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REIKI IS - a Mysterious Turtle?!
Copyright © 2008 James Deacon


Over the years, I have come across several instances of supposedly authorative and well-informed sources claiming that the word 'reiki' (as in Usui Reiki Ryoho) denotes, amongst other things, something 'spooky' or supernatural; or that it refers to a ghost, or evil spirit/demon; or alternatively, that it is an ancient Shinto symbol of protection and good luck.

However, it would seem that such statements are simply due to misunderstanding and confusion on the part of those making the claims.

In the English language we encounter many sets of 'homophones': words which are pronounced in the same way, yet differ in spelling, or in meaning, or both.

In the majority of cases, homophonic sets are limited to only two words, for example:
Bare and Bear; Weak and Week; Heal and Heel; Be and Bee; Sea and See; So and Sew, etc.

There are far fewer sets comprised of three words, for example:
I, Eye and Aye

Fewer still of four, such as:
Right, Rite, Write and Wright

However in the Japanese language, we encounter several homophonic sets containing many more words.

One example is the word transliterated into the 'Roman' alphabet as: 'reiki'

While Japanese can be written phonetically*, it is primarily written using kanji (idiogramatic characters). Unlike the phonetic system (which merely records the sounds of the words), kanji are indicative of the actual meaning of the words.

Most people involved with the therapeutic/spiritual discipline that is Reiki Ryoho are familiar with the kanji characters used to write the 'reiki' part of the name, i.e:

The traditional form:
and the modern, simplified form:.

While at a very basic level, these kanji refer to 'spiritual energy', they also mean:
'aura' (i.e. the emanation of spirit around the body)**
'spiritual essence'
'spiritual influence'
'spiritual feeling'
and, as an adjective, also simply mean: 'Spiritual'

However, as mentioned, our word Reiki (as in 'Usui Reiki Ryoho') is one of a set of homophones - and quite a large set at that.

Other Japanese words transliterated as 'reiki', yet written using different kanji-combinations, and having very different meanings, include***:


cold; chill; cold weather; cold air; etc

...... a refrigeration unit
(literally: 'cold engine' or 'cold machine')
...... (electrical) stimulation or excitation ...... a statute or established rule

There are also several words romanized as 'reiki' which are girls names, such as:


Others which are non-gender specific names, including:


Others still which are surnames, e.g:

And interestingly, one:

....... which is the name of a mystical, supernaturally- possessed, sword in the popular Japanese manga (comic book) series Tenjho Tenge


....... indicating 'Ghosts and Demons':

And another:


which, as mentioned in the title of this article, means 'mysterious turtle'
- an ancient Japanese symbol / omen of Good Luck.


Yet none of these have anything to do with the word ‘reiki’ as used to refer to the system of healing and spiritual development as developed by Mikao Usui..



* Japanese makes use of two phonetic systems - hiragana and katakana. One is used to provide suffixes and prefixes to kanji characters, and to write purely Japanese words, while the other is used primarily on official documents and to write words of foreign origin.

** Thus, 'Reiki Ryoho' can also have the connotation of 'Aura-healing Method'

*** The phonetic (katakana) form of the word 'reiki':

can be used in place of any of the kanji versions of the word 'reiki' shown in this article; however, seen in isolation, when the word is written using the phonetic form, it is impossible to be sure just which particular 'reiki' is being referred to.

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