Haramaki: the Japanese secret to health & wellbeing

What is a Haramaki anyway?

The word ‘Haramaki’ literally means ‘bellywrap’ in Japanese.  The word originally referred to a type of metal armour worn by samurai under their armour to protect their stomach and kidneys, and dates back to the sixteenth century.  Haramaki have been used for centuries in Japan, gradually evolving from armour into a special tubular under-garment worn (often by old men) as a belly warmer.

The haramaki has been making a comeback in recent years.  It took the Japanese fashion world by storm when designer Shigesato Itoi reinvented them as fashion items featuring bold designs to be worn on top of clothes – as recently as 2014 he brought out three video-game themed haramaki in collaboration with Nintendo.  But, it is the simpler cotton tube versions, designed to wear next to your skin or under clothes, that has become the ultimate health accessory from Japan and that people from the West are buying in the search for better health and wellbeing.

Why wear a haramaki?

But why is the Haramaki so beneficial for our health?  I’ve seen the following benefits listed from wearing a Haramaki, including:

  • Stay warm during outdoor exercise;
  • Keep comfortable when travelling;
  • Aids digestion and minor stomach irritations;
  • Supports your back and provides relief from lower back pain;
  • Helps boost circulation;
  • Helps relieve menstrual cramps;
  • Adds comfort when you’re pregnant by providing support to the expanding stomach;
  • Aids relaxation
  • There has even been a suggestion that the haramaki helps keep the midsection lean.

Sound convincing?  …I have found, through a little bit of research, that this long list of proclaimed benefits rests on the Japanese philosophy that a ‘warm core (or centre) equals a warm body.’  In other words the benefits of wearing a haramaki stems from the underlying belief in traditional Eastern medicine that the kidneys (situated in your body’s core) are the powerhouse of the body, and that they supply reserve energy (qi) to any organ running low on energy.  By this logic, the haramaki works by keeping the kidney area warm, and that this in turn protects and energises the rest of the body, giving rise to this long list of benefits.
What’s my verdict?

As a lover of all things Japanese, and also as someone who feels the cold and suffers from considerable musculoskeletal pain, I thought a Haramaki was worth a try!  I’ve been wearing one over the last few months.  Whilst I wouldn’t say it provides much support to my back (I really don’t think it works as a lumbar support in any way), it has certainly become a welcome added layer during the cold weather we have been getting in the UK in recent months. I’ve been wearing it to stop my midriff getting exposed when my outer layer of clothes ride up.  For this reason I’ve found it particularly helpful to wear on a cold winter’s night under pyjamas.

But do I feel better from keeping warmer?  I can’t claim to have felt any improvement to my digestive health or my circulation necessarily, but what I can say is that the added support and warmth I have felt around my abdomen when wearing a haramaki has helped me feel more comfortable during the winter months and that this in turn has provided a greater sense of ease and wellbeing.  Physically, I think it has helped me stop tensing up my muscles so much because I feel less cold.  This in turn has helped ease joint and back pain.  I guess it works a bit like a hot water bottle might.

Overall I think a Haramaki is a great tool for someone who feels the cold, but don’t expect miracles!  Given the relative affordability of a haramaki (you can buy one for about £15/20) I think it is well worth a try!

Several different brands are now available to buy in the UK (see below) – I have one by the company kokoro haramaki.  They are available in a range of sizes to suit children, women and men.  In the words of kokoro haramaki: “Buy now and feel warmer”.

The Tube by Harry Duley – British Made – Cotton – Sizes 8 to 18 (Grey, UK 12)

Have you already tried a Haramaki? Let me know what benefits (if any) you experienced in the comments section below.

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