term. In Britain people use the word 'chiropodist.' "

But there's more too it, she continues in fluent but delightfully accented English: "Chiropody doesn't involve bone surgery; it's more cosmetic, though it helps a lot. As a podologue, I'm more like a medical doctor, diagnosing problems and prescribing solutions."

Gourret works with doctors and physiotherapists, and also make orthotics — foot supports for inside shoes. "They help change the position of the feet to effect a better balance and posture."

There are 26 bones in each foot. And they do the most amazing job.

Gourret stands clients on a mirror, so they can see exactly how much of their feet they are standing on.

The most common problems with feet are corns and callouses. Corns result from toes rubbing against a hard surface, creating pressure points, with roots of corns acting like needles to puncture joint areas. Most people buy corn pads and hope the problem will go away. But used continually, they burn the skin and weaken it, making the area vulnerable to chronic problems.

"At worst, corns can affect the lymph glands, allowing infection to rise into the groin. I see this more often than you would imagine. People take corns far too lightly."

As for callouses, the formation of hard skin is simply the body's way of protecting itself. The position of a callous tells Gourret a lot about the client's posture and footwear.

Asked why she chose to treat feet, she laughs. "Training in Paris as a physiotherapist, I happened to visit the surgery of a knee specialist, and saw patients going in with long sad faces and emerging with light steps and smiles. I loved the instant results."

Feet, she realized, are very important. "Think of the work they do in a lifetime, as the base of body and being. They control all the upper joints, and even affect eyesight. Unaware of their importance, people take them completely for granted."

Having married a Japanese in France and Japan, she settled in Tokyo. The marriage did not last, "but I got my son, and for him I stayed, with no regrets."

Chiropody did not exist in Japan at that time. No one touched feet, other than to detect problems in other parts of the body as part of traditional Chinese medicine (reflexology).

"After starting work at the Tokyo Surgical and Medical Clinic in 1980, the Japanese Health Ministry gave me their blessing. Now someone is working in Kobe, and a few German specialists are developing the field."

Japan had great feet before the war. "People used to go stream-hiking wearing 'waraji,' or sandals woven out of rice straw. Nonslip, they helped strengthen feet and ankles."

The shoe industry has developed enormously, she admits, especially in the field of sports shoes, where designs now take into account the bones and muscles most in use.

Japanese women used to walk with their toes pointed inward to indicate they were "inside people," creating a certain imbalance. Now the problem is different, with the high heels and open-backed shoes of fashion causing immense damage to lower backs and knees.

"I have more and more young women coming to me. They forget that high heels are designed for a body of a certain height. Short people tend to wear the highest heels, and they shouldn't. But what can you do? A woman is a woman!"

She has tips for people to care for their feet better.

Start, for example, by cutting nails straight across. But be careful the sides do not puncture the other toes. If ingrown toenails develop, never try to treat them yourself, but get advice. "Often one treatment can fix it."

When showering or bathing, always dry between the toes very carefully. "Japanese people especially are prone to foot fungus because of the climate, so do what you can to help yourself. For example, cream your feet to make them soft and improve circulation. Pulling on toes also helps."

As for nail varnish, allow nails one day between paintings to allow them to recover and breathe. "Polish remover is very drying; it makes nails thick and hard — and not in a good way."

When walking any distance, she adds, try to wear good lace-up shoes. Not too tight, but just enough to hold the foot firmly in place. Treadmills and fitness center are better than nothing, but best of all is to walk barefoot on grass or on sand.

If one foot is larger than the other (my own problem), always buy shoes to that size and put a sole inside to make the smaller foot fit. It's amazing, she says, how much better people feel with their feet in good condition.

Gourret employs a holistic approach. She works with patients and checks their whole body, not just the feet. And she regards her work as creative. "Once I wanted to be a painter. Instead I customize orthotics and even use color."

Near done, Gourret works on my ankles and pulls on my toes with some last words of advice: "On your way home, if you have to strap-hang on the train, don't shift from foot to foot. Plant your feet firmly apart to balance your weight. This will help re-energize your whole system and alleviate stress."

Does she have another client following on?

"Oui, oui," she laughs again, with a canal holiday in France on the horizon. "I'm always busy with feet. Trouble is, I only have one pair of hands."

Josselyn Gourret works at Jomon House, 4-23-11 Shimo-Meguro, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays except Wednesdays, when she is at Tokyo Surgical and Medical Clinic near Tokyo Tower in the morning and in Shimo-Meguro from 2 to 7 p.m. Phone (03) 3793-6412 or (080) 3485-6517.

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