History of Reiki

Originating in Japan, the creation of Reiki is credited to Usui Mikao, who founded Reiki and taught his methods to students who, to this day, create a direct lineage which connects modern teachings to his original methodology.

Hawayo Takata, one of Usui Mikao’s original students, spread the system globally, taking her Reiki learning to her home in Hawaii in the 1930’s. Since her death in the 1980’s more traditional Japanese Reiki teachings have been studied and confirmed, to prevent confusion between the different techniques that were being taught at that time, with people interpreting the teachings of Usui Mikao in different ways.

Many modern practitioners now follow the traditional Japanese methods that have been studied and detailed from a direct teaching lineage, many travelling themselves to Japan to study with traditional groups and teachers, allowing for a more enlightened viewpoint than that offered by one of the other, Westernised interpretations of Reiki that became popular in the late 20th century.

Usui Mikao’s own teachings are, quite literally, set in stone, engraved on a memorial stone beside his grave at the Pure Land Buddhist Saihoji Temple in Tokyo.

Usui Mikao

Born to a Samurai family and raised as a Buddhist, Usui Mikao practiced many martial arts and ancient Japanese energy systems, and was particularly competent in Aiki Jutsu, Ki-Ko and Qi Gong. He was also well known for his love of books and learning, studying everything from history to medical science and psychology, and with a love of the magic of fairies, art and divination.

Working in a range of specialisms, teaching and travelling a great deal, Usui Mikao eventually became a Tendai Buddhist Monk, similar to what we in the West might call a lay priest, known as a ‘Zaike’, or ‘priest possessing a home’ which was located close to his temple. Here he was challenged by one of his students to explain how Buddha, and Jesus, for Usui Mikao was also famed for a deep understanding of Christian teachings, healed people. When he realised that he couldn’t explain, Usui Mikao dedicated his life to learning and understanding healing energy.

After many years of travel and study, learning many languages and studying both Christian and Buddhist scriptures and teachings, he sought advice from the Abbot of a Zen Buddhist monastery – who advised that he might find the answers through meditation.

And so Usui Mikao climbed Mt. Kurama to perform a practice called kushu shniren, or fasting, and on the 21st day of meditation he felt a great Reiki energy above his head, seeing the sacred symbols, achieving spiritual enlightenment and empowerment, and knowledge of the Reiki cure. Despite his many days of fasting, and physical weakness as a result, Usui Mikao raced back down the mountain – but in his haste, he injured his foot. His instinctive response was to hold his injured toe – and when he did so the Reiki energy flowed through his hands, the pain went away, the bleeding stopped, and he was healed. Upon his return home he also successfully carried out this healing on friends, family, and people he met on his journey, bringing immediate successful results.

He was thrilled with his discovery, and thought it was too powerful to keep a secret, so made the decision to share this discovery widely and relocated to Aoyama Harajuki, Tokyo, in April 1922, where he established the first Reiki institute, open to the public, and very quickly huge numbers of people would queue outside to receive treatment.

What we now call Level One Reiki comes from Dr Usui’s ‘Shoden’ – which translates to ‘the entrance’ – and it’s widely believed that over two thousand people attained this level under his teachings. Roughly fifty people went on to learn Level Two Reiki, or ‘Okuden’ – ‘the deep inside’. Just seventeen acquired ‘Shinpiden’ – ‘the secret teachings’ – what we now refer to as Reiki Master.

In the following years Usui Mikao travelled widely, creating a manual – or hikkei – which incorporated meditations, precepts and poetry, as well as notes from students which Usui Mikao added along with his responses to their questions.

His reputation grew and he travelled, welcomed everywhere he went thanks to his gentle character and wide smile, and the knowledge he so willingly shared, helping and treating people everywhere he went, and teaching Reiki to as many people as he could, until his death at the age of 62. One of the key aspects of Reiki was that Usui Mikao ensured that the teachings should be as easy and simple to understand as possible, so that the Reiki cure can be accessed and appreciated by anyone.

The students of Usui Mikao

There are many students of Usui Mikao who are credited with the development of the system of Reiki that we use today, following his original teachings and cementing the methodology that is taught globally, utilising his written teachings and their personal experience of his Reiki treatments and enlightenment.

As we explained above, just seventeen people attained what we now know as Reiki Master under Dr Usui, and their teachings created Reiki as we now know it. Some are more directly credited with the spread of Reiki to the West, and here we will cover some of their stories.

The first of these is Hayashi Chujiro. Born in 1878, he was a naval doctor, and captain of the Japanese Navy. In May 1925 he became a student of the Tokyo based school that Usui Mikao founded, studying under him for just ten months before Usui Mikao’s death.

Hayashi Chujiro became one of the teacher-students of the school, teaching an attunement, as opposed to the Reiki methods taught exclusively by Usui Mikao, which includes the use of mantras and symbols, which is a technique not all of Usui Mikao’s own students use.

Some research shows that Hayashi Chujiro began his own branch of Reiki teaching, known as Hayashi Reiko Ryoho Kenkyu Kai, and was the first practitioner to create a professional clinic using Reiki. This was a breakaway movement from the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, and was founded in 1931.

