Longtime South Bay Massage Therapist Mariko Uyehara Promotes Healing and Wellness Beyond the Table

Hands & heart.

At barely 4’11”, Debbie Mariko Uyehara loves to play beach volleyball despite the sport’s draw of taller athletes. “The friends I play with are full of positive vibes, encouraging and nonjudgmental. They make me laugh constantly,” she says. 

Mariko moved to the South Bay from Honolulu in the early 1980s. She waitressed at popular restaurants of the time, including Sushi Sei, 12th Street Bar & Grill and China Cafe. While working at the latter, she was recruited to become a flight attendant for a charter airline based in Los Angeles. Soon after this experience, she moved to Okinawa, Japan, for a couple of years, teaching English and becoming a scuba diver.

She unexpectedly accepted a short-term opportunity as a flight attendant for Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Not long after, Tom offered her a full-time job on his private airplane. She at first declined—having just rented an apartment with the intention of putting down roots—but she eventually agreed to take the opportunity. It would turn out to be an experience of a lifetime. 

Jet-setting with Cruise and his family allowed her to experience the world from an entirely different perspective. After a year away and missing her friends, she knew it was time to head back to the South Bay. “Tom encouraged and supported my decision to continue my education and earn my bachelor’s degree,” she says. “He told me to reach for my goals.”

Mariko achieved certification in massage therapy in 2000 with a specialty in deep tissue massage and sports injuries. Her business grew from word of mouth and spread like wildfire into a full-blown career. She practiced her new skills on then-neighbor Kevin Sousa, who spent most mornings on his porch playing guitar.  

“Mariko is a gifted healer,” he shared. “There is a beautiful, soulful way about her method; she connects with your energy in a deep and profound way so that stress is released and healing is cultivated, all in your own home.” After Kevin’s sudden passing in May, Mariko led a team of people in making a huge lei for his paddle-out memorial with 800 yellow and orange carnations that formed a circle of love. 

Victoria Igloi, a friend, client and former model, praises Mariko’s community involvement, from the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation to the Skechers Pier to Pier Walk. She has also benefited from Mariko’s incredible massage talents. 

“I met Mariko shortly after I had my disc replaced in my lower back. I was done with physical therapy but having little sciatica flare-ups,” says Victoria. “Mariko not only massaged my strained muscles, but she used a lot of the same techniques my physical therapist used. It was impressive how she tailored a massage just for my body, which had immediate results.” 

Mariko uses an active release technique to relieve her clients and help manage pain. “Playing football my whole life and putting my body through the wringer has taken its toll on me,” shares Matt Leinart, a former NFL quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and Fox commentator on Big Noon Kickoff. “When I started working with Mariko, my body started to feel better. I’ve been working with her for years now, and she has become a big part of my mental and physical health. She’s the best and an absolute lifesaver for me.” 

While athletes and professionals with chronic pain have been her focus, Mariko has also worked with clients battling diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s or Lou Gehrig’s. She adapts each person’s treatments to alleviate the pain clients are experiencing. 

Whether she is hiking, stand-up paddling, practicing jujitsu, scuba diving, playing beach volleyball, giving a deep tissue massage or just being a friend, Mariko’s infectious spirit can’t help but make anyone feel better. “My weekly sessions with Mariko aren’t just good for my body, they’re good for my soul,” shares James Patterson, writer for the Fox television sitcom Call Me Kat. “Her positive energy is infectious and makes my stress melt away.” 

With a focus on the positive, she looks at what each life experience has taught her. Helping clients feel the best they can and giving back to the community she loves fills Mariko with palatable joy.