By Eiko Negishi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterAkemi Kuramoto has established an aromatherapy salon called Le Lien. at her home in Owase, Mie Prefecture.
“What are your symptoms?” Kuramoto, 55, asks her customers, and they tell her of problems like being “too stressed to sleep” and having “painfully stiff shoulders.” She selects an aroma oil with properties that can help alleviate the problem and massages it into their skin.
Lavender is for relaxation and pain relief, for example, while rosemary promotes circulation.
Kuramoto’s first encounter with aromatherapy was about 10 years ago when she worked for a local paint manufacturer and distributor. She was suffering from lower back pain and stress, but these problems disappeared when she received aromatherapy.
“The scent and the warmth of the therapist’s hands were also mentally soothing,” she recalled.
Later, when Kuramoto was 48, she was afflicted with a severe illness and had to take nine months off work for treatment at the hospital. She recalls that even after recovery, the shock of becoming ill and her concern about the future did not go away overnight.
When Kuramoto discovered that some hospitals were using aromatherapy as part of their treatment programs to help patients mentally, she decided based on her past experience that she “wanted to become an aromatherapist to heal both the mind and body of patients.”
Although she had passed the first grade of an aromatherapy exam that tests fundamental knowledge of the practice, she thought she would need a higher level qualification for people to feel secure about the treatments she offered.
So in April 2013 Kuramoto enrolled in a school for aromatherapy in Nagoya, and used her weekend days off to attend the classes. Many of the courses required that she learn basic medicine. In August of the same year, she quit her job to focus on studying.
One year of tuition costs roughly ¥1 million. Additional costs for commuting and textbooks piled up quickly, and she ended up digging into her retirement savings. She mastered the techniques, and after a year passed the exam and is now recognized as a professional aromatherapist.
Kuramoto opened her own salon in 2015 at the age of 53. She divided her living room with a curtain and set up a folding medical bed. Including things like air conditioning and lighting, she spent about ¥500,000 on refurbishing her home to accommodate her salon.
To encourage frequent use of her services, Kuramoto set the price of a short 60-minute treatment course at ¥4,000. The basic 90-minute course costs ¥6,000. Currently, she has three customers on a busy day, and she performs treatments at a nearby resort hotel a few days each month.
Kuramoto’s monthly income is over ¥100,000. To learn more advanced techniques, she attends treatment classes in other prefectures almost every month.
Her only son moved out on his own two years ago. Her husband, Haruya, 58, is a company employee and they make do with his salary. She plans to continue running the salon after Haruya retires to help support them.
“If it helps people who are suffering from illness or stress to heal, then I want to keep doing it,” Kuramoto said.
Qualifications differ between organizations
Several different private organizations have created their own qualifications for aromatherapy, and the name of the qualification and other factors differ depending on the organization.
According to the Japan Aromacoordinator Association, about 900 schools belong to the association, and people can take a variety of basic classes in person or through correspondence to learn about such subjects as the ingredients of different aroma oils and the psychological effects of different scents.
A weekly course with two-hour sessions can be completed in as little as four months in person, and in half a year to one full year through correspondence. After passing an exam, students are certified as aromacoordinators.