|Interview with Ohashi, by Ulrike Schmidt (2018)|
Q1. Ohashi, you were born in Japan in 1944, and you emigrated to the USA in 1970. What was your motivation, or plan, to do so? Did you already have some contacts in the States at the time?
Ohashi: My motivation, leaving Japan for America, is to study at a university, and complete postgraduate courses in Black Studies. And so, that was the motivation; this is the reason why I left Japan. I did not have any contacts in the States at that time.
Q2. Alright. How did you get into the “Watergate Health Club” in Washington? Was it accidentally? Subsequently, you happened to give Shiatsu treatments to a lot of important people.
Ohashi: From January 1971 to December 1972, I was in Washington D.C., in order to complete a postgraduate degree in African American literature at Howard University. And at that time, by accident, the Watergate complex opened. In this complex, they have a very exclusive, very expensive, members only health club. That is the Watergate Health Club. And by accident, somebody introduced me to the health club. They hired me and I started giving Shiatsu treatments.
At that time, nobody knew Shiatsu, so I called it Japanese massage, acupressure, or Japanese chiropractic massage. 1971 I started working for health club, until the end of ‘72, same time I attended Howard University for my postgraduate degree. So I didn’t work full time. And then, yes, I met very many famous politicians, and wealthy peoples from all over the U.S.A. and the world.
And most important about Watergate is in 1971, October, the Kennedy Center opened next to Watergate complex. And here, at the Kennedy Center, which is a huge art and theatre complex, lots of world famous artists—singers, musicians, movie stars, artists, and many dancers come to perform. And there, I met very world famous dancers, because they have to come to take care of their own body at the Watergate—which I happened to be there. When I left Washington, D.C. at the end of 1972, a huge Watergate scandal happens. I happened to be in the “Watergate” when the invasions are happening. So people get so interested about me. The name of Watergate makes me very famous.
Q3. So after Watergate, how did you get the idea of teaching Shiatsu?
Ohashi: 1972, September, I dropped out from Howard University, due to my poor academic performance. I have no choice. And when I left Washington D.C., I came to New York City. 1970s are a huge anti-war movement, and a counterculture movement—very much hippie—exploded. And then, 1973, I realized a lot of people want to study something about holistic health, Oriental Medicine, anti-establishment, and something about Eastern philosophies and Eastern health modalities, such as shiatsu. And then, by accident, I am in the middle of this cultural movement in New York City. So I start teaching shiatsu. That is the beginning of my teaching.
Q4. So Ohashi, were you a hippie? When you arrived in the United States, there was a strong hippie movement among the young people… Didn’t you also want to create new and better ways of life? With and through Shiatsu? Isn’t Shiatsu—at least in the West—a form of counterculture?
Ohashi: Ulrike, I don’t know the definition of hippies. But anybody and everybody can be influenced by that history of the movement and culture. Whether you are anti-hippie, or anti-Establishment, or pro-Establishment, or you’re hippies. No matter who you are, or what you are—no one can avoid any historical context or movements of their time. So in that sense, yes, I am a hippie. This huge movement and phenomena has really revolutionized American histories, and people’s mentality and attitudes. That means I am very much a participant in this movement. I was in the right place and right time.
Q4b. Is Shiatsu part of the counterculture?
Ohashi: Yes, absolutely. Shiatsu is not western modality, Oriental philosophy. Shiatsu is a perfect modality for this time because it is so unique, so Oriental, so holistic, and so different.
Q5. So, following up: The things that hippies searched for, by taking drugs, was the expansion of consciousness, the experience of non-duality, the unconditional being free—isn’t this also the intention of Shiatsu? Walter Holbein, a Swiss sociologist, said, “The hippies’ aim was an anti-authoritarian and de-heirarchalized world order and system of values, without class differences, performance standards, cruelty and wars.” Wasn’t it you, Ohashi, who created the wonderful accurate slogan “Touch for Peace”?
Ohashi: Well, Ulrike, it’s very interesting questions that you’re asking me. When you’re in the middle of any movement, in the historical moment, you don’t know actually what’s happening around you. You’re just being there, just swimming in the movement, as a kind of atmosphere. So yes, from the 2018 point of view, yes, absolutely, you’re right. Absolutely, Mr. Walter Holbein is right. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was in the middle of this movement. Yes, I created this slogan “Touch for Peace” because I believed touch can bring not only health, but also peace to the people.
