Thousands of Blind People practice acupuncture in modern day Japan. It all started with Waichi Sugiyama – a blind acupuncturist in the 17th century…
The picture above portrays Waichi Sugiyama, who is also known as the ‘God of Acupuncture’. I talk about him in one of my chapters of my book ‘The Tradition of Blind Acupuncturists in Japan’. Available on Amazon.
Waichi Sugiyama was a 17th century blind acupuncturist who treated the Shogun of Japan and opened up a School for the Blind. It could arguably be said that his actions inadvertently enabled the survival of acupuncture in Japan hundreds of years later when it was threatened by Western Science not on one, but two occasions.
I wrote a book about blind acupuncturists in Japan
Sometimes a chance conversation can lead to an unusual experience. Kind of like that Jim Carrey movie where he plays a guy who says yes to everything and ends up having all sorts of good (and some bad) experiences. This experience came about from a short conversation with a work colleague a few years ago called Finn. She worked in another department and she heard that I had lived in Japan. So too had she, and we talked a little about our experiences.
The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation
Then she told me she also used to work for an organisation that promoted cross-cultural interest between the UK and Japan and mentioned to me that there were various grants available for people who had particularly interests in Japanese culture and wanted to do a project on promoting an aspect of something. Things like Japanese art or music or even science. She gave me some pointers of where to apply and other advice and the seed was planted. And to tell the truth, I don’t need much pushing when it comes to this type of thing.
I had an idea in mind. Possibly a somewhat unusual one and I applied for a grant to a couple of organisations. In the end, I received a grant from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation. My project title was:
An Exploration into the Tradition of Blind Acupuncturists in Japan.
For those unfamiliar, as many will be. There is an old tradition in Japan for the blind being trained and qualified to practice the traditional medical art of acupuncture. It is a tradition that goes back to at least the 17th century. Today, thousands of blind people are practicing in this field, although these numbers have been decreasing in the last few decades. If you think this unlikely, there is also a tradition of the blind practicing anma massage. Think of the fictional character Zatoichi, a swordsman who also made his daily living by being a travelling masseur and you may get an idea of how this tradition has seeped into popular culture.
Interviewing in Japan
As part of this project, I travelled to Japan and interviewed four senior-level blind acupuncturists and visited the clinic of one of them. I also visited a school for the blind where students are trained in the skills of acupuncture, moxibustion and massage in Hachioji, Tokyo. I interviewed two of the teachers there. This book contains the results of my interviews. Finally, I carried out some general background research into the development of this tradition in Japan and talked about some key figures that made it all possible. It is a short book, but informative (I hope). I believe it is an easy read for people who don’t have any background knowledge in acupuncture or oriental medicine.
The book was recently published and is available on all Amazon sites – UK, USA, JP, Brazil, Australia and Europe in both print and e-book versions.
What did I learn from this?
It was hard work to write the book. But any kind of writing, editing and publishing a work this big requires developing certain skills. After accepting the grant, I had an obligation to complete the project and it was delayed due to various life things going on with me – the usual, family, work. So there was some pressure for me to get it done. Also the editing process took a lot of work and continued for some time even after I released the e-book version of the project. The project also cost me much more money than I received as a grant, which came out of my own pocket.
However, as in the Jim Carrey movie, it did open me up to unusual experiences. I had to be quite forward to approach these Japanese acupuncturists. More Yang than I would normally be. I relied heavily on the support of several bilingual members, who volunteered to help carry out the interviews as my Japanese is at a low-level and which made the project a team effort more than an individual one.
It is also rather an unusual thing to do – to visit a school for the blind in any country and interview the teachers there, and so that added to my life experience. This project also enabled me meet up with an old colleague from Japan who I had lost contact with, but who agreed to help me to carry out the interview at the blind school.
Although the book is finally finished, I am not yet done with it. I feel the information has some relevance to acupuncturists and so I submitted an extract of it to the NAJOM (North American Journal of Oriental Medicine). (UPDATE Aug 2018) – They accepted it and it was included in their Spring 2018 edition. I have also handed out copies for review.
Though this book has various flaws, I hope the information within provides enough value for people to overlook these shortcomings. For example, there is a detailed chapter on Waichi Sugiyama which contains a lot of information about him that previously was not available in English.
Some of the information about Sugiyama also contradicts the current English Wikipedia entry about him. I have thought about updating it myself, but that would mean I would have to delete what someone else has written as I know it is inaccurate. However, I am not sure of the etiquette here. Perhaps I shouldn’t care.
I have a few more ideas of things I can do for this book and may do so over the next few months or years in my spare time. For example, I have been toying with the idea of turning it into an audio book so that blind people in English-speaking countries will be able to access it. And in fact, an actor has come forward and offered to do the speaking. However, I have delayed going ahead with this as it will be a lot of work. If I some more funding was to come, I would push ahead with this idea.
I did think about turning it into a Braille version, but that process does not seem so straightforward.
Doing something for no monetary gain
The one thing, is that this book hasn’t made me much money. Possibly enough to buy a beer or two so far. But fortunately, money is not the motivation here. I’m not altogether sure what exactly my motivation is. I suppose, I just liked the idea of working and finishing a project.
Would I do it again? Probably not, it was a lot of work and perhaps the return of money for labour is more than I can really afford to give at this point in my life. However, it did show me that lots of things are possible in life if only we stay open and are prepared to say yes. And who knows what other possibilities can come in the future from this? I hope in some small way, I may have contributed to knowledge or the promotion of Japanese acupuncture in the West.
So if an unusual opportunity presents itself to you in the future (note: which is not a scam). It is always worth giving it some consideration. Who knows what kind of experiences it can lead to or new people you will be able to meet. And isn’t that the point of life? To have new experiences. It’s good for the soul.