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Bright Lights, Soothing Cities

Bryan Durocher October 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

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Once considered a distant land of foreign enchantment and mystery, the Asian continent has become a power player in the new luxury superspas opening throughout the world. Business is booming, with the spa industry growing at an annual rate of 200%, according to the Thai Spa Association. In addition, spa travel is the fastest-growing tourism sector in the Asia-Pacific region.

With a mix of jet-setting business professionals and Asia’s own spa-going communities, three new spas are paving the way for a new wellness experience in two of the continent’s major cities, Tokyo and Shanghai.

Tradition meets technology

Japan is a country of dichotomies, balancing a culture steeped in tradition while eagerly standing at the threshold of technology. Tokyo—the country’s largest city—is at the forefront of creating a unique spa experience, with two new luxury hotels setting the example in service, architecture and modern treatments.

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Regional Treatment Trends

Eddie Leong is the owner of Zendals, an international product distributor with a strong base in Asia. “U.S. spas can learn to emphasize a spa atmosphere that incorporates natural, serene elements and utilizes the principles of feng shui,” he says. Leong goes on to explain how highlighting such decor reinforces the purpose of the client’s visit, which is to escape from outside distractions. “The emphasis should be on wellness first and beauty second,” he asserts. “More energy-based therapies should be incorporated to complement the Western modalities. It also should be consistent with the spa philosophy of combining pampering wellness esthetics with a memorable experience that is anticipated for the next appointment.” Following are Leong’s observations on regional spa trends throughout Asia.


  • Modalities emphasize Oriental Medical Therapies (OMT) or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which consist of “chi” corrections for regulating flow and balancing yin and yang.
  • Traditional services include hot steam and herbal baths, acupuncture, and reflexology.
  • Unique offerings include Tui Na massage—a dry-pressure massage at the pressure points, connective tissues and joints that stimulates energy flow; and Chi Kung, an exercise and meditation practice similar to martial arts that strengthens chi and balances yin and yang, as well as the mind-body-spirit connection.
  • Herbal medicine, including pills, tonics, powders and teas, also is available.
  • The spa space is serene and roomy, and incorporates the natural surroundings with feng shui—including all five elements—to balance the body energy (internal) with the surrounding elements (external).


  • Treatments include moist herbal wraps; herbal enemas; shirodara; herbal steam baths; and herbal oil, exfoliating and deep-muscular massages.
  • In addition, ayurveda—a government-recognized system of healing and health care, and yoga—a holistic health system, are featured on spa menus.
  • The spa space is grand, serene and roomy, emphasizing the natural surroundings.


  • Treatments include dry and oil massages, rice-based skin rubs, floral purification baths, beauty rituals, coning, cupping and jamu—herbal remedies used internally and externally for health and beauty.
  • Herbal beverages and tonics also are available.


  • Treatments include bathing rituals, such as hot springs, mineral and enzyme baths; skin scrubbing; shiatsu massage; and tea ceremonies.
  • The spa facilities emphasize a Zen-like decor, such as water basins, with ample room. Spa services take place in natural settings whenever possible.


  • Treatments include the Muslim bathing festival, spiritual and massage therapies, herbal remedies, and floral baths.


  • Modalities focus on Unani Traditional Medicine, which is similar to ayurveda and practiced by Muslim hakims, or physicians.
  • Treatments include bath therapies, massages, exercise programs, herbology, dietetics, cupping, sweating, ripening and purging—therapies that use herbs and fruits at their peak stage to thoroughly cleanse the body of impurities.


  • Treatments include herbal steams distilled into the treatment room, detoxifying herbal compresses, naut namman—a body oil ceremony, and reflexology.
  • In addition, Thai yoga and herbal therapies, as well as naud boran—a Thai yoga massage based on natural healing aspects, are featured on spa menus.
  • The spa space is serene and roomy, and features natural surroundings. Facilities are treated as temples for healing and education.


  • Treatments include acupuncture, acupressure, coining—a massage therapy technique administered as a mild dermabrasion, cupping as a circular contusion, pinching, and steaming to detoxify various energy points and to stimulate the lymphatic system.
  • In addition, herbal and patent medicines, or packaged powdered medicines from Thailand and China that are mixed or boiled with water and taken for a prescribed ailment, are available.
  • The spa space is roomy.

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