A SAMURAI CONNECTION
Mikao Usui really descended from the fabled Chiba clan?
Copyright © 2006 James Deacon
family tomb stands in a graveyard at the Jodo shu (Pure Land sect)
Saihoji Temple, Tokyo.
a plinth in front of the tomb there is a stone displaying a mon
or family/clan crest: a crescent moon (its 'horns' almost extending
to form a complete circle) with a 'star' [actually a small circle]
between it points.
'moon-star' mon is familiar throughout Japan as being an
emblem of the famous samurai clan: the Chiba.*
does this mean Usui-sensei was of Chiba samurai ancestry? Well,
so we are led to believe.
on the memorial stone standing to the side of the family tomb,
it states that one of Usui-sensei's ancestors was Tsunetane, who
was indeed a member of the Chiba clan [though, some who claim
'insider knowledge' tell us that Usui-sensei's ancestor was not
Tsunetane Chiba, but rather one Tsuneyasu, a son of Tsunekane
- but a Chiba none-the-less]
to date, neither I nor anyone else (unless someone is holding
out on us) has managed to uncover any documentary evidence [by
this, I mean external substantiation/verification - official records,
etc - or for that matter, any form of documentary evidence not
directly originating within the 'Reiki community'] to support
the claim of Usui-sensei's Chiba lineage - via either Tsunetane
further, to the best of my knowledge, to date no one else researching
the History of Reiki / Life of Usui-sensei has managed to discover
any official records even connecting him with either the
Chiba clan, or with the Usui family which was part of Chiba.
there was a Usui family who were important members of the
Chiba clan - some say they were named after either Usui Castle
or Usui City, some say the castle/city were named after the family
- but either way that does not necessarily 'prove' that Usui-sensei
was actually of that particular Usui family.
that matter, we cannot even be certain that Usui-sensei was actually
born a Usui…
You see, under the Tokugawa Shogunate (pre 1868 and the Meiji
restoration), only the ruling/warrior classes (i.e. Nobles and
Samurai) classes had the right to use a surname, and for that
matter, the right to wear a sword.
Though it was not unknown for the Shogunate to permit certain
gono - 'wealthy peasants' the right to both use a surname
and wear a sword (- for a hefty financial consideration, of course).
But generally, common people were only allowed a personal
Where necessary, to distinguish one from another, commoners would
be identified in terms of their place of origin, e.g: "Kenji
from Taniai village"; or alternatively, as 'son of so-and-so',
e.g. "Fuji, son of Toshihiro", whose offspring would
in turn be "X, son of Fuji", and so on, thus preventing
the commoners from gaining a clearly defined familial lineage.
after the Meiji restoration, it was decreed that (as part of the
modernisation./Westernisation process) all Japanese citizens
should assume a surname.
As a result, a greater part of the population who had, prior to
Meiji era, no familial name, suddenly gained one.
Some people took the name of their place of birth or residence
as their surname, some simply made up names, or chose names with
Others - hoping to gain varying degrees of prestige and advantage
for themselves and future generations, assumed the surnames of
famous figures from history.
Many simply took the name of the samurai clan that had previously
ruled over them and their ancestors…
Without documentary evidence, we cannot be certain if the founder
of the Reiki system was of noble or samurai lineage, was of gono
ancestry, or if, just like millions of other ordinary Japanese
folk, his surname had simply been assumed by his father in response
to Imperial decree …
Part of the problem is that, in order to uncover documentary evidence
concerning Usui-sensei's ancestry, we need some official documentation
concerning Usui-sensei himself. And, as of the time of writing,
we have not discovered any reliable sources - no official record
of his birth or death, his marriage, the birth or death of his
children, etc. (we only have what we can learn from the inscriptions
at the family tomb)
a result of the Meiji Government's "Proclamation of the Great
Doctrine in 1870, every Japanese citizen was required to register
at their local Shinto Shrine; and again, I am unaware if even
any record of the registration of the Usui family itself (i.e
this specific Usui family) has been discovered.
closest we get is a rumour of some or other inscription at the
shrine in the village of Taniai - where, we are told, Usui-sensei
was born - apparently stating that a family named Usui
funded the construction of the shrine's Torii Gate)
research efforts aren't helped by the fact that a lot of official
records were no doubt destroyed in the devastating fire-bombing
of Tokyo during WWII, but as Kyoto did not suffer the same horrific
level of destruction, one would hope there is still the possibility
of some documentary evidence relating to Usui-sensei's birth/early
life being uncovered in the future.
While the mon displayed at the Usui grave-site has the
crescent 'leaning' as it were slightly to the left (as one looks
at it), another version of this Chiba emblem commonly sits 'upright' - the 'star'
is centre top. [I have also seen this 'upright' version attributed
to the Ito samurai clan] .
is also quite possible is that there is actually no connection
at all between the Chiba crest and the mon displayed
at the Usui grave. [edit 27/11/06: Just
recently I have been informed that the emblem may be associated
with yet another samurai clan: the Obu - but this has yet to be
confirmed or denied]
Tsuneyasu was apparently the third a son of Tsunekane,
so his own offspring would constitute a side-branch of the family.
The 'moon-star' mon:
Other mon also used by the Chiba clan:
'moon-star' crest and Myoken Bosatsu, some notes:
The 'moon-star' (tsuki ni hoshi
月に星 or tsuki boshi 月星 in Japanese ) was originally (and
still is) the emblem of Myoken Bosatsu, that is, the Bodhisattva
During the Heian period, Myoken was adopted as tutelary deity
of the Chiba clan, and along with the bosatsu, they also
adopted the 'moon-star' crest as a mon. (It seems this
adoption was in recognition that Myoken had afforded protection
in battle to one of the Chiba-clan ancestors). It is interesting
to note that the crest, as it appears in the roof-edge decorations
on Chiba Castle, has an additional element - a diamond-cross in
the centre (but this is a decorative feature, not part of the
commonly referred to as a Bosatsu, Myoken (originally an Indian
deity: Sudrsti) is more properly a ten - a deity
of non-Buddhist origin.
is the deity associated with the Polaris (aka the Pole Star, or
North Star) and the 'Big Dipper'/'Great Bear' constellation, both
of which (star and constellation) have been essential for ships
navigators. For this reason, Myoken has been worshipped - by sailors,
merchants and others who rely on the sea for their livelihood
- as the Bosatsu of safe voyage.
deity is also considered to generally bring luck and prosperity,
and to afford protection from fires,
well as being an apotropaic deity (one capable of averting or
combating evil), Myoken - the "keen-sighted" or "wondrous
seeing"- is also considered a healing deity, and is specifically
associated with the prevention/healing of diseases of the eyes.
Myoken (some times depicted as male, sometimes female) is also
said to have the power to increase ones lifespan
is strongly associated with the Nichiren sect. One legend states
the reason for this being that that Myoken once appeared to the
founder Nichiren; however another view is that Myoken-worship
only became significant in Nichiren after the Chiba clan
became followers of the sect.