AND REIKI MYTH:
look at some elements of the 'new' History of Reiki...
[ Part 1]
© 2008 James Deacon
For long, the facts as we knew them in the West were that Usui-sensei
had been a Christian (- and not just a Christian, but a Christian
Minister - and that the Reiki healing system (while not
having any connection with Christianity itself) had essentially
come into being as a result of Usui-sensei's quest to discover
how Jesus had performed his healing miracles
However, by the late 1980's / early 1990's, when Reiki was beginning
to pick up momentum in its spread throughout the New Age community,
the idea of Usui being Christian Minister wasn't all that fashionable.
In fact, for many New Agers, it was a rather uncomfortable,
even slightly embarrassing, idea.
doubt, for a lot of people, part of the reason they had begun
to explore New Age ideas in the first place, was out of a need
to find an alternative spirituality - to get away from what they
saw as the 'dogmatic control' of a Christian upbringing - and
so, to discover that the founder of the Reiki system had been
a Christian Minister, well …
as fate would have it, around this period, it would seem that
several different individuals had (quite independently of each
other) begun to attempt to verify certain elements of the History
as it had been handed down to them.
other lines of enquiry, a few people decided to contact the two
Universities mentioned in the History:
Doshisha University, in Kyoto - where they had been told Usui-sensei
had been both a Minister and, in some accounts, University President,
the University of Chicago - where Usui-sensei was said to have
studied as part of his quest to discover how Jesus had performed
his healing miracles.
of the people who contacted the Universities was the Reiki master,
November 1990, he received a reply from the University of Chicago
stating that: "…our records do not indicate that Mikao
Usui ever attended the University of Chicago"
following year Rand also contacted Doshisha University, and received
a response (December 1991), stating that the name Mikao Usui "
never appeared" on the lists of graduate students, nor on
the list of faculty and clerical members. Also that "…
he was never the president of Doshisha"
course this information must have come as quite a shock to many
Reiki folk - and we can only imagine the various ways in which
people sought to come to terms with these - as some saw it - serious
errors in the account of the History of Reiki.
it seems that some folk - notably those who were not all
that comfortable with the whole Christian element of the History
in the first place, actually saw these discrepancies as, well,
as a 'godsend'.
these people, this was a great opportunity - a chance to edit
things - revise things.
so, revise they did.
too swiftly, a "New Authorised" version of the History
of Reiki began to take shape.
in this new version, not only was Usui-sensei not President
of Doshisha, nor a Minister at the University - now he was not
even a Minister at all, in fact he was not even a Christian
was now a Buddhist 
always had been - and if anyone questioned why it had ever been
claimed otherwise - well the parroted response was that Takata-sensei
had, at best been confused, at worst, made the whole thing up.
all, Buddhism was far more acceptable to many New Agers than Christianity
was, and of course, in the History, Usui-sensei was said to had
studied in a Zen monastery, and eventually found the 'keys' which
would lead to the manifestation of his system of Reiki Healing
in Buddhist sutras….
over time, in response to any who would dare to even innocently
question this particular element of this new revisionist version
of Reiki History by raising the topic of 'Usui the Christian'
- there began to develop a series of 'stock' replies, including:
he couldn't have been a Christian, could he - he's buried
in a Buddhist graveyard"
see, it's obvious to anyone who knows even a little about Japanese
history that Usui couldn't have been a born a Christian. Christianity
had been outlawed for hundreds of years in Japan, and the ban
wasn't lifted until Usui was about 8 years old, so there weren't
any Japanese Christians when he was born."
course we know Usui wasn't a Christian - both the 'Gakkai
and one of his surviving students - a Buddhist nun called Mariko
- have confirmed he was a Buddhist all his life..."
However, even now it is seldom ever pointed out that there is
probably less evidence to confirm the existence of either this
'surviving student' or the modern-day Gakkai, than there
is to confirm that Saddam Hussein ever had any 'Weapons of Mass
in the History of Reiki as recounted by Takata-sensei, there was
no mention of Usui-sensei having been born a Christian
- no mention of his early years at all… and for that matter,
no mention of him having died a Christian either. (Takata
did not say Usui was a Christian all his life. For example,
there is no mention of him returning to his duties as a Christian
Minister after receiving the 'Reiki Experience' on Kurama Yama)
actually, as we will see, there were Christians in Japan
at the time of Usui-sensei's birth - quite a lot of Christians….
Roman Catholicism had been brought to Japan in 1549*, and for the
next half century Christianity thrived - with ever-growing numbers
of converts. Some estimates put the number of Christians in Japan
by the end of the 16th century to be in the region of 300,000.
after the Tokugawa Shogunate seized political control at the very
beginning of the 17th century, things began to change.
