was born on the 15th of August 1865 in the
village of Taniai (now called Miyama cho) in the Yamagata county of the Gifu
Prefecture in Japan.
Today in Miyamo cho, Mikao Usui's name can be found carved on a large torii gate at the Amataka shrine close to where his home once stood. The three Usui brothers donated the stone torii in April 1923. Mikao Usui's brothers, Sanya and Kuniji, grew up to become a doctor and a policeman respectively. He also had an older sister called Tsuru. Mikao Usui's father's name was Uzaemon and his mother was from the Kawai family.
Mikao Usui was born into a society based on a class system. There was the privileged class to which he belonged and then there were the common people. Common people were not even permitted the luxury of surnames until 1870. Mikao Usui's family was hatamoto samurai - a high level within the ranks of samurai. The hatamoto were the shogun's personal guard. Due to the major changes that were happening in Japan from the 1860s onwards, the samurai class were no longer required.
The memorial stones states that the famous samurai, Tsunetane Chiba (1118 to 1201) was Mikao Usui's ancestor. Recently Hiroshi Doi noted that this was incorrect and that it was in fact Toshitane Chiba, a famous samurai warlord from the 1500s. In 1551 he conquered the city Usui and thereafter all family members acquired that name. Whether the ancestor was Tsunetane or Toshitane or both is inconsequential, both were from the Chiba clan, as was Mikao Usui.
The Chiba clan was once an influential samurai family in Japan according to Chiba family records. The Usui family crest, otherwise known as the Chiba crest, is designed as a circle with a dot at the top. The circle represents the universe, and the dot (a Japanese representation for a star) represents the North Star. The North Star never moves while the universe must move around it.
Mikao Usui was born a Tendai Buddhist and as a young child studied in a Tendai monastery according to recent researchers. In the West, it was once believed that he was born a Christian. Hawayo Takata probably added this information as a reaction to the anti-Japanese sentiment in America during and after World War II. Christianity was actually outlawed in Japan at the time Mikao Usui was born.
Martial Arts and Career
According to the teachings of
Mariko Suzuki, Mikao Usui began with the practice of a martial arts
called aiki jutsu at the age of 12. He also studied a form of yagyu ryu and
gained Menkyo Kaiden (the highest license of proficiency) in weaponry and
He was by nature versatile and loved to read books. He engaged himself in history books, medical books, Buddhist scriptures, Christian scriptures and was well versed in psychology, Taoism, even in the art of divination, incantation, and physiognomy.
Due to the fact that he travelled greatly through Japan and overseas his career was also varied. At one point, according to Frank Arjava Petter, he was a private secretary to a politician called Shinpei Goto who, amongst other positions, was Governor of the Standard of Railways. In 1920 Shinpei Goto became the Mayor of Tokyo.
At the turn of the century hands-on-healing or teate was very popular in Japan. Toshihiro Eguchi was a friend of Mikao Usui and studied with him in the 1920s. Toshihiro Eguchi created the Tenohira Ryoji Kenkyu kai (Hand Healing Research Center).
Men of Mikao Usui's social class were trained well in the arts. Gichin Funakoshi, the modern founder of Karate, wrote that he went to a 'moon viewing party' when he was a young karateka. This consisted of martial artists sitting around, chatting about karate and reciting poetry under the moon. Chris Marsh states that Gichin Funakoshi, Jigoro Kano (founder of judo) and Morihei Ueshiba (founder of aikido) knew Mikao Usui.
Mikao Usui has shown his leaning toward poetry by his inclusion of 125 waka, or poems, into his teachings. During Japan's 'national isolation' there had been a great focus on the arts including classical Chinese works. In a book from 1933, a student of Mikao Usui describes a technique called hatsurei ho. Here waka is recited silently to one's self in an attempt to become One with it.
In Toshitaka Mochizuki's book there is a group photo in which Mikao Usui, friends, family and students are gathered together on the 16th of January 1926. Dave King claims that Tenon-in has told him that Jigoro Kano is seen standing at the furthest right hand side of the picture. Though there is a slight resemblance this has been denied by every martial arts source contacted (This includes respected authorities such as the Kodokan Judo Institute in Japan, Stanley Pranin of the Aikido Journal, and Miek Skoss of Koryu Books).
Mikao Usui was never a doctor as professed in the West but did become a lay Tendai priest called a zaike according to students of Mariko Suzuki. This meant that he could remain in his own home with his family, without having to reside in a temple as is commonly expected of priests At the time that Mikao Usui became a zaike some say he took the Buddhist name of Gyoho, Gyohan or Gyotse.
It's also believed that Mikao Usui included techniques as well as jumon (jumon means spell or incantation) in his teachings that are based on Shinto and Tendai practices.
Mikao Usui married Sadako Suzuki and they had two children, a boy and a girl called Fuji and Toshiko. Fuji (1908 - 1946) went on to teach at Tokyo University and Toshiko lived a short life, dying at the age of 22 in 1935. The entire family's ashes are buried at the grave site at the Saihoji Temple in Tokyo.
