You regularly pass this place, but have never thought to enter. An old-fashioned massage clinic at the end of the Asakusa subway Eki-chika arcade. For some reason, the pictures on the sandwich boards speak to you today. They pull you in. Vigorous handpainted watercolours. The fleshy skin being kneaded and pushed. How about it? Three phrases written across the signs say: In 10 minutes…Your body will…Relax.
The masseur is waiting in her chair. A thousand yen, hard to go wrong. Even if the beds are in full view of the arcade, it’s not like there’s many people coming by.
She gets up to greet you. Ten minutes? That’s fine. You can leave your shirt on. Lie here face down please. Her name is Satoko Yamamoto. She gestures to the table covered with the pink towel. She speaks with gentle confidence.
Where do you have trouble, she asks. She works her strong fingers down each side of your spine and around your neck. It feels curious. It doesn’t feel like an ordinary massage.
She’s pinching you! Pinching! Briskly, with her efficient hands, up and down your back. It’s got you tingling. It’s surely doing some good.
The pinching makes you think of fascia, that silvery tissue under your skin which holds your flesh in. You’ve read a bit about it. Sometimes it causes pain. Oh yes, she says. Our technique definitely helps that. Many people don’t even know the fascia is there!
She has worked at this clinic since it opened, 18 years ago. That’s when she began massage. The owner taught her this Chinese style, called Sei Fu, literally, Adjust the Skin. It’s not very widely practiced. He runs a clinic in Nagoya.
Many people don’t know we are here, she says. Many people don’t even know this arcade is here. It’s very old, it might be the oldest shopping arcade in Japan. She says tourists visit, and women too. Many foreign visitors like the old things, she says. Japanese people don’t notice what’s good about them. She says she didn’t want to come to Asakusa when she first got the job. But now she likes it. Her shifts are Tuesdays and Thursdays but there’s always someone here, from 11am to 6pm.
It’s a good place to work. But she says it springs leaks when it rains. Inverted umbrellas and bits of plastic taped to the ceiling are a clue to how much water gets in. You step into the corridor with her. She points to the signs. See how they are backwards, she says. They read from right to left. If you read them conventionally they say: Relax…Your body will…In 10 minutes.
It’s old style, she says, to write it backwards. And the owner also wanted to put the words 10 Minutes toward the middle of the arcade.
She finishes by getting you to sit up and then pummels your back. You received a lot more attention than just 10 minutes, and offer to pay extra. But she’s relaxed. No worries, she insists.
Seifu Kenkou Ryoujutsu In, Asakusa Stn Matsuya exit tel 03-5830-1858