Partly because it came to be seen as a medium through which 'European
Interests' could gain sway over the hearts and minds of the Japanese
people, Christianity came to be viewed as a threat to the Shogun's
power-base, and a period of ever-increasing levels of suppression
time, this led to the Tokugawa government issuing an edict formally
banning Japanese people from practicing the Christian faith; and
orders were issued exiling foreign missionaries and also many
prominent Japanese adherents of the religion.
than leave the country, many of the (European) Roman Catholic
priests went into hiding.
Large numbers of the faithful also openly refused to renounce
their Christian beliefs.
they were offered a simple choice - recant, or die. Many recanted.
time, seeking to further rid itself of Western influence (and
the possible threat of the Europeans gaining too much power in
the country) the Shogunate eventually decided to implement a policy
of isolationism - expelling not just the missionaries but
all Europeans, and ending all trade with European nations ( -
with the exception of a small amount of strictly controlled trade
with the Dutch)
even after this, the Christian faith in Japan was by no means
believe that somewhere in the region of 150,000 Japanese Christians
outwardly renounced their beliefs, yet continued to practice their
faith, worshipping in secret.
for more than two centuries, generations of these - as they were
later named: senpuku kirishitan ("underground Christians")
- often living in isolated, self-contained rural communities -
would continue to worship in secret, knowing that if they were
discovered, they would be executed.
during this period, it is estimated that somewhere in the region
of 40,000 were discovered and executed…
the centuries, these underground Christians had been without prayer
books, Holy Scriptures or any of the identifying paraphernalia
and formal rituals of the Church - all of which had, of necessity,
been given up to lessen the chance of discovery.
the senpuku kirishitan had had to present an appearance
of being adherents of Buddhism or Shinto (the distinguishing lines
between these two faiths were often very blurred).
had become a religion of oral transmission, and down through the
years, their faith had undergone varying degrees of transformation,
absorbing as it had, various understandings and attitudes drawn
from Buddhism, formal Shinto practice, and also from local folk
many ways, the religion of the senpuku kirishitan had evolved
into what could best be described as a form of 'Folk Christianity'.
1853, a small fleet of US warships had arrived at Uraga harbour
at the entrance of Edo Bay, demanding that Japan open its ports
to full trade with the West.
a result of centuries of self-imposed isolation from the rest
of the world, Japan's military forces had not evolved technologically,
and thus, realising its inability to effectively defend itself
- should the US decide to be more 'forceful' in pursuing its demands
- the Shogunate had little option but to agree; and by 1854 Japan
had signed friendship treaties with not only the US, but also
the UK, France, Russia and the Netherlands.
the time of Usui-sensei's birth in 1865, Christianity was indeed
still outlawed in Japan (at least, that is, for the Japanese themselves.
The re-opening of the Japanese ports for foreign trade had led
to an influx of Roman Catholic and other Christian missionaries
- ostensibly to minister to the ever-growing number of Westerners
living in the many newly-established foreign enclaves).
banned from propagating Christianity amongst the Japanese people,
it seems that the various missions were allowed to provide medical
treatment, and carry out educational work.
after the fall of the Shogunate, and the establishment
of the Meiji government (1868), it was still illegal for Japanese
Citizens to practice Christianity. (About 3,000 Japanese Christians
were arrested during the first two to three years of the Meiji
things were about to change.
pressure (economic and otherwise) from the US and other western
nations, the Meiji government was forced to 're-think' its religious
policy, and eventually formally lifted the ban on Christianity
several of the senpuku kirishitan had already cautiously
revealed their existence to greatly-surprised Roman Catholic missionaries
prior to 1873, with the lifting of the ban they were now
free to openly to receive fresh instruction and re-education in
the catechism and the formal rites of the Roman Church (from which,
over their 200+years of seclusion, their practice had to varying
while many senpuku kirishitan did indeed happily return
to Catholicism, many of these previously 'underground' Christians
chose not to - preferring to hold fast to beliefs and traditions
(including ancestor-worship )
which had developed over perilous centuries of evading discovery
by the authorities.
