Mikao Usui, or Usui Sensei as he is called by Reiki students in Japan, was born August 15, 1865 in the village of Taniai in the Yamagata district of Gifu prefecture, which is located near present day Nagoya, Japan.(6)
He had an avid interest in learning and worked hard at his studies. As he grew older, he traveled to Europe and China to further his education. His curriculum included medicine, psychology and religion as well as the art of divination, which Asians have long considered to be a worthy skill.(7) Usui Sensei also became a member of the Rei Jyutu Ka, a metaphysical group dedicated to developing psychic abilities.(8) He had many jobs including civil servant, company employee and journalist, and helped rehabilitate prisoners.(9) Eventually he became the secretary to Shinpei Goto, head of the department of health and welfare who later became the mayor of Tokyo. The connections Usui Sensei made at this job helped him to also become a successful businessman.(10)
The depth and breadth of his experiences inspired him to direct his attention toward discovering the purpose of life. In his search he came across the description of a special state of consciousness that once achieved would not only provide an understanding of one's life purpose, but would also guide one to achieve it. This special state is called An-shin Ritus-mei (pronounced on sheen dit sue may). In this special state, one is always at peace regardless of what is taking place in the outer world. And it is from this place of peace that one completes one's life purpose. One of the special features of this state is that it maintains itself without any effort on the part of the individual; the experience of peace simply wells up spontaneously from within and is a type of enlightenment.
Usui Sensei understood this concept on an intellectual level and dedicated his life to achieving it; this is considered to be an important step on Usui Sensei's spiritual path. He discovered that one path to An-shin Ritsu-mei is through the practice of Zazen meditation. So he found a Zen teacher who accepted him as a student and began to practice Zazen. After three years practice, he had not been successful and sought further guidance. His teacher suggested a more severe practice in which the student comes close to death.(11)
However,Usui Sensei misunderstood his teacher and thought he meant that he must actually die. So with this in mind he prepared for death and in February, 1922, he went to Kurama yama to fast and meditate until he passed to the next world. In addition, we know there is a small waterfall on Kurama yama where even today people go to meditate. This meditation involves standing under the waterfall and allowing the water to strike and flow over the top of the head, a practice that is said to activate the crown chakra. Japanese Reiki Masters think that Usui Sensei may have used this meditation as part of his practice. In any case, as time passed he became weaker and weaker. It is now March, 1922 and at midnight of the twenty-first day, a powerful light suddenly entered his mind through the top of his head and he felt as if he had been struck by lightning; this caused him to fall unconscious.
As the sun rose, he awoke and realized that whereas before he had felt very weak and near death, he was now filled with an extremely enjoyable state of vitality that he had never experienced before; a miraculous type of high frequency spiritual energy had displaced his normal consciousness and replaced it with an amazingly new level of awareness. He experienced himself as being the energy and consciousness of the Universe and that the special state of enlightenment he had sought had been given to him as a gift. He was overjoyed by this realization.
6 Inscription on Usui Memorial, Saihoji Temple, Suginami, Tokyo, Japan.
7 Inscription on Usui Memorial.
8 Mochizuki, lyashi No Te. See note 3.
9 Yamaguchi, Light on the Origins of Reiki, 61.
10 Shiomi Takai, “Searching the Roots of Reiki,” The Twilight Zone (April 1986): 140–143. This article can be viewed on the web at (Note that this Japanese magazine is no longer in business.)
11 In an alternate version of this story it is said that Usui Sensei's personal life and business had failed and that he had gone to Kurama yama to meditate to gain clarity on what to do to solve his problems: Shiomi Takai, “Searching the Roots of Reiki,” The Twilight Zone (April 1986): 140–143.
When this happened, he was filled with excitement and went running down the mountain. On his way down he stubbed his toe on a rock and fell down. And in the same way anyone would do, he placed his hands over the toe, which was in pain. As he did this, healing energy began flowing from his hands all by itself. The pain in his toe went away and the toe was healed. Usui Sensei was amazed by this. He realized that in addition to the illuminating experience he had received, he had also received the gift of healing.(12)
Usui Sensei practiced this new ability with his family and developed his healing system through experimentation and by using skills and information based on his previous study of religious practices, philosophy, and spiritual disciplines. He called his system of healing Shin-Shin Kai-Zen Usui Reiki Ryo-Ho (The Usui Reiki Treatment Method for Improvement of Body and Mind) or in its simplified form Usui Reiki Ryoho (Usui Reiki Healing Method). It is important to know that Usui Sensei didn't create Reiki as there were other methods of Reiki healing in Japan prior to Usui Sensei creating his method.(13)
In April 1922, he moved to Tokyo and started a healing society that he named Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai (Usui Reiki Healing Method Society). He also opened a Reiki clinic in Harajuku, Aoyama, Tokyo. There he taught classes and gave treatments.(14)
The lowest degree of his training was called Shoden (First Degree) and was divided into four levels: Loku-Tou, Go-Tou, Yon-Tou, and San-Tou. (Note that when Mrs. Takata taught this level, which in the West we refer to as Reiki Level I, she combined all four levels into one. This is most likely why she did four attunements for Level I.) The next degree was called Okuden (Inner Teaching) and had two levels: Okuden-Zen-ki (first part), and Okuden-Koe-ki (second part). The next degree was called Shinpiden (Mystery Teaching), which is what we call master level. The Shinpiden level includes, Shihan-Kaku (assistant teacher) and Shihan (venerable teacher).(15)
Contrary to previous understanding, Usui Sensei had only three symbols, the same three we use in the West in Reiki II. He did not use a master symbol. This fact has been verified by Hiroshi Doi and by research done by Hyakuten Inamoto, Arjava Petter and Tadao Yamaguchi.
