Inside the long storefront windows lie a row of big comfortable couches on which a dozen customer are reclined. In front of them, massage therapists are concentrating on their customers' feet. Using only their hands, a wooden massage bat and some cream, they swiftly press, push and rub. Some of their Japanese customers give out groans of pain -- "Itai! Itai! Itai!" -- but most customers, foreign or local, seem to enjoy it. Three young Japanese women take pictures of each other while being massaged, their fingers stretched in a "V" gesture while their faces remain pinched in pain.
\n"Taiwanese foot massage is very famous in Japan. I heard it's more painful than in Thailand and other countries. I like it," said 24 year-old Yasuko Shishido.
\nShishido was in Taipei for just a day and kept busy tasting local dumplings, sampling Oolung tea and pineapple cakes and was eager to get in a foot massage before having to leave Taiwan.
\n"I come to Taiwan for business twice a year and always come here, however busy my trip," said 60-year-old Tuneo Iwane, another Japanese customer at this foot massage parlor.
\nFor many Japanese tourists, Taiwan's attractions aren't only the Palace Museum and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, but the masochistic pleasure of foot massage.
\nWalking along Taipei's Minchuan East Road or Linsen North Road, there can be seen more than a dozen foot massage parlors, each with a huge, eye-catching sign of a colorfully diagrammed foot. Many of them bear the name Father Wu Foot Massage.
\nFather Josef Eugster from Switzerland, who goes by the Chinese name Wu Ro-shih (吳若石), said the parlors and their popularity are something he would never have thought of 23 years ago, when foot massage was a simple self-help therapy. It was more than two decades ago when he "re-discovered" and began promoting the practice that can be found in the ancient histories of China and Egypt, a therapy known as foot reflexology.
\nA month ago he held a press conference clarifying to the public for the first time that he had never authorized anyone to use his name as a trademark, nor is the colorful foot diagram of his making. The phenomenal success of foot reflexology in Taiwan makes Eugster proud, but at the same time worried.
\nAfter arriving in Taiwan 30 years ago to preach in Taitung, Eugster became bothered by arthritis. Another Swiss priest gave him a book about foot reflexology titled Good Health for the Future (1976), by Heidi Masafret. He studied the book and experimented on himself. Pleased with the results, he began practicing on his disciples to help them with their own health problems, but also as a way to spread the gospel.
\nAccording to theories expounded on by Eugster and Eugene Cheng (
PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES
PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES
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