article, written by Reiki Master (or as he prefers to be termed:
'Reiki Instructor') and good friend of mine, Darragh MacMahon.
But Not As We Know It:
The Spiritual Densei of Juzo Hamada
Copyright © 2003 by Darragh MacMahon
couple of years ago, while in Japan doing some research for a book
on the diversity of Japanese healing practices; a book which in
the end didn't actually get written, I was fortunate enough to be
invited to stay with a Ukrainian friend, Sergei, and his wife Yuko
who live on the outskirts of Kushiro City on the northern Japanese
island of Hokkaido.
we had spoken on the phone prior to my visit, Sergei, who trains
in a martial art called kempo, had suggested that as part
of my research I might like to talk to the healer/therapist he and
the other kempo students went to with training injuries.
He said he would ask his Instructor if it would be possible to arrange
an interview with the man he referred to as Izumi-sama, who
was also a kempo practitioner, and the Instructor's 'senior'.
The suffix -sama, I later found out, is a more formal term
of respect than the -san I was already slightly familiar
the time I got to Hokkaido, the meeting with Izumi-sama (that
is, Mr. Izumi Takashi) had been arranged along with a couple of
(In Japan, the surname comes first, the given or personal name comes
second - in the west we would call Mr. Izumi Takashi, Mr. Takashi
Izumi. To save confusion, from here on I will use the familiar western
told me that Mr. Izumi wasn't the type to normally agree to such
interviews, especially as he had in the past had problems with a
newspaper reporter. He had only agreed to this interview because
the Instructor at their dojo had requested it. He could not
stress strongly enough that anything less than my most respectful
behaviour would mean a loss of 'face' for both the Instructor and
It was in the afternoon, 4 days into my visit, that I got to meet
Mr. Izumi. Sergei had arranged for a friend and senior kempo
student to accompany me as interpreter, as Sergei himself had important
work commitments he couldn't get out of.
had reminded me that I should bring Mr. Izumi a formal temiyage
or gift in gratitude for his agreeing to the interview, and from
the suggested formal options, I had settled on a bottle of nihonsu
presented the gift-wrapped bottle of nihonsu and in my best
tourist Japanese, voiced the common statement when offering such
a gift: "tsumaranai mono desu ga
" It's nothing
Izumi's daughter Mizuki brought us tea and after an appropriate
length of time, the conversation turned to the reason for my visit.
With the interpretative help of Sergei's friend Yoshiki, I explained
about my intended book, and how I would be giving everyone who did
me the honour of permitting me to interview them the opportunity
to read what I had written about them before anything went to publication.
[Even though the book did not go ahead, I still provided copy of
this present piece and other material concerning Mr. Izumi, for
him to review via an interpreter]
Izumi was very relaxed and friendly, and happy for me to take notes
as we spoke about his methods.
seemed that the more exoteric aspects of his therapeutic practice
primarily involved a combination of what is known as amma
/ ampuku massage and therapy based around working with tsubo
pressure points and keiraku (acupuncture meridians).
Though Mr. Izumi said he did not use needles, simply finger pressure.
also practiced a form of pressureless touch-based ki-healing
and healing with the breath.
there were also more esoteric elements to Mr Izumi's practice.
one level, he explained, injury or illness can frequently be seen
to be the result of the negative influence of spirits. Though in
some cases these spirits are simply malicious, it is more often
the case that injury or illness is the means by which a spirit attempts
to communicate with the particular individual.
Sometimes the spirit has a grievance, having been offended in some
way, then again they may simply be attempting to communicate their
distress or bewilderment concerning their situation: a simple cry
particular kind of spirit affecting the individual can often be
discerned by the nature of the manifesting symptoms.
example, Mr. Izumi said, the spirit of an aborted foetus may cause
pain in the hips, the back of the head and the shoulders. Headaches
in general can indicate the influence of an ancestor. The spirit
of a dead animal (such as a family pet) may cause the individual
to talk nonsense, even cause madness. And so on.
as part of the treatment, if the influence of spirits is evident
(Mr. Izumi did not elaborate as to precisely how he ascertained
if a given illness or injury was indeed due to intervention of a
spirit) the patient might be instructed to hold kuyo, a Buddhist
memorial service, or perhaps undertake Shinto purification rites,
to appease the spirit; or in some other way address the cause of
certain circumstances, Mr. Izumi said, he would prepare ofuda,
essentially Spiritual formulae or charms, for his patients.
