I went in to the doctor's with my fucked up foot hoping for a massage, MAYBE some acupuncture (which as you know I got!) and somehow or another the doctor and I started chatting about it. I think he seemed impressed at my complete readiness to let him stab me with needles and he said "So you're familiar with はり and きゅう?" Hari - literally "needles" is how Japanese refers to acupuncture. I guess it seems self-evident that you'd need to be accurate when stabbing yourself so they didn't feel the need to dress up the term? Who knows, but I was in my zone and my Japanese listening skills were peaked so when he said kyuu I thought "Scanning databases. . .kyuu not detected!" so I asked "What's kyuu"? The doctor, Dr. Hosokawa, was very patient without being condescending (a rare trait when Japanese people speak to me - they either accept I speak fluently and flip out or ignore me when i ask what a word I don't know means, or immediately act like I am a 6 year-old Japanese child and cease any adult level conversation - but not him!), "Kyuu is where we burn dried grass on you pressure points to relieve muscle tension."
"Really?", I asked in mild disbelief and genuine interest.
"Oh yes, it's been a tradition healing method in Japan for over a thousand years." he answered.
"I've only ever tried acupuncture in Japan and wrote a blog about it for my friends to read, but we still have it in the U.S. I've NEVER heard of burning people..." and he nodded and watched me pull out my cell phone to consult my JPN-ENG dictionary (yes it came standard on my phone) while he prepared my needles.
"So you do O-Kyuu (the "O" is an "honorific" in Japanese), here?"
"No it's too smokey, so some people would complain, and we'd have to pay more for our building's fire insurance"
"Oh I see," I said, but did he detect some disappointment? The next thing i knew he vanished and returned a minute later with a box of small spit-ball shaped balls of - you guessed it - dried grass! "See, these are what they look like", he explained, "You can burn them like this or roll them tighter so they burn hotter". "Oh, but you have them here even though you don't offer it?" i asked and that was all it took to push him over the edge. Clearly the guy had a subtle sadistic undertone and had been itching to burn someone with these, because he told me to sit up and he would show me how it works (He wasn't asking either, his determination was clear, and I was in full New-Japan-Adventure mode so I smiled and asked if I could snap pics on my cell phone! In the end the pics didn't come out that great, but he explained, as he demonstrated:
First you burn a small amount on the nearest pressure point of the affected area, and pinch it out before it burns down to the skin. Then you set another wad on top of the smoldered one and let this one burn a little lower before pinching it out. You repeat this three or four times and then finally, you let one burn all the way into your tiny bird's nest of grass and yes, by golly it fuckin BURNS!
|Before (lines are from taping)|
He sat there contentedly and offered to do it once more. Naturally, I accepted and as he calmly lit my foot on fire he talked more about moxibustion. He told me that he was giving me the real deal, and that it would leave me with a small blister on my skin, but, and I quote "You won't care about that". Oh? Luckily he was talking to the right person. I didn't care!
"Really, you can do it yourself", he said.
"To yourself? How do you know where the pressure points are?"
"Doesn't matter", he answered nonchalantly. "Anywhere that hurts is fair game"
"And people still do this?"
"Old people do it a lot, some young people do it, but they use store bought kits"
"There are store bought kits?!?"
"Yeah, they are called sen-nen kyuu (千年灸) and you can buy them at any drug store. You should try it out when you go home to Hiroshima. They have different heats you can choose from. The hotter the more therapeutic, but even the weaker ones feel nice."
"I will! Sen-nen kyuu right? Like..."
"Like 1000-years kyuu, yeah, just ask at the store. The clerk will probably be surprised someone looking like you is asking!" and we both laughed.
I thanked him and went on my way. I ended up going back the next day, but he was much busier, gave me the acupuncture only, and we talked about soup-curry. (SOUP-CURRY! SO GOOD!)
But when I came home, I remembered to buy the sen-nen kyuu.
The lady at the shop wasn't too openly surprised by my inquiry, but complemented my Japanese and urged me to try the second weakest one before going straight to buying the hottest one. Looking back, I regret listening to her. The 2nd weakest one was still advertised as being "normal" but it only really felt good when I tried it on my neck. I still intend to go back, maybe tell her "I told you so", and buy the strong stuff, which the chart suggests, is infused with garlic, so maybe I'll be protected from vampires too!
So here's how Sennenkyuu work: they are a little tube of the same grass, but affixed to a tiny cushion with a hole in the middle that supposedly channels the heat done onto the precise area you want, and an adhesive bottom, so you remove the paper from the bottom, light the tip of the tube (the same way as incense), and then stick it on whatever hurts! This kit cost 840 yen (10 USD) and came with a TON. Each one takes about 4 minutes to burn out, then you're supposed to leave it for another minute. The instructions included some very cutely animated warnings not to put too many on yourself at one time, but I think it's mainly because they are on fire and can burn other things if you brush against something during your five minute session. Best just to stay still and focus on letting the healing heat in to your muscles.
|Sennenkyuu, try them anywhere!|