Usui Mikao’s (1865-1926) story is most accurately told in the Mikao Usui memorial stone. The stone was created by some of his students in 1927, a year after his death. It is located at his gravesite at the Pure Land Buddhist Saihoji Temple in Tokyo. The stone was carved in old Japanese, pre 1945 and the direct translation can be read here (link) and is reprinted with permission of Hyakuten Inamoto.
Below is a summary of Usui’s life, including direct quotes from his memorial stone (in inverted commas) combined with information drawn from Doi Hiroshi, Suzuki san and personal discussions with Japanese Reiki masters.
Usui Mikao was born on the 15th August, 1865 in the village of Taniai-mura (now called Miyama-cho) in the Yamagata district of Gifu prefecture Kyoto in Japan. Kyoto was the capital of Japan at this time. Japan was also opening up the country once again after a self-imposed exile which had left it culturally prosperous though far behind the western world technologically and militarily. Today, if you travel to Miyamo-cho you will find Usui Mikao’s name carved on a big Torii (shrine gate) at the Amataka Shrine close to where his home once stood. The stone Torii was donated by three brothers of Usui Mikao in April, 1923.
Usui Mikao is said to have come from a samurai family who were ‘hatamoto’ – a high level within the ranks of samurai. The hatamoto were the shogun’s personal guard. During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1867), the hatamoto were direct vassals of the shogun, and their annual revenue was fixed at a minimum of 10,000 bushels of rice. Due to the major changes which were happening in Japan from the 1860s onwards, the samurai class were no longer required and were offered positions as public servants.
Tsunetane Chiba, a famous samurai from the 8th century, was Usui Mikao’s ancestor. The Chiba clan was one of the most famous and influential samurai families in all of Japan according to Chiba family recorded documents. The Usui family crest was Moon and Stars; these were the symbols of 'Myoken Bodhisattva'. They were also the icons for samurai as well as the family crest of the Chiba's. The Chiba mark, or family crest, is a circle with a dot at the top. The circle represents the universe, and the dot, which is the Japanese way to make a star, represents the North Star. The North Star never moves and the universe must move around it.
Usui Mikao was born a Buddhist and as a child studied in a Tendai Monastery. In the West it was believed that he was born a Christian. This was added by Hawayo Takata probably as a means to make Reiki more acceptable to Americans during the period of WWII as there was much anti-Japanese sentiment. Christianity was outlawed by Japan at the time Usui Mikao was born. From 1600-1867 Japan was shut under a policy called sakoku or ‘national seclusion’. Westerners were forbidden to enter Japan and trade. Only the Dutch were excluded as they did not support Christian missionaries and even helped suppress a Christian revolt. Through the small port of Dejima in Nagasaki, Dutch traders became Japan’s only link to the West for more than two centuries. This privilege was only extended to contact with Japanese merchants and prostitutes. Any Japanese who dared to venture abroad during this period were executed on their return to prevent any form of 'contamination'.
At the age of 12, Usui Mikao began with the practise of a type of martial arts called Aiki Jutsu. He eventually became an instructor in 'Yagyu Ryu' and gained 'Menkyo Kaiden' (the highest license of proficiency in weaponry and grappling). He is also said to have reached high levels in other ancient Japanese methods. ‘He was renowned for his expertise and highly respected by other well known martial artists of his time’.
Usui Mikao had one sister and two brothers, one of whom studied medicine. Usui Mikao was called Doctor Usui by Hawayo Takata and mistakenly many people in the West thought of him as either a physician or a PhD. Neither is true and the term doctor was probably a loose translation of the term ‘sensei’ which is a respectful term used for one’s teacher in Japan. She also claimed that Dr. Usui had been the president of Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan and a student at the University of Chicago, America – both stories have been proven untrue by recent research into Reiki. The literal translation of the word Sensei is teacher. In the Martial Arts, though, it means a lot more. It can for example mean ‘one who was born before’ or ‘one who is due special respect because of the spiritual importance of his teachings’
Sadako was the family name of Usui Mikao’s wife and they had a son called Fuji (born 1907) and a daughter of whom no records have yet been found. ‘Having learned under difficulties in his childhood, he studied hard with efforts and he was by far superior in ability to his friends. After growing up, he went over to Europe and America and also studied in China.’ and ‘He was a man of versatile talents and also a book lover, knowing well in the wide range from history, biography, medical science, canons of Christianity and Buddhism and psychology up to magic of fairyland, art of curse, science of divination and physiognomy’.
Usui Mikao is said to have worked in many fields, perhaps due to the fact that he travelled greatly. He was also said to have worked as a private secretary to a politician called Shimpei Goto who was Secretary of the Railroad, Postmaster General and Secretary of the Interior and State. In 1922 Shimpei Goto also became Mayor of Tokyo. Usui Mikao was in charge of security and general administration (perhaps because of his martial arts training).
At some point in his life he became a Tendai Buddhist Monk/Priest who remained in his own home, not in the temple. This is similar to what we might call a lay priest and is called 'Zaike' in Japanese or ‘priest possessing a home’. Tendai was brought to Japan by Saicho in the 8th century and names Nagarjuna as its patriarch. Apart from the belief that the Lotus Sutra is Buddha’s complete and perfect teaching it also teaches meditation based on esoteric elements like mudras and mandalas. Mikkyo is a form of Buddhism also said to be bought to Japan by Saicho and can be translated as ‘the secret teaching’. A close relationship developed between the Tendai monastery complex on Mount Hiei and the imperial court in Kyoto. As a result, Tendai emphasized great reverence for the emperor and the nation.
