Fashionable Londoners are heading to the Japanese Beer Hall and Sake Cellar, where a range of stress-busting treatments are on the menu, including an aromatic hand massage called Te (which means "tenderness" in Japanese); Kao ("tranquillity"), a soothing head and face massage; and Kubi Kapa ("Heaven's Gate"), a neck and shoulder massage. The treatments are ideal if you're suffering from laptop stress, mouse finger or computer slump (and something to tell your mates about, even if you're not). YO! Below is a spin-off of YO! Sushi, the flagship sushi bar which spearheaded the current trend for all things Japanese, and is a favourite with stars, including Robbie Williams, Bjork, Kate Moss and Stella McCartney.
YO! Below is situated underneath YO! Sushi, and is populated with models slurping on miso soup; PR types attacking the chicken teriyaki, and pop stars nibbling at the prawn tempura.
The atmosphere is laid back, and the tables are low slung: full marks for authenticity, although longer limbed patrons may find it uncomfortable. One recent visitor suggests that women should avoid wearing short skirts, as settling into your seat may inadvertently result in a Sharon-Stone style flash. She speaks from experience.
Each table has a red light which you use to summon a waitress to order a massage or switch on your personal beer tap, so you don't have to fight to get to the bar. Each beer pump measures exactly a third of a pint of Kirin at a touch of a button, and keeps a record of your tab. The aromatic hand massage with aloe vera cream is good for dry skin and makes you feel so relaxed you want to keel over your table, leaving you with only enough energy to press the button on your beer pump - or order one of the speciality sake-based cocktails, such as Memoirs of a Geisha or Tokyo Rose.
You've got to hand it to them, says Sarah Holm, a 29-year-old television producer: "I love Japanese culture, and any excuse to be pampered in such a stylish environment is great. It's also convenient for me working in Soho - you're either at your desk hammering out a script, getting RSI, or you're in an edit suite scribbling down notes, stressed in a dark room - you want to go somewhere and ease your aches away.
"I've been to Japan and YO! Sushi is fast and furious like Tokyo. YO! Below is Zen, more like the spiritual side of Japan.
"Japanese culture is all about ritual and hand massage is a ritual - having someone to attend to you is close to geisha culture - which is about service." Tim Harker, a 30-year-old musician, says: "I like the fact that massage is a bit more spontaneous here - there is a menu for it on the table.
"It's also more comfortable having a massage and a beer, fully-clothed rather than going somewhere specifically for a massage. I think it'll get a lot more people into massage as you feel far less self-conscious.
"Though it is in the unusual setting of a restaurant, even if I was with a bunch of guys, it would be fine. I'd also rather come here and have Japanese food and drink, and have a massage thrown in, than go to another trendy bar in Soho."
Hand massage is the way to unwind nowadays, believes Catherine Kemp, of Back in Touch, a company specialising in on-site massages to stressed office workers who can't leave their desk.
She says: "[It's] growing in popularity because, unlike foot massage, it is much more accessible, particularly as people have hang-ups about their feet. Hands have the same reflexology points as the feet - which correspond to the whole of the body, and can be worked on in the same way as the feet.
"People are becoming more aware of ergonomic work stations, but it is the constant overuse that causes sore wrists and tingling fingers. Hand massage done regularly can prevent a lot of those aches and pains leading to RSI. People also love having their hands massaged - it releases endorphins and helps you to unwind - we're not a very touchy society generally."
Simon Woodroffe, the brain behind YO! Sushi, got his idea for table-top massage from the in-flight service offered on Virgin airlines. He decided to introduce it as part of the YO! Sushi experience, on the basis that everyone likes to be touched and pampered, and that many stressed-out Soho-ites chill out with a beer after work... so why not combine the two pleasures?
Actually, strictly speaking, alcohol and massage don't mix, as even a hand massage increases your circulation. This makes whatever you have in your system act more quickly, so you'll get drunk on less alcohol. Many customers might consider this to be a bonus, but YO! Below has decided to veer on the side of caution and generally does not offer massages after 9pm.
This, in theory, should prevent lagered-up men from becoming too amorous with the masseuses. And if punters do get out of control, and decide to offer their own touchy-feely treatment, the masseuses have devised the ultimate punishment. They'll switch your beer pump off.
Yo! Below is at 52 Poland St, Soho, London W1. Tel: 0171-439 3660. It is open 12pm-1am six days a week (closed on Sunday). Massages are usually available 1pm-9pm, but times may vary. They are free, but you are expected to tip the masseuse. For massages at work, contact Back in Touch on 0171-624 7840
Do it Yo!self
Drop your arms to the floor, and shake your fingers out.
Clinch each of your fists, and then relax them.
With one hand: stroke, gently pinch and rub your other hand and forearm. Then change hands, and repeat the process for the other hand.
Press the palms of your hands flat on a table, and stretch your fingers out.
Rotate each finger forwards and then backwards.
Pull each finger in turn slightly out of its socket.Reuse content