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New chair: Turbocharged magic fingers

By Shoshana Berger
Business 2.0

The Inada chair H.9 model costs about $3,500.
The Inada chair H.9 model costs about $3,500.

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(Business 2.0) -- It looks like a La-Z-Boy gone wrong, but don't be fooled by appearances. The Inada massage chair has a high-tech Shiatsu masseuse trapped inside its flabby leather skin. A best-seller in Japan, the H.9 model arrived stateside this winter, aiming to sell pressure-cooked business-class types on a 24-hour in-house masseuse that never takes breaks.

I had one delivered about two weeks ago, and besides spending way too much quality time user-testing the addictive Inada myself, I've noticed a sudden rash of meetings scheduled in my office that quickly devolve into horizontal groaning under the veil of "crisis management." Massage chairs have been around for decades, but the Inada takes the robotic touch to new heights by using infrared technology to scan my body, detect its pressure points, and then customize the massage to work my problem spots (there are many).

While it scans my back with what feels like two pool balls rolling down the sides of my spine, I watch it tracking my tension on the line image of a body on the remote. Who knew I have more than 350 pressure points aligned with the internal organs? Turns out that in order for my shoulders to relax, the chair feels it necessary to knead pressure points in my legs. The adjustable footrest squeezes my calves like it's taking a blood pressure reading down there (which, incidentally, shoots up as I panic that it will never release its grip).

It does, and I turn back to the remote, which has so many options it seems as if I could launch an ICBM as I decompress. In auto mode, I choose "Full Body Relief," "Acupressure," then something simply called "Seat," which turns out to have a vibrating feature. Use your imagination. The rolling balls are so pleasingly Sumo, my body is actually pushed forward in the enveloping chair. (This is a good thing. There's nothing more milquetoast than a weak-fingered massage.) Though no device has quite the touch of true carbon-based hands, the Inada's ultra-slow kneading and pressing is about as close as it gets. After sitting in it for just ten minutes, I have that coveted, where's-my-drool-bib looseness. That's what we're here for. And everything on the chair -- intensity, narrowing or widening of the rollers, and the backrest itself -- is so adjustable, I guarantee that even the most particular sitters will get a satisfying rubdown.

A CD player in the back of the chair works on a novel music synchronization program. Though I never got this feature to work well for me (I guess Inada didn't take into account people who unwind to indie rock), the chair integrates the music with the massage by calibrating the tune's tempo to the acupressure beat.

It's not priced for everyone, but hey, you only have to rack up 35 or so massages to break even. To that end, I've got a full schedule of "meetings" booked for the rest of the month.

Inada chair H.9 model; $3,500;

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