Hayashi Chujiro went on to teach Hawayo Takata, who we will cover in more detail in her own section, as well as many other practitioners famed for spreading the teachings of Reiki globally. He died in May 1940 of a stroke which many claim was self-induced – commenting that for military men such as he was, the honourable method of death would have been seppuku – a Japanese term for honourable suicide.

The second student we will focus on is Suzuki San – who was a cousin of Usui Mikao’s wife.

Born in 1895, Suzuki San was already a Buddhist nun when she began her formal training with Usui Mikao at the age of 20, beginning in 1915 and continuing a professional relationship until his death.

As a student and family member her relationship with Usui Mikao was very close, and she is one of the students who maintain a collection of papers, including detailed notes and teachings from Usui Mikao’s precepts, waka, meditations and training. Some of this information has not yet been fully verified, but much of it has become the basis of teachings from Chris Marsh, a Western student of Suzuki San.

Eguchi Toshihiro, the creator of the Tenohira Ryoji Kenkyu Kai, was a close friend and student of Usui Mikao – though his studies did not take him to the level of teacher under his friend’s teachings.

He is recognised as one of those credited with the creation of the modern teachings of Reiki, and was named as one of the teachers for members of the Ittoen commune in 1929.

Eguchi Toshihiro also wrote a number of books on the subject of Reiki – including Te No Hira Ryoji Nyumon – which translates to ‘Introduction to Healing with the Palms’ – and Te No Hira Ryoji Wo Kataru – ‘A Story of Healing with the Palms’.

Another student who didn’t progress to the level of teacher-student under Usui Mikao, but is important in this brief history of modern Reiki, is Tomita Kaji.

Though not a teacher-student, Tomita Kaji is – like Eguchi Toshihiro – important to modern Reiki because of his writing. His book, Tomita Ryo Teate Ryoho – or ‘Reiki to Jinjutsu’ – was written in 1933, and republished in 1999 with the help of famed Japanese Reiki teacher Mochizuku Toshitaka, and the book contains information on the Hatsurei Ho technique, the use of waka, specific hand positions for a range of illnesses, and a number of case studies detailing how Reiki helped people he treated.

He, like so many of Usui Mikao’s students, created his own school, called Teate Ryoho Kai, and there he taught four levels- Shoden, Chuden, Okuden and Kaiden.

The final of the students that we will discuss in our history is Hawayo Takata. She was one of thirteen teacher-students of Hayashi Chujiro, the first of Usui Mikao’s students we discussed above.

Hawayo Takata is important in any history of Reiki, because it was she who first brought Hayashi Chujiro’s teachings to the west.

Born in 1900, Hawayo Takata’s parents were Japanese immigrants, and the family lived in Hawaii. She studied under Hayashi Chujiro from 1936-1938. She had been visiting family in Japan when she fell ill, and was treated by Dr Hayashi. When she felt the heat from the hands of the healers and recovered from her illness she begged Dr Hiyashi to teach her Reiki, and she lived with his family and worked in the clinic to pay for her training, learning the first and second levels of the healing system.

When she returned to Hawaii she opened the first Western Reiki clinic, where she was visited by Dr Hayashi, who passed on the final level of Reiki teachings to her so that she could teach others. He left her with a personally signed certificate, confirming that she had completed a course of study and training in the Usui system of Reiki and proved herself worthy and capable of administering the treatment, and conferring the power of Reiki on others

This certificate officially conferred upon Hawayo Takata the express authority to not only practice the Reiki system, but to ‘impart to others the secret knowledge and the gift of healing under [the Reiki] system’ – making her the only person at that time who was authorised to teach Reiki as a master of the profession in the United States.

This certification meant that Hawayo Takata was authorised to train other practitioners to teach the system of Reiki that she practiced – and by her death in 1980 she had trained thousands of people in levels one and two, and had trained twenty-two Reiki Masters of her own.

She often used storytelling as her method to teach Reiki and its history, and the system that she taught in the West differed to that taught in Japan – she felt that the Japanese system was too complex and too intertwined with Eastern religious practice to suit the West, but her system did utilise the teachings and methods passed directly from Usui Mikao’s teachings, and has shaped much of what we teach today.

Mrs Takata’s workshops were much shorter than the course of learning she had partaken in during her time in Japan, taking a matter of days rather than the months she had herself studied for.

She also introduced a series of twelve hand positions for self-treatment, as well as for treating others, and began a standardised system for the Western audience, including guidance on how long a treatment should last, how many treatments should be given – advising four treatments for each client for maximum benefit – and the wording of the five spiritual Principles of Reiki.

Following her death the Masters who studied under her guidance met to discuss the progression of Reiki, and who should assume the role of Grand Master in her place. This title was then carried by Phyllis Lei Furumoto – the granddaughter of Hawayo Takata. For a number of years, she alone could train other Masters, until her announcement in 1988 that the Masters she had trained were experienced enough to teach other Masters in turn; this announcement meant that Reiki was able to spread throughout the Western world more readily, though some Masters moved away from the Reiki Alliance which she headed to develop a more independent methodology – which is why there are now numerous Reiki Associations and Regulatory Bodies.

You can find more information on these bodies and on Modern Reiki here