Q6. You founded the Ohashi Institute in New York City as a nonprofit at the time. Was this helpful in regard to getting known, as well as getting support?
Ohashi: A nonprofit educational organization is very difficult to be accepted. Federal government research you, and examine you. Luckily enough, I got approved in early 1974. First advantage is nonprofit educational organization is a much, much higher status than for profit organization. The second advantage is much higher respect because Ohashi Institute is a nonprofit educational organization. People recognize me and respect me. And the third advantage is we get donations. In America, people give out donations to nonprofit organizations because donations can be deducted from their tax. In other words, in order to avoid paying tax to the government, they donate. So we receive donations from many people. I transferred all of donation into “scholarship” fund in order to support poor students who cannot afford their tuition. I gave all of the donation to the poor students.
Q7. So Ohashi, what is the reason for your getting so famous? I mean apart from your six books that you wrote and your DVDs that you produced, what is your secret?
Ohashi: Enthusiasm. You may call this kind of enthusiasm “zeal for life.” In the Oriental philosophy “ki.” And if you have enthusiasm in your life, in your work, in what you’re doing—then, you can achieve lots. I just happened to be enthusiastic to keep writing. And then somebody finds out to be good for a book! And because I’m enthusiastic with what I’m doing—I’m always full of enthusiastic ki and full of curiosities—I’m always studying and teaching. In the end, so many books came out. And I’m very enthusiastic to improve my technique, especially my body movement. So I started taking video of all of this, all of my body movement, including teaching. More than 30 DVDs and VHS came out.
Q8. This question is about money. Ohashi, let’s talk a little bit about money. (Here in Germany, some people are somewhat shocked by the fees of your courses). Sonia Moriceau, one of your early students who sadly died some years ago, told me that you once told her ‘Don’t make money responsible for not living your life.’ After having got to know you in Europe, she wanted to go to New York City to study with you. But she didn’t have enough money. So this sentence of yours obviously was an impetus for her to sell her bike and some clothes until there was enough money. Do you remember this story, Ohashi, and can you add something to it?
Ohashi: Yes, I do remember her. I remember Sonia very well. She came to Eschweiler in 1980, where I had my first teaching in Germany. She was there. She is very elegant woman originally from France. So I encouraged her. And no matter what we do, the most important is the timing. She said, she doesn’t have the money. I said to her, you don’t have the money, but if you miss the timing, money doesn’t work at all. So when you don’t have the money, respect the timing. Timing is more important than money. So she sold her bicycle, and she sold other belongings, and then she barely made enough money to buy that air ticket, to be able to come to New York, which is a very expensive city. So I really respect her, and I gave her the best of my best quality of teaching. I gave her scholarship. She was very impressed, and she was very well trained. She went back to England, and then opened her school, “Orchard”—the name of her school is Orchard. And I am so proud of her.
People always complain they don’t have the money. But they never complain about timing. Most important for us is time, not money. And no matter how expensive it is, if you see the value of that content, and then if you see the timing, money will come to you. But if you miss the timing, time never comes back. So I really appreciate these kinds of people, who believe me and respect me, and take my advice. Yes, she is one of them. I miss her so dearly.
Q9. Good. You have a wonderful son, Kazu, who travels with you and supports you very much. But still, how do you get the power and energy—at nearly 75 years of age—to teach in such an intense way? You will be teaching for five days in a row here in Berlin, and additionally, offering treatments and tutorials.
Ohashi: 80% of my energy in my teaching is being consumed and spent already. The other 20% of my energy goes into the classroom. For me, 80% of five days of teaching has already been done, before I enter the classroom in Berlin. So no matter how difficult it looks, and how busy I seem, teaching is the easiest part of my work.
Q10. When I watched you teaching in Belgium, in March, I got the impression that you are also ‘nourished’ by the ki of the class. How important is it for you to be acknowledged and appreciated by your students?
