The room is warm. The music relaxing. Aromatherapy oils perfume the air. I am wrapped in hot towels after an hour of sheer bliss. And the years have fallen away. Off my face, that is.
Better known on her home patch of Kichijoji, Cathy Kamino is one of Hiroo’s best-kept secrets in central Tokyo. Just around the corner from the station, Segafredo and the Azabu supermarket is a hair salon. Upstairs are two small rooms that the owner rents to practitioners of alternative beauty treatments. A Thai masseur uses one. Cathy — who is a U.S.-licensed Belavi Facelift Massage specialist — uses the other.
“I travel in on the Inokashira line three days a week,” she explains later over lunch. “Treatments are by appointment only, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Thursdays are off and the rest of the working week I’m busy teaching yoga.”
Cathy — warm, gentle and open, and with a great complexion for a mother of four ranging from age 34 to 26 — grew up and married (first time around) in Colorado. With a degree in fine art, specializing in sculpture, and a master’s in communication (video), she has been interested in yoga for as long as she can remember, “from age 17 at least.”
Reiki came later. “It fell into my lap. After a car accident, my younger daughter needed a lot of rehabilitation. Her body worker — a wonderfully talented woman — did Reiki. It’s such a great energy — very clean and comforting.”
Hands-on healing using the curative powers of natural energy (“chi” in Chinese) has been around for centuries. It’s been known also in many cultures, with any number of theories about Reiki’s origins: the stars, Lemuria, Atlantis, Egypt, India, Tibet. “Rediscovered” in Japan by Dr. Mikao Usui at the beginning of the 20th century, it was Hawayo Takata who introduced Reiki — which means “universal life force” — to the Western world after World War II.
Now a Reiki master, Cathy moved to Japan six years ago. “When I met my Japanese husband, Yukio, he had been in the States 18 years as the quintessential eternal student. He was finishing up his Ph.D., wanted to return to work for a Japan-based developmental and environmental NGO that had been courting him, and was looking around for an American wife. What he got was me.”
Now working for the same NGO, Cathy thinks her husband remarkable for taking on so much baggage. But he gets on well with her extended family back in the U.S., and his parents, she says, “are just wonderful.” Neither she nor Yukio are especially materialistic. “I’ve never had much money, so it’s not that important to me. The quality of our lives is far more important, doing work we believe in and love.”
Cathy (who gives a percentage of what she earns to an orphanage in Sri Lanka), began her working life here as a volunteer for an NGO, while honing her yoga practice. (She started teaching in 2005.) It was a year after first arriving that she met Carol Miyazaki, who at that time was local to western Tokyo but now lives in Florida.
“Carol had just completed a training in Oriental massage, and later certified to teach Belavi Facelift Massage. We were around the same age, starting out anew . . . she seemed my kinda gal! Wanting to expand our knowledge and techniques, we decided on an exchange. I would teach her Reiki, she would teach me BFM. It’s not the kind of trade I’d do for anyone, but it proved a pretty even deal.”
For Cathy the exchange involved a month of training, followed by a longer period, during which “Carol critiqued my technique until I got it perfect.”
Belavi Facial Massage is the most pampering and effective massage imaginable. Through gentle acupressure, lymphatic drainage strokes and facial massage strokes, it lifts and enhances sagging skin, stimulates oxygen flow to facial tissue, releases toxins, and softens lines. “The technique helps your skin battle its two greatest enemies — gravity and time.”
Interestingly, several of Cathy’s clients have had cosmetic procedures, and find BFM assists and maintains recovery. “I’m not against snipping and tucking, if that’s what people want to do. I’m just not interested personally, for myself.” She prefers to age naturally, gracefully, keeping her body in shape through yoga and massage.
That night, after my own treatment, I dream the whole procedure again: cleansing, exfoliation (with fine rice bran beads, fruit enzymes and other goodies) followed by a 21-step Azulene oil (from blue chamomile) massage that last 30 minutes. And I hear Cathy’s voice: “It doesn’t clog the pores, but dissolves what’s there, lifting it to the surface. It’s great to use . . . has a nice slip to it. Our skin just drinks it up, especially in dry cold weather like this.”
The honey and orange blossom mask that follows on is sweet, sticky and delicious! (My tongue had caught a bit at the corner of my mouth.) An eye pillow cuts out the last remnants of the external world, and some sunblock cream is applied to the most vulnerable parts of the face. “Some Australians forgo this stage. They think sunblock gives them cancer. I find it preventative, even under the Japanese winter sun.”
A hand massage follows a foot massage follows a scalp massage. Some light Reiki shifts everything into balance.
Cathy says men — especially older men — and women love BFM. “But one guy grabbed a towel afterwards and scrubbed everything off his face. A woman would never do that. In fact, women are the opposite; they tend to say, ‘I’m never going to wash again!’ ”
Belavi Facelift Massage is not magic, she admits. But it really helps.