by Kensen Saito
During the time that I was trying to determine what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I received a letter from my sister in Toronto. She was worried about my future and wondered why I didn’t consider taking up shiatsu professionally. I had always thought of shiatsu more as an art or a sideline than an occupation, but my sister’s suggestion sounded like a good one.
By then I was 25, and although two years of specialized training seemed like a long time on top of the four years I had already completed at university, I enrolled in Tokyo’s Japan Shiatsu School, which was headed by Tokijiro Namikoshi. For two years, I studied shiatsu from morning to afternoon, then washed dishes and waited on tables at a restaurant each night until 11:30 p.m. to earn my tuition. My plan was to finish my training, then go to Canada to introduce shiatsu there as a licensed Japanese shiatsu therapist. I took my visa application and immigration papers to the Canadian embassy in Tokyo and explained that I was seeking landed immigrant status. The official who interviewed me asked how I planned to support myself, and I explained that I wanted to introduce and practise shiatsu in Canada. He consulted the list of what skills Canada was looking for in immigrants. Shiatsu practitioner was not on the list – in fact, the practice was completely unknown in Canada. I had no chance, he told me. I asked him how I could get to Canada. He said Canada needed computer programmers and Japanese chefs; if I qualified for one of those professions, I could immigrate. For the next six months, I continued my shiatsu training during the day and went to cooking school in the evenings. Finally, I had a chef’s licence as well as my shiatsu diploma and shiatsu licence. I received permission to immigrate, and my sister and brother-in-law agreed to sponsor me.