Feet play such a vital role in promoting the general circulation of blood that they are sometimes called a second heart.

There are currently thriving businesses based solely on the importance of feet. For example, fashionable shops specializing in foot massages to stimulate health are mushrooming and becoming very popular with women.

Queen’s Way on the first basement floor of a department store in the Ginza area of Tokyo, is a dimly lit health salon equipped with about 10 reclining chairs for “massotherapy.”

The Reflexology Association of Japan — now the focus of attention in the health industry due to its incredibly rapid growth — started Queen’s Way in 1997. It has since opened more than 20 similar establishments nationwide and is pressing ahead vigorously with its expansive business strategy.

According to the association, there are basically two different ways to promote health by massage: by pressing so-called vital points on the soles of one’s feet and by pressing or massaging reflex zones of internal organs on the soles.

It is said that when a person is not feeling well, it affects such zones, and pressing or massaging them provides an effective cure. The association uses this method.

“This is an age in which people spend money on keeping fit. Reflexology helps relax one’s mind and body. Customers at our health salons are sure to get hooked on their treatment,” Keiko Fujita, president of the association, emphasized.

A 32-year-old woman said, “I’ve so far undergone sole massage therapy four times at Queen’s Way. I used to feel a bit listless, so I tried the association-run health salon, which I read about in a magazine. During the treatment, I felt so much at ease that I fell fast asleep and awoke to feel quite refreshed, in mind and body.”

Asked why the association enjoys such thriving business, Fujita responded: “Thanks to the lingering recession, we were able to open our health salons in superb locations at moderate rental rates. I was sure we would be successful, considering that many people are suffering from stress due to corporate restructuring and the like.”

This year the association plans to increase the number of its health salons to 40 as part of its goal of operating 100 by 2003.

Yasuhiko Igarashi, a long-time foot reflex cure researcher, runs what he calls “Sukatto House” (refreshing house) in Shimbashi, Tokyo.

Commenting on the current boom in sole therapy, he said, “An increasing number of people experiencing trouble with their feet avail themselves of the newly popular trendy establishments that offer such therapeutics, but before doing so, they are urged to check carefully if these establishments operate under official license.”

He warned people against going too far in massaging their soles themselves, because it could do more harm than good.

However, riding on the crest of the sole therapy boom, the number of stores selling a wide assortment of foot-massage products for home use has increased.

Omron Corp. recently marketed Roller Massager HM-203, a product designed to stimulate the arch of the foot by using balls of varying sizes.

Sanyo Denki Co. and Fuji Medical Instruments Mfg. Co. have put on sale roller-type foot-massage tools, while Matsushita Electric Works Ltd. has developed Foot Spa EH282, designed to stimulate blood circulation with bubbles and vibrations by immersing the feet in hot water filling the device.

If people want a much simpler and inexpensive cure, they are advised to turn to the old practice of treading on a piece of green bamboo for a few minutes a day.

(Kyodo News)