It is impossible to offer a commencement date for Mikao Usui's teachings. He was 35 years old at the turn of the century and, as stated by students of Mariko Suzuki (who claim to have seen his Menkyo Kaiden certificate) was proficient in martial arts from his mid-20s. Mariko Suzuki had been aware of Mikao Usui her whole life as she was his wife's cousin. Her formal training with him is said to have begun in 1915 when she was 20 years old and her relationship with him continued on a less formal basis until his death in 1926. It's understood that Mariko Suzuki and the other 11 living students have preserved a collection of papers including the precepts, waka, meditations, and teachings.
In a translated 1928 article a student of Chujiro Hayashi states that the system was founded 'decades ago'.
For these reasons it is believed the teachings of Mikao Usui began long before 1922 when the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai claims to have been created.
Usui Do and Usui Teate
What Mikao Usui taught was called 'Usui do' - 'the way of Usui', and what he practiced on people would most likely have been called 'Usui teate'- meaning 'hands-on'. Early students had never heard of the word Reiki in relation to the entirety of Mikao Usui's teachings. It was also often used in conjunction with Mikao Usui's teachings but not as the name of them merely in its literal form meaning 'spiritual energy'. Only once it came to the West was the word 'Reiki' turned into the name for a system.
It is believed that the aim of these teachings was to provide a method for students to achieve enlightenment. Unlike religion, though, there was no belief system attached. Though enlightenment was the aim, the healing that was taking place for students was a wonderful 'side effect'. What sets Mikao Usui's teachings apart from other hands-on healing methods is his use of reiju or attunement to remind students of their spiritual connection. It seems that all students of Mikao Usui received reiju and the 5 precepts and those with a further interest in the teachings became dedicated students. There does not appear to have been a distinction between clients and students in the beginning though this changed in 1917. People began coming to Mikao Usui for different purposes - some for healing and others for the spiritual teachings.
Mantras, Meditations and Symbols
Mikao Usui is said, by students of Mariko Suzuki, to initially have given mantras to students as a device for tapping into specific elements of energy. As each individual learns in his/her own unique manner just one device was impractical to serve the whole of mankind. Meditations too, became integrated into the teachings.
Once the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai was formed the teachings became more formalized. Hand positions were taught to those who found working intuitively difficult. Symbols were also added to the mantra recitations as a helpful tool to evoke specific energy. The introduction of symbols was useful for those whose experiences with spiritual work had previously been limited or those who had difficulty sensing the energy.
Whether mantras, meditations or mantras and symbols together were practiced it did not matter as all were focused on working with the same energy.
Kurama Yama and Hiei Zan
According to the memorial stone Mikao Usui's teachings were developed, almost miraculously, during a meditation in 1922.
One day, he climbed kurama yama and after 21 days of a severe discipline without eating, he suddenly felt One Great Reiki over his head and attained enlightenment and he obtained Reiki Ryoho. Then, he tried it on himself and experimented on his family members. The efficacy was immediate.
Mikao Usui's 21-day
practice on kurama yama was called kushu shinren, (which is a form of shugyo, or discipline or training) according to the memorial stone's
translator, Hyakuten Inamoto.
The Spread of Usui Teate
Sensei thought that it would be far better to offer it widely to the general public and share its benefits than just to improve the well-being of his own family members. In April of the 11th year of Taisho (1922 A.D.) he settled in Harajuku, Aoyama, Tokyo and set up the Gakkai to teach Reiki Ryoho and give treatments. Even outside of the building it was full of pairs of shoes of the visitors who had come from far and near.
In September of the 12th year (1923 A.D.) there was a great earthquake and a conflagration broke out. Everywhere there were groans of pains from the wounded. Sensei, feeling pity for them, went out every morning to go around the town, and he cured and saved an innumerable number of people. This is just a broad outline of his relief activities during such an emergency.
This earthquake may well have been the background inspiration for Hawayo Takata’s well-known 'beggar story'. There was a great deal of poverty in Japan at that time due to the depression. After the earthquake Mikao Usui moved his home and place of teaching to Nakano ku, outside of Tokyo, in 1925. He was often invited to travel throughout Japan treating people and teaching students. Mikao Usui had over 2000 students in total (according to the memorial stone), and 21 teacher students who reached shinpiden (according to Hiroshi Doi).
Sensei's personality was gentle and modest and he never behaved ostentatiously. His physique was large and sturdy. He always wore a contented smile.
Due to his respected and far-reaching
reputation many people from local districts wished to invite him. Sensei,
accepting the invitations, went to Kure and then to Hiroshima and Saga, and
reached Fukuyama. Unexpectedly he became ill and passed away there. It was
March 9 of the 15th year of Taisho (1926 A.D.), aged 62.
Mikao Usui died of a stroke.
The information on this page is from
The International House of Reiki
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