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Was Mikao Usui really descended from the fabled Chiba clan?
Copyright 2006 James Deacon  
[Modified, 2012]

Usui-sensei's family tomb stands in a graveyard at the Jodo shu (Pure Land sect) Saihoji Temple, Tokyo.

On 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.

A 'moon-star' mon is familiar throughout Japan as being an emblem of the famous samurai clan: the Chiba.*

So does this mean Usui-sensei was of Chiba samurai ancestry? Well, so we are led to believe.

Afterall, 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 Chiba** - but a Chiba none-the-less]

Yet 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 or Tsuneyasu.

And 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.

Yes, 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.

For 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 name.
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.

However, 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 pleasant associations.
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)

As 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.

(The 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)

Obviously, 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] .

It 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:


version of Chiba 'Moon-star'


version of 

'Moon-star' mon at






nine star crest


"Crest of Nine Stars."



- Moon-star & Kuyoboshi  


The 'moon-star' crest and Myoken Bosatsu, some notes:

The 'moon-star'  (t
suki 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 Myoken.  
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 mon itself).

Whilst commonly referred to as a Bosatsu, Myoken (originally an Indian deity: Sudrsti) is more properly a ten - a deity of non-Buddhist origin.

Myoken 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.

This deity is also considered to generally bring luck and prosperity, and to afford protection from fires,

As 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

Myoken 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. 

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