‘One day, Usui Sensei climbed Mt. Kurama, where he began to do penance while fasting.’ Mt. Kurama (570 meters above sea level) is 12 kilometres due north of Kyoto Imperial Palace and can be reached in 30 minutes from Kyoto by car or train. The Kurama Temple, founded in 770 as the guardian of the northern quarter of the capital city (Heiankyo), is located halfway up the mountain. The temple formerly belonged to the Tendai sect of Buddhism, but since 1949, it has been included in the newly founded Kurama-Kokyo sect as its headquarters. More than six million years ago, Mao-son (the great king of the conquerors of evil and the spirit of the earth) descended upon Mt. Kurama from Venus, with the great mission of the salvation of mankind. Since then, Mao-son's powerful spirit governing the development and the evolution not only of mankind but of all living things on Earth has been emanating from Mt. Kurama, and a priest named Gantei received the spiritual transmission. Mao-son, Bishamon-ten, and Senju-kannon are the symbols of the universal soul, forming a Trinity known as “Sonten" or the "Supreme Deity". These three are the symbols of power, light, and love. Sonten is the creator of the universe, and cultivates the development of everything all over the earth.
‘Suddenly on the twenty first day from the start, he felt a great Reiki over his head, and at the same time as he was spiritually awakened he acquired the Reiki cure. When he tried it on his own body and members’ of his family also, it brought an immediate result on them.’ There were also a number of other groups practising hands-on-healing at the turn of the century in Japan.
• Taireidou by Tanaka Morihei
• Tenohira-Ryouchi-Kenkyukai – (Association for the Study of Palm Treatments) by Eguchi Toshihiro (he was a friend of Usui Mikao’s and is said to have studied with him)
• Jintai-Ragium-Gakkai – (the Human Body Radium Society) by Matsumoto Chiwake
• Shinnoukyou-Honin – a religion founded by Nishimura Taikan whose method was called Shinnoukyou-Syokushu-Shikou-Ryoho (Violet Light Healing Method)
• Johrei, a religion and uses the Reiki symbol 4.
‘Having said “It is much better to give this power widely to a lot of people in the world and enjoy it among them than to keep it exclusively by his family members.” Usui Sensei moved his dwelling to Aoyama Harajuku, Tokyo in April, 1922 and established an institute, where the Reiki cure was instructed openly to the public and the treatment was given, too. People came there from far and near to ask for his guidance and cure, and they overflowed outside, making a long line.’ ‘Tokyo had a very big fire caused by a great earthquake in Kanto district in September, 1923, when the injured and sick persons suffered from pains everywhere. Usui Sensei felt a deep anxiety about that, and he was engaged in a cure, going around inside the city every day. We can hardly calculate how many persons were saved from death with his devotion.’ On September 1, 1923, just before noon, an earthquake measuring 8.3 occurred near the modern industrial cities of Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan. This was not the largest earthquake to ever hit Japan, but its proximity to Tokyo and Yokohama and the surrounding areas, with combined populations numbering 2 million, made it one of the most devastating quakes ever to hit Japan. Tokyo's principle business and industrial districts lay in ruins. There was an estimation of nearly 100,000 deaths with an additional 40,000 missing. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless in the resulting fires. This earthquake may have been the background inspiration for Hawayo Takata’s well known beggar story.
After the earthquake he moved to Nakano, outside of Tokyo, in 1925. He was often invited to travel throughout Japan treating people and teaching students. Usui Mikao had over 2000 students in total, more than 1000 Shoden (first degree) students, 30-50 Okuden (second degree) and 17 teacher students (Shinpiden). He used a hikkei (manual) which included the precepts, meditations and also over 100 of the Meiji emperor’s waka poetry. Students copied notes by hand and also wrote their questions. These would be answered in writing by Usui Mikao. On page 45 we have a copy of the current Gakkai hikkei which belonged to Ms. Koyama (7th president of the Gakkai). This would appear to be a compilation from several manuals.
‘Usui Sensei’s natural character was gentle and prudent, and he did not keep up appearances. His body was big and sturdy, and his face was always beaming with a smile. But when he faced the difficulties he went ahead with a definite will and yet persevered well, keeping extremely careful.’ ‘As his reputation got higher and higher, it was so often when he received an offer of engagement from everywhere throughout the nation. In accordance with these requests he travelled to Kure and Hiroshima, then entered Saga and reached Fukuyama. It was at the inn at which he stayed on his way that he caught a disease abruptly, and he passed away at the age of sixty-two.’ Usui Mikao died of a stroke.
A final quote from the memorial stone of Usui Mikao says, ‘Usui Sensei emphasized that “This is surely a secret process to bring a good fortune and also a miraculous medicine to remedy all kinds of diseases.” by which he made his purpose of teaching clear and accurate. Furthermore, he tried to aim at making his way of guidance as easy and simple as possible, so nothing is difficult to understand therein. Every time when you sit quietly and join your hands to pray and chant morning and evening, you can develop a pure and sound mind, and there is just an essence in making the most of that for your daily life. This is the reason why the Reiki cure can very easily spread over anybody.’