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Massage Today
July, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 07

Planting the Seed: Nurturing Touch for Japanese Orphans


In March of 2011, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan, tearing open the earth and unleashing a 23 foot high wall of water that erased the ground below and destroying everything in its path.

More than 15,000 people have been confirmed killed in the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's northeast coast and damaged a nuclear plant, sending radiation into the surrounding environment. Many families are still homeless, and thousands are living in shelters.

Behind the smiling faces of thousands of children in shelters and orphanages, experts say there is often serious stress and anxiety as everything these children once held as normal, is suddenly not. The monsters that once scared them from under their beds have been replaced by the monstrous wrath of Mother Nature. We take for granted that the ground we walk on stays still, the water we swim in is calm and the air we breathe is safe. Children in Japan are concerned that the ground they play upon may shake, the water they swim in can morph into a wave of gargantuan size and the air they breathe might carry harmful radioactivity.

Many children in orphanages and shelters around the world may have food, clothing and basic care, but often they lack an essential ingredient for basic health and happiness — touch. Without it, children often feel discarded, forgotten and even untouchable, especially when their circumstances are complicated by the harmful effects of trauma. Children with trauma have significant emotional needs. Experience has shown that orphanages find it a challenge to meet the emotional and developmental needs of children, including personalized care and attention.

Japanese Orphans - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The long-term effects of not receiving safe, healthy and nurturing touch can have a huge impact on a child's stability for the future. Clinical research has shown that massaging a child can aid in their physiological and neurological development and function, help soothe common discomforts, promote restful sleep and increase healthy attachment and bonding. All of which are needed to encourage appropriate emotional, cognitive and physical development.

Volunteer pediatric massage therapist Wakako Kumagai's hometown of Yamagata, Japan, suffered in the earthquake. She lost many friends and members of her family. "Now it looks like everyone has gone back to everyday life," says Kumagai. "But, a friend of mine told me, that her child is still scared from a little shake of the elevator. Her baby cries and trembles at the sound of rain. I realized even several months after the earthquake, people still have trauma inside them. I want to do something to help these children."

Creating a Sustainable Impact

Children growing up in these circumstances are at great risk, but are also remarkably resilient. Children who are resilient typically have a number of characteristics that make this possible, including having a sense of purpose in life, confidence in one's ability to control any given situation, compassion for others, a belief in the fundamental goodness of people and the energy and resourcefulness to make things happen. With the support of very generous donors, including a Community Service Grant from the Massage Therapy Foundation, the Liddle Kidz Foundation visited Japan in November 2011, to bring nurturing touch and education to the tsunami survivors.

Tina Allen - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Tina Allen teaches pediatric massage to Japanese volunteers wanting to help children deal with the e ects of trauma. Throughout my time in Japan, volunteer massage therapists were trained to provide pediatric massage and nurturing touch to children in care settings. Additionally, this information was shared not only with children, but with their caregivers to create a sustainable impact. "Traditionally in Japan, people are not used to physical communication," says pediatric massage therapist Atsushi Kawashima. "So, people do not always know how to communicate using massage. Giving and receiving massage is essential for everyone. No matter where you work, or who you work with, physical communication through massage is something everyone needs."

Communication is important when working with any client. However, with children this becomes even more imperative. Touch is one of our very first forms of communication. So, we understand that this would be the sense we would use to make this important connection. When working with children who have been through traumatic events, it is crucial we take our time to make this connection, and help them to understand they have the right to choose to receive nurturing touch. Through pediatric massage and nurturing touch we can teach children they are valued, loved and not forgotten. All children have the fundamental right to receive compassionate and caring touch. It is through proper care and attention that we can most effectively impart programs that support the safe implementation of pediatric massage within shelter and orphanage settings. "From a seedling, soon we will see big leaves stretch out and eventually become a mighty tree," says volunteer massage therapist Tomoko Yamashida.

The Liddle Kidz Foundation will return to Japan in July 2012, to continue nurturing our seedling into a mighty tree of comfort for the Japanese people. View a mini-documentary of the Liddle Kidz Foundation work in Japan at

Click here for more information about Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT.


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