Usui-sensei's family were senpuku kirishitan is of course
not beyond the bounds of possibility
However it is perhaps more likely that Usui-sensei, if he was
a Christian, became one at a time some years after the ban on
Christianity had been lifted - perhaps during his teens or early
obviously had an enquiring mind, a great appetite for learning
- and, it seems had embarked on a quest for new meaning in his
life. We are told that he had studied widely, gaining amongst
other things a good understanding of history, divination, incantation,
various religions (including Buddhism, and Shinto), medicine,
physiognomy and psychology, etc., and it is quite likely that
his studies would have also included western Philosophy and Christianity
- both of which had become very popular areas of study with the
if Usui-sensei had 'experimented' with Christianity (just
as today many Western 'seekers' experiment with Eastern
faiths and philosophies, including Hinduism, Sufism, Taoism, and
various sects or denominations of Buddhism) well there were certainly
a considerable number of different of Christian denominations
to choose from…
mentioned, with the reopening of Japan's ports to western trade,
as well as the Roman Catholics, missionaries from numerous different
denominations had also begun to establish a presence in the country
the different Protestant denominations eager to bring their own
version of Christianity to the Japanese people were:
Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians,
Unitarians, Congregationalists, and Dutch Reformists.
1872, the first Japanese Protestant church, the Nihon Kirisuto,
had been established.
same year had also seen the establishment of a Japanese branch
of the Russian Orthodox Church.
over time, numerous Christian schools - some boys-only, some girls-only,
some co-educational, sprang up.
were also several Christian Academies and Seminaries of various
denominations, and in time, several Christian Universities would
also be created.
At its core, the Meiji Restoration was all about modernisation,
westernisation, and industrialisation - about the Great Japanese
nation, crippled by endless years of isolationist policy - seeking
to catch up with the rest of the world.
in the past, the Tokagawa government had sought to rid Japan
of western influences, the Meiji government now sought to embrace
the West and all it had to offer in terms of science, technology,
philosophy, etc, etc
Japanese government began hiring dozens of western advisors with
expertise in areas of economics, politics, education, industry,
etc. And, over time Japan, adopted the western calendar, western
educational formats, a western-style political systems (including
the adoption of a Constitution), and so on.
fact, so strong was the drive towards westernisation that several
influential people including Mori Arinori and Saionji Kimmochi
even advocated making English the new language of the modern Japanese
Japanese citizens adopted western modes of dress, (including top
hats and walking canes), and the Japanese appetite for all things
western became almost insatiable.
wealthy Japanese families sent their children overseas to get
a western education (something encouraged by the Meiji, and later,
Taisho governments as part of Japans modernisation-process)
certainly in the first half of the Meiji era, the majority of
educational establishments set up within Japan itself were funded
and run by Christian Missionaries
the Japanese hungry to acquire western learning, the various Christian
missions took full advantage of the situation - any opportunity
to propagate their faith.
education was an ideal means of gaining converts.
Meiji and early Taisho eras, many Japanese converted to Christianity.
it is important to point out that the majority were genuinely
seeking a new moral, ethical, and philosophical 'code' more in
keeping with the Meiji eras drive towards modernisation and Internationalism,
it must be stated that there were also those who viewed
Christianity with a purely pragmatic eye
- as simply means to an end - the primary reason for conversion
being in order to procure a good comprehensive western-style education.
After all, a good education meant good prospects.
so, with Christian missionary establishments providing access
to western educational formats, it was not that uncommon for families
to convert to Christianity (even if only nominally so), in the
hope that a western-style education would help their children
secure positions in either the government or the military
early years of the Meiji era had brought great upheaval to the
structure of Japanese society - most notably to lives of the old
nobility: the Samurai
1871 the Samurai had been banned from carrying swords.
They had lost most of their power and privilege, and their old
feudal way of life was being systematically swept away.
the early part of the Meiji era, a great many people from old
Samurai (i.e. Buddhist) families converted to Christianity.
it is important to be clear that while, for some, this was no
doubt a purely pragmatic move,
probably the majority of converts were genuinely drawn
to Christianity seeking a new 'way' - searching for something
to provide a new sense of meaning in their rapidly changing lives.
fact, the first Japanese person to have been ordained as a Protestant
minister had been of Samurai stock.
However, he had been drawn to the Christian faith in the years
immediately preceding the Meiji
restoration - at a time when the Samurai were still powerful -
and Christianity was still banned ....
the years immediately following the reopening of Japanese ports
to foreign trade, it was still very difficult for Japanese citizens
to get permission to leave the county, yet in 1864, a 21 year
old samurai named Niijima Jou (1843-1890) secretly found
passage on a ship to the U.S. (via China) with the intent of studying
Christianity and science
in Massachusetts, he attended Amherst College and Andover Theological
Seminary; eventually, in 1874, becoming ordained as a Protestant
at the time, had you contacted either Amherst College or the Andover
Seminary enquiring as to whether or not an individual named
Niijima Jou had attended their establishment, you may well
have received an answer something along the lines of the one William
Rand received from the University of Chicago, concerning Mikao
Usui (see above)
i.e., that their records did not indicate that Niijima Jou
ever attended the establishment.
the reason for this?
the US, Niijima Jou, had adopted the name Joseph Hardy Neesima.
