To learn more about the Japanese attitudes toward touch, I spoke with Duke Klauck, founder of Ten Thousand Waves Resort outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Japan is one of the least ‘touchy’ cultures in the world, rivaled only by England,” Klauck told me. “Even handshakes are rare—the bow is still the standard greeting, even among friends. It's just a very formal culture. It's rare to even make direct eye contact.” Klauck believes that this formality comes from the fact that the nation is so densely populated.
One escape valve from Japan’s highly structured society and resulting scarcity of touch is massage, or the older form anma. “Back in the day, the profession was dominated by the blind, since eyes were not necessary in a profession that only used touch,” Klauck told me.
In today’s modern Japanese massage, personal boundaries remain honored in that the client wears loose clothing. “When massaging parts of the body not covered by clothing (the neck, head, hands, or feet), the therapist will generally use a thin towel so that there is no skin-to-skin contact,” Klauck says. “Oil massage is available, but rare.”