He’s the director of a shiatsu school in Brussels and Fukuoka, shiatsu therapist, trainer, writer, healer, traveler, husband, human being. 
I am speaking to Philippe Vandenabeele around 10 o’clock in the morning (European time). 
On the other side of the world, he’s preparing dinner. Our social distancing spans several continents. 

He has been living and working in Japan with his wife Hiroko since October last year. 
They will move to their shiatsu dojo at the edge of town soon. Back to the roots of shiatsu with a view on the mountains.

Text: Mark Vroonland | Translation: Bram de Rooij

Is Fukuoka a large city?

“It’s not too bad by Japanese standards. 2 Million people are living here. Fukuoka is located in the south of Japan. Life here is more pleasant compared to Tokyo, for instance.

Life here is more like living at the Cote d’Azur. People are friendly and their mentality is good.”

How is public life in Japan at the moment?

“Since a couple of days, authorities are stricter. Most restaurants and bars have closed their doors now too, that has taken a long time. 
Keeping physical distance is considered normal in Japan. People here don’t kiss or shake hands. Instead, they bow to each other.”

So a kiss is a no go in Japan?

“It would be very awkward.”

Why do you teach shiatsu?

“Teaching is a good way to keep developing myself. Student contact and exchange keeps me sharp.
Two times a year I teach at the school in Brussels. We often have guest teachers. Nick Pole will come to our school soon and Joyce Vlaarkamp is a regular guest teacher as well.

So you are kind of the shiatsu Master from Japan, right?

He smiles. “I still see myself as the Philippe that needs to learn a lot. Of course with 30 years of practice experience and 25 years of teaching. But you never stop learning and discovering new things in our profession.
The interesting thing about teaching is that every time you need to keep explaining basic principles: yin-yang, the five elements, … By constantly repeating these basic principles, you discover new depths. A desire for more. Also patient contacts give new reflections. A mirror of different aspects of ourselves. That’s why shiatsu is all about discovering your true self.

You are working on a book?

“The last 5 years I have been translating the Japanese Ampuku Zukai from Shinzai Ota. The translation is now finished and the book is ready. It is my aim to present the new book at the European Shiatsu Congress in Amsterdam coming September.”

Is this book all about ampuku, the abdominal massage?

“In ampuku we mainly focus on treating the Hara, but we also treat the torso, back, arms and legs. It really is a complete treatment that involves multiple deeper layers.”

You also state that the Hara houses our second brain?

He smiles. “Or maybe it’s our first brain? The first brain in the Hara? In my practice I view our body as a micro cosmos that resides in the macro cosmos of our universe.
It is a hologram with a first imprint in the Hara. The universe houses in our Hara. By treating the Hara, we can access the most fundamental aspects of our true self. If we balance our Hara, we can access a deeper level of healing.”

Is it a study book?

“The Ampuku Zukai is written for a broad audience. Also for people without any background in shiatsu. But at the same time, we as shiatsu therapists can learn from it as well. 
However, Shinzai Ota was not able to capture everything in his book. Shiatsu is something you really need to experience for yourself, because touching somebody and the quality of touch cannot be captured in words. Shiatsu is given from heart-to-heart in a non-verbal and direct way. Very powerful. You just need to experience it.”

Is that why shiatsu is not widely known yet? Because you need to experience it for yourself?

“Don’t forget that eastern thinking has only been introduced in the West quite recently. It will take another couple of generations to really set foot. Several decades ago almost nobody knew what yoga was. But I have faith that shiatsu will become the new normal within the next 10 to 20 years.”

What is your higher goal in a shiatsu treatment?

“That’s a good question. My goal is to guide people to their fullest potential. To bring them back to their true self. Actually: back to their Hara. So that they can start living from their true essence again.” 


Meet Philippe at his workshop at the European Shiatsu Congress

Or read a preview from his new book.

Or view the website of his shiatsu school.