talked a little about the nature of these formulae, but he asked
that I did not write about them in any detail.
told me he also prescribed particular exercises for his patients
to do at home to assist in the healing process and would suggest
specific modifications in diet and lifestyle depending on the nature
of their particular complaint.
explained that while he would treat specific areas of illness or
injury, the main focus for treatment, whatever the problem, was
always the head, the spine and the hara or belly. "Everything
is connected with these three" he explained.
asked about his methods of diagnosis and he simply said, "My
kami helps me." Then after a moment " And of course
I use my senses".
transpired that by the term kami, Mr. Izumi was speaking
of a guiding spirit, in the form of one of his ancestors, rather
than as I had momentarily thought, one of the major kami
or gods of Shinto.
(I should mention that such belief in guidance from a venerable
ancestor is something quite common, especially, it seems, among
healers, and other spiritual practitioners.)
I asked what he meant by using his senses, he explained that from
the moment he meets a patient he is acutely observant. He looks,
listens, touches and smells - sees how they move, sit, gesture,
the state of their complexion, the state of their eyes, etc. listens
to the words they use and their tone of voice, the feel of their
skin, whether it is warm or cold or clammy, etc. and the odour of
the breath. All these things play a part in his diagnosis. He did
not however, make use of what is probably one of the more common
and at the same time quite complex, forms of diagnosis; the reading
of the pulses.
talked for some time about various aspects of his practice, and
I was shown around his small treatment room, which had several charts
and certificates on the walls, as well as a copy of the hannya
shingyo or Heart Sutra, and the twenty-sixth chapter of the
Lotus Sutra, the chapter on Dharani or incantations.
a great many Japanese of his generation, Mr. Izumi's faith is a
combination of both Buddhist and Shintoist belief and practice,
and in his treatment room there is an altar/shrine to Yakushi -
the Buddha of healing and to various Shinto kami also considered
responsible for aspects of healing. To either side of this altar,
there was a framed black and white photograph - one of Mr. Izumi's
teacher and the other, his teacher's teacher.
Izumi said that he preferred whenever possible to have his patients
sit upright when treating them, rather than lie on a futon. He would
usually only have a patient lie down when they were receiving heat
treatment. It transpired that what he was referring to here was
something I had personally only seen previously in western therapeutic
practice, though he assured me it was quite common, a form of heat
therapy in the west often referred to as 'cupping'. In this practice,
a series of very small glass bowls or cups are heated up and placed
at strategic points on the patient's back, as the hot air inside
the bowl cools it creates a suction effect securing the hot glass
bowl to the body. (The effect is no doubt much the same as the acupuncturist's
practice of burning moxa on the skin.)
Izumi told me he held surgery in the early morning and the evening;
he liked to keep the rest of the day for himself.
asked what role absent healing played in his practice.
Izumi said he had on occasion had cause to resort to this kind of
healing, but it was not something he did lightly.
most cases, if a person really wanted to get better from whatever
ailed them, they would be willing to make the effort to visit him.
If nothing else it was a psychological acknowledgment of their determination
and commitment to be cured.
they really couldn't come to visit him, for example, if they were
bedridden, or for some other genuine reason, then he would arrange
to go to visit them.
had seen too many cases of people who said they needed absent healing
as they were unable to come to see him in person, only on further
investigation to discover that they were either too wrapped up in
their work or even their social life, or just too lazy, or they
didn't want to be seen to be consulting a healer, as opposed to
a hospital doctor!
understand," he said, "not everyone who asks to be cured
really wants to be cured in their heart"
these people, even so, I will still chant the daimoku, and
the prayer to Yakushi " Mr. Izumi held up his open palm in
front of him and in guttural tones, recited the Yakushi mantra:
"On koro koro sendari matogi sowaka."
daimoku, I knew, is the mantra of the Lotus Sutra, said to
bring great merit to those who chant it or for those it is chanted
* * * *
one point while we were talking Mr. Izumi, in a most informal and
unexpected manner, casually reached into his jacket and bought out
a pack of cigarettes and asked if I would like one. Politely refusing
his offer, I must have looked somewhat bemused as he lit up and
drew heavily on what turned out to be a Chinese brand cigarette.