In 1923, the great Kanto earthquake devastated Tokyo. More than 140,000 people died and over half of the houses and buildings were shaken down or burned. An overwhelming number of people were left homeless, injured, sick and grieving.(16) Usui Sensei felt great compassion for the people and began treating as many as he could with Reiki. This was a tremendous amount of work, and it was at this time that he began training other Shihan (teachers) so that they could help him more quickly train others to be Reiki practitioners and help the sick and injured.(17) It was at this time that he further developed his system of Reiki including devising a more formal Reiju (attunement) process.
Demand for Reiki became so great that he outgrew his clinic, so in 1925 he built a bigger one in Nakano, Tokyo. Because of this, his reputation as a healer spread all over Japan. He began to travel so he could teach and treat more people. During his travels across Japan he directly taught more than 2,000 students and initiated twenty Shihan,(18) each being given the same understanding of Reiki and approved to teach and give Reiju in the same way he did.(19)
The Japanese government issued him a Kun San To award for doing honorable work to help others.(20) While traveling to Fukuyama to teach, he suffered a stroke and died March 9, 1926.(21) His grave is at Saihoji Temple, in Suginami, Tokyo, although some claim that his ashes are located elsewhere.
There were many hands-on healing schools in Japan at the time Usui Sensei started his school. These other schools were not part of Usui Reiki.(22) There may have been some connection between Reiki and MahiKari and Johrei as these two Japanese religions have a Reiju like (attunement) process and offer people healing through the hands.(23)
After Usui Sensei died, his students erected a memorial stone next to his gravestone. (This is the memorial stone pictured on page 14.) Mr. J. Ushida, a Shihan trained by Usui took over as president of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, and was responsible for creating and erecting the Usui Memorial stone and ensuring that the grave site would be maintained. Mr. Ushida was followed by Mr. lichi Taketomi, Mr. Yoshiharu Watanabe, Mr. Toyoichi Wanami, and Ms. Kimiko Koyama. The current successor to Usui Sensei is Mr. Kondo, who became president in 1998.
Contrary to what we have been told in the West, there is no “lineage bearer” or “Grand Master” of the organization started by Usui Sensei—only the succession of presidents listed above.(24) The twenty teachers initiated by Usui Sensei include Toshihiro Eguchi, Jusaburo Guida, Ilichi Taketomi, Toyoichi Wanami, Yoshiharu Watanabe, Keizo Ogawa, J. Ushida, and Chujiro Hayashi.(25) Contrary to one version of the Reiki story, Chujiro Hayashi was not the successor to Usui Sensei, but rather Mr. J. Ushida as previously mentioned. It is also important to note that the four presidents of the Gakkai that followed Usui Sensei, were Shihan who had been trained directly by Usui Sensei, thus assuring that the Gakkai understanding, practice and teaching methods were the same as that of Usui Sensei.
12 Doi, Iyashino Gendai Reiki-ho, Modern Reiki Method of Healing, 48. This story has been passed down within the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai. According to Doi, it is also written in 'Kaiin no tame no Reiki Ryoho no Shiori' (Guide of Reiki Ryoho for the members), September 1, 1974.
13 To read more on this topic go to: http://www.spiritualone.com/Online/Dec13/DecNL13.htm#usui
14 Yamaguchi, Light on the Origins of Reiki, 63–64..
15 Walter Lubeck, Frank Arjava Petter, William Lee Rand, The Spirit of Reiki (Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2003), 15.
16 “Earthquakes Tokyo-Yokohama,” Encyclopedia Britannica (1997), CD-ROM.
17 Frank Arjava Petter, Reiki Darma Newsletter Number 31, January 1, 2011.
18 Reiki News Magazine (Spring 2011): 18 for a photo of Usui Sensei and the twenty Shihan.
19 Yamaguchi, Light on the Origins of Reiki, 63–64.
20 Takai, The Twilight Zone, 140–143.
21 Inscription on Usui Memorial.
22 According to Toshitaka Mochizuki, lyashi No Te, Taireido was started by Tanaka Monihei. Tenohira-Ryouchi-Kenkyuka, which means “The Association for The Study of Palm Treatments,” was started by Toshihiro Eguchi, who learned healing from Usui Sensei before founding his own group. Eguchi also wrote books on healing, which are now hard to find. Jintai-Ragium-Gakkai, which means “The Human Body Radium Society,” was founded by Matumoto Chiwake, and Shinnoukyou-Honin was a religious group founded by Nishimura Taikan, whose method was called ShinnouKyouSyokusyu-Shikou Ryoho, meaning “Violet Light Healing Method.” 23Winston Davis, Dojo, Magic and Exorcism in Modern Japan (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1980).
24Frank Arjava Petter, Reiki Fire, (Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light, 1997), 26. ISBN 0-914955-50-0.
25This list comes from the research of Frank Arjava Petter.