The 7 Key Differences Between Chinese and Japanese Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of medicine and healing in the world. It has been around for thousands of years, and originated in China.

Japanese AcupunctureChinese medicine, and more specifically acupuncture, made its way to Japan through Korea in the 6th century, and has been practiced there since then for over 14 centuries (1). For the most part, when the average modern American thinks of acupuncture, they automatically lump China in with it.

However, Japan has practiced this medicine for 14 centuries, and over time a difference in practices and techniques was developed, making for a very different art and philosophy towards acupuncture.

This article aims to highlight the 7 primary differences in practice between Chinese acupuncture and Japanese Acupuncture.

The 7 differences are as follows:
acupuncture treatment

  1. The Size of the Needles – Chinese acupuncture and Japanese acupuncture differs in the size of the needles used on patients. Japanese needles tend to be a smaller gauge, while also typically being sharper than Chinese needles. Many say that this is the reason for a gentler, more superficial needling with less pain on the patient. Chinese needles are bit of a wider gauge, and they promote more of an aggressive needling.
  2. Depth of Insertion – The gauges of the needles go hand in hand with the depth of insertion required. Japanese needling is extremely gentle and superficial (meaning only focused on the surface and maybe slightly under the surface of the skin), whereas Chinese needling fosters more depth of insertion. Some patients feel this to be too painful, while others feel that this treatment benefits them more, as they can sense the movement of qi through the body more effectively.
  3. Herbs in Conjunction With Treatment – A large difference between the two practices lies in the Chinese’ use of herbs in conjunction with acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and herbs are an essential aspect of TCM as a whole. Japanese practitioners often do not tend to use herbs in conjunction with treatment, but they do refer their patients to other practitioners that are knowledgeable on the subject. The use of herbs is much more integrated in Chinese treatment, as opposed to Japanese treatment.
  4. Touch as a Means of Pre-Treatment – Japanese acupuncture places a
    lot of emphasis on the use of palpation (touch) before needle treatment. These practitioners rely on abdominal palpation to judge the insertion point of the needle. This practice roots from the many blind acupuncturists of Ancient Japan, and it goes hand in hand with the gentle needling.
  5. Chinese AcupunctureInsertion Methods – The Chinese and Japanese practices differ greatly in their needling technique. Now a standard in the acupuncture field, guiding tubes for needles were not part of the Ancient Chinese traditions, and in fact were developed in Japan in the 1970’s when disposable needles became available. Further, Chinese acupuncture tends to manipulate the needle when inserted into the body much more than Japanese acupuncture.
  6. Stronger Qi Sensation – Chinese acupuncture gives patients a much more distinct feeling of qi moving through specific points in their body, as practitioners of this discipline tend to, as stated above, rotate and shift the needle much more than Japanese practitioners. Further, the increased depth of the needle gives more distinct sensations.
  7. Moxa – Furthing the theme of “gentle” and “relaxing”, Japanese acupuncturists almost always incorporation the technique of moxibustion. This involves burning cones of Moxa (derived from mugwort plant) over the patient’s skin before needling. This warming sensation adds to the soothing nature of Japanese acupuncture.

Well, there you have it. Those are 7 key differences between Chinese and Japanese acupuncture treatment. One is not better than the other, rather, it depends on the patients’ needs and the practitioners’ skill set. Both are useful for their own reasons, and both carry equal merit. As always, it is about a patient-centered approach, and understanding what sort of treatment each individual requires.

Right now, the Integrative Medicine & Holistic Health Association is gathering quality integrative practitioners to participate in a collaborative provider network. Licensed acupuncturists of Chinese or Japanese Acupuncture styles who are passionate about healthcare with a patient-centered mentality are in exactly the right place! Let’s change the paradigm of healthcare in this country!