Yoshiki the interpreter, he said something to the effect of "Ah,
you are thinking: 'he's smoking! Doesn't he of all people realise
how bad smoking is for the health?'."
had to nod in agreement.
explained that in his view, the real problem isn't so much with
smoking as with the state in which people smoke. He said
that most people smoke when they are stressed and off-centre and
that they smoke 'mindlessly'. "I only smoke when I'm relaxed,
and then with mindful focus" he said, then with a laugh, "and
what would an old man be without at least one bad habit!"
Izumi, who, before his retirement had been a clerical officer in
the postal service, had begun his training as a healer in 1958 with
a healer called Takanobu Shirasu who lived and worked in Utsunomiya
City on Honshu Island. He told me that he had spent three years
working as an assistant in Shirasu's clinic.
many other practitioners of traditional healing methods, Shirasu
did not earn his living as a healer. By day he ran the family clothing
business, practicing his therapeutic art in the evenings. He had
insisted that he would only train Takashi Izumi on the condition
that he too maintained a 'regular' occupation to support himself,
rather than relying on the sickness of others as a means of generating
income. He had also told him that a healer should either have a
'robust' manual job or take up some form of intense physical exercise
to, as Mr. Izumi put it, " help the ki". This was
how Mr. Izumi had become involved with kempo.
had learnt his art during the 1930's working as an 'apprentice'
or deshi to Juzo Hamada.
Hamada, who, prior to World War One, had for several years worked
as a Civil Servant in the Japanese Administration in southern Manchuria,
had studied widely in the healing arts. He had learnt elements of
Chinese Medicine during his posting in Manchuria, and later traveled
the length and breath of Japan, studying the methods of various
well-known healers of the day.
Izumi reeled off a list of names of some of these people, including
Yugaku Hamaguchi, Tamai Tempaku (who, I later discovered was the
father of modern-day Shiatsu) and Shofu Yamato. Quite understandably,
prior to this I had never heard of any of these people. But there
was one name mentioned by Mr. Izumi that I certainly had heard of.
name was Mikao Usui.
hurriedly had Yoshiki explain that I recognised that name - that
I had only quite recently become a student of Reiki myself.
threw up his hands and grinned "Ah, Leiki, Leiki" he nodded.
he learned Reiki too, I asked
he wasn't a Reiki practitioner.
I couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed by this reply.
fact, Mr. Izumi continued, it was only a few years ago that he started
seeing articles in a couple of magazines which talked about this
New Age (he actually used the phrase "nyu-eiji")
teate healing art called Reiki that was becoming quite popular.
that he had never heard of it. He said he had been a little confused
at first, by all the talk of this Reiki being an energy,
as for many people of his generation, the term indicated the presence
of an Ancestral Spirit or at least the beneficial effect of
a spirit, not ki flowing in the body.
"Teacher Shirasu" as Mr. Izumi called him, had spoken
to him about "Teacher Hamada" and the people he had learned
various methods from, he had never mentioned this term Reiki when
he spoke of the healer Usui.
emerged that beyond what he had read in the magazines in connection
with the growing interest in Reiki, Mr. Izumi really knew very little
about Mikao Usui other than he had been a spiritual healer, and
that it was from Usui that Teacher Hamada has learnt how to "make
was how Yoshiki had phrased it so I had to ask him what this densei
was. He looked a little unsure, saying it meant something handed
down from one generation to another; then after some conferring
with Mr. Izumi, Yoshiki seemed clearer about it. He explained that
Mr. Izumi was talking about a sort of spiritual transmission, not
so much from generation to generation in a strict sense but more
from an experienced healer to another less experienced one. Mr.
Izumi referred to the procedure as densei because that was
what Teacher Hamada and Teacher Shirasu had called it.
Izumi was talking about some kind of Initiation or Attunement process
suddenly had what seemed like a hundred questions buzzing round
in my head at once.
attunement, what form did it take?
Was it like the western style attunements I had undergone, or was
it more like the reiju I had heard about, or
was about to start asking Mr. Izumi when his daughter, Mizuki, came
in and ever so tactfully pointed out to her father that the first
of his evening patients would be arriving in less than an hour.
I realised it was time for us to leave.
thanked Mr. Izumi for his hospitality, then to my great relief,
as both he and his daughter showed us out, Mr. Izumi said something
to Mizuki, who whispered in broken English "He say tomorrow,
same time you come back, yes?"
looked quizzically at Yoshiki. I was aware that often such invitations
are just made out of politeness and not really meant to be taken
I accept? He nodded.
I told Mr. Izumi
I would be honoured to visit his home again. Thanking him once more,
* * * *