Japan’s Fish Therapy

By on November 1, 2017

Sticking your feet in a pool of water and allowing them to be eaten by a shoal of fish sounds like a scene from some straight-to-DVD B-movie, but in our exhaustive search for soul-enhancing treatments, anything goes.

This bizarre-sounding activity is merely another essential spa treatment to help return us to a state of wholeness. The fish pedicure might sound fishy, and indeed it is, in a very real sense. These little fish, a type of carp called Gurra Rufa, are the latest trend in foot healthcare. To say they are creating a splash is a bit of an overstatement, but they are making ripples. First used in Turkey, these little tiddlers are gaining notoriety as the best way to remove dead skin from one’s feet. Gone are the emory boards and scissors; fish are the new wave of foot care.

It seems like a strange idea at first, indeed in hindsight it still seems very strange, but on a scale of difficulty in the unusual experience league, it’s a cinch. It has to be tried. It appears that our calluses are tasty for the fish affectionately known as ‘doctor fish’ here in Japan, sometimes referred to as ‘kangal fish’ or ‘nibble fish’; call them what you want – pet piranhas, Jaws! Actually, these fish are toothless, and their prey is already dead. They consume the foot’s dead skin, leaving the healthy skin to grow, cleverly consuming only our affected areas.

I’ve experienced the terror. Entering the wooden hut, or for those with an over-active imagination, the decrepit torture chamber with its wooden benches grouped around a shallow pool; it was hardly the Ritz. I sat down, slid my legs across the bench and looked down. The water looked a little murky, the fish a little grubby. I hesitated, and then remembering my youngest daughter was looking to follow my heroic lead, lowered my feet nimbly into the water. Expecting the worst, it initially felt like walking through seaweed, a soft, gentle feeling of grass on the toes. Was that it? Another rip-off in the name of wellness. I spoke too soon. With the sudden stealth of an attacking shark, my bare feet were suddenly engulfed in the little creatures. I was now in that B-movie where the victim suffocates in a solid, moving surface of living creatures. My worst nightmare! My feet had vanished under a black mass of fish, and I have to say, it wasn’t a particularly nice sensation.

I glanced over at my daughter, fearing the worst and thinking of the repercussions of never being able to go on a beach holiday again, but there she was, her feet being gently picked at by a handful of the blood-craving monsters, nibbling, a far cry from the feeding frenzy going on just feet (!) away. Clearly, the aged feet were tastier, or they were in a much worse condition than I had realized. My peppermint foot lotion from the Christmas hamper a few years ago must be well past its expiry date.

Ten seconds later, the feeling was more like a mild electric shock; the mass devouring settled down to a bearable, ticklish vibration and finally a numbness. Before we knew it, the session was up. Our feet looked the same, but despite the psychological trauma I momentarily endured, our feet felt definitely smoother.

Fish Therapy have never purported to be a true treatment for complete foot revitalizing, but the sheer sense of fun and absurdity make it worthwhile. For those looking for effective foot care, the chiropodist is still your best bet to keep the fish at bay.

Try your luck at the Fish Therapy at Oedo onsen



About Debbie Oakes

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