(Jou became Joe became Joseph, Niijima became Neesima,
and as to the middle name, Hardy, this was the surname of the
people who sponsored his stay in the US)
in taking a westernised name, Niijima Jou / Joseph Hardy
Neesima could perhaps be seen to have set a precedent.
For, over the years it became a not too uncommon practice amongst
Japanese students travelling to western countries to adopt western
names (or at very least, westernised versions of their original
Japanese names) 
begs the question: Could it be that when Usui-sensei went to the
he had also adopted this practice?
some, like Neesima, the westernised name was a baptismal one
- an outward sign of the individual's Christian faith,
for others, taking a western name was simply part of their immersion
in western culture, part of their desire to 'fit in'.
returning home, some kept their western names (a statement
of their westernisation/modernisation), some did not.
Jou, on returning to Japan in 1874, retained the westernised
name Joseph Hardy Neesima.
In 1875, he opened his own Eigakko (Academy) in Kyoto.
Initially having only eight students, Neesima's academy steadily
grew into an important centre for education, and by 1920, had
evolved into a full-blown, private Daigaku (University)
- yet it still bore its original name: Doshisha.
to which specific denomination of Buddhist -well even now
in 2008 there is still no clear consensus on this.
Perhaps it was also during this period that the poorly
thought-out notion that Takata-sensei had manufactured
the Christian connection to make Reiki more approachable to westerners
first manifested itself?
It is perhaps interesting to note how some elements of
the History were kept intact, while others were ditched.
the same reasoning could possibly also be used to argue that Usui-sensei
wasn't a Tendai Buddhist (as has been claimed) - afterall,
he is buried in a Jodo Shin Buddhist cemetery...
Most importantly, those ancestors who had been martyred
for their Faith.
I feel it is important to point out that there is absolutely
no evidence to suggest that they were.
Mori Arinori (1847-1889) and Saionji Kimmochi (1849-1940) served
Minister of Education. Mori
Arinori was appointed to the position in 1885, Saionji
Kimmochi in 1894.
It has been suggested that Usui-sensei was of Samurai ancestry
Even today, some Japanese people working abroad choose
to adopt English names (though nowadays, usually only first names),
in an effort to fit in. Commonly the adopted name will have the
same initial sound as their Japanese names; for example, Tomita
might simply be shortened to Tom or become Thomas, Kenichi might
become Ken or Kenneth. Yoshio - Josh or Joshua
- and theoretically, Mikao might become Mike or Michael…
the inscription on the Memorial Stone at the Usui-family grave-site in
Tokyo, tells us that Mikao Usui had the pseudonym: [暁帆]
This pair of kanji characters is generally read (in Reiki circles) as
the given-name: Gyōhan (Gyouhan) or Kyōhan (Kyouhan)
[however, some what
unhelpfully there are also several other possible readings].
We know from the inscription on the Memorial stone at Usui-sensei's
grave that he went to the US.
 Note the careful
phrasing of the reply received by William Rand - "…our
records do not indicate that Mikao Usui ever attended the University
of Chicago" - as opposed to a clear "Mikao Usui definitely
did not attend the University of Chicago" or similar phrasing.
kirishitan - the 'underground Christians' - had taken
( -albeit secretly -) western baptismal names
In much the same way that many westerners, on becoming
a (for example, Tendai) Buddhist, may not simply receive a Japanese
Buddhist name in addition to their birth-name, but as a
sign of their new-found faith, choose to actually replace
their birth-name their newly acquired Buddhist one
* When I say that Roman Catholicism came to Japan in 1549, I am speaking about the official introduction of Roman Catholicism to Japan. [It is known that European Christians had visited Japan prior to this date. In 1543, two Portuguese merchants had arrived in Japan onboard a Chinese vessel, however they did not go there with the intention of converting Japanese citizens to their faith.]
There is of course also a possibility that quite some time prior to this, Japan
may have had contact with Chinese Christians, belonging to the socalled
'Nestorian' Church (Nestorian Christianity had come to China somewhere
around the early 7th century), however that's another story...
The first Roman Catholic Missionaries to reach Japan were Jesuits.
by Francis Xavier, they had travelled from the Portuguese colony of Malacca.
at the port of Kagoshima, at the south-western tip of the island of
Kyūshū, Xavier chose to come ashore on the day of the Roman Catholic Feast
of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (a day which also had
additional significance for the Jesuits).
interestingly, a day which would later have considerable significance
for Reiki practitioners. The date was August the 15th