Ohashi: Ulrike, you came in March 2018, in Brussels, Belgium. And that class has 63 students, and ten of them are commuting from this area, and then 30 are staying in hotels, or at some facilities, because they are from France and some of them from Italy. One student came from Israel. And another student came from Montevideo, Uruguay. This student from Montevideo, she spent almost 2,000 Euros for round trip airfare, and five days for room and board. And then on top of that, she’s paying course fees. So she’s spending, my guess is 3,000 Euros. In this class, many students are already famous Shiatsu practitioners, and some of them teachers. Also, I noticed some are physical therapists. And two are medical doctors. So guess what? In order to come to take my four day workshop, they have to be away from their income from one week. If the doctors are making 1,000 Euros a day -- 6,000 Euros is the income lost. So when I figured out these numbers, 67 students are investing 100,000 Euros all together into my teaching. When I calculated this number, I become very, very nervous, and they give me tremendous pressure. That is the reason why you notice that Ohashi is nourished, revitalized, re-energized and nervous.
Q11. What is your vision for Shiatsu?
Ohashi: One day, some day in the near future, Donald Trump is giving Shiatsu to Putin, and Putin is giving back Shiatsu, to each other. And then they realize, Shiatsu is really communicating beyond all of their political issues. That’s my visions.
Q12. So my next question is a life without Shiatsu…? Can you imagine this for your own life?
Ohashi: I think I can live without Shiatsu. I didn’t come to America for Shiatsu. This is an unexpected ife. I’m so lucky enough to be in the right modality, the right time, right philosophy, right place, and with right people. And then yes, I end up in this for 45 years now.
Q13. In Germany, we notice a decreasing trend—other forms of bodywork are apparently more attractive than Shiatsu at the moment. Shiatsu schools often have difficulties in getting enough students for their classes. Do you have any comments on this?
Ohashi: Last 45 years, I taught in 28 different countries, and more than 400 different cities. What’s happening here in Germany now has already happened somewhere. I already witnessed this in the past somewhere, so yes, I am sorry to hear that many sincere and dedicated shiatsu teachers are getting less students than before. Some of them are bankrupted, I heard. I feel so sad.
Q14. Okay. You don’t consider Matsunaga's system of meridians, let’s say, imperative. Do you think it’s necessary at all to use a system of meridians in order to give a “good Shiatsu treatment”?
Ohashi: I have been using seventeen different systems and modalities in my Ohashiatsu® practice; his system is one of them, one of the seventeen. Sometimes I use these, but most of the time I don’t use them. The point is, because I study these different systems and modalities, I can use them if I feel it necessary. So my recommendation to everybody: please study as many theories as possible, as many modalities as possible, not necessarily to use all of them, but to be acquainted. Don’t limit yourself. Then, whenever you must use that modality, you can use it for that particular client.
Q15. Right. Good. Ohashi, you are definitely also an actor, a mime, and an entertainer… I can’t remember any classes as funny as yours. In my opinion, you do not only teach Shiatsu, but you are able to bring big pictures to a point, in a funny and concise way. Do you have comments on this?
Ohashi: A good teacher teaches with tears. Better teacher teach with his body. Only the best teacher can teach with laugh. Why? People remember what they laugh [about]. People don’t remember what they learned in tears. What people remember is what they enjoy; what they laugh [about].
Q16. So my last comment. Carola Beresford-Cooke - an early student of yours - once said, “Whatever the question is, Shiatsu is the answer!”
Ohashi: Well, that’s a very heavy answer. I think whatever the question is, life is the answer. If Shiatsu becomes your life, and if your life become your Shiatsu, yes, she may be right. Yes. But however—well, it’s up to you. Some people don’t need to take Shiatsu so seriously. Some people take it as a hobby, and that’s fine. Oh, by the way, I remember her very well. Early 1980s, she came to take my class and at 188 Old Street, in London. Which used to be called “East West Center”. And I remember her because she has taken a very good note from what I’m teaching.
Interviewer: Very good. Thank you for this time, this is the end of the interview.
Ohashi: Thank you.
Interview with Ohashi, by Ulrike Schmidt, Director of Berliner Schule für Zen Shiatsu, November 8, 2018, Kinderhook, NY. Kindly supported by Kazu Ohashi