Mikao Usui, or Usui Sensei as he is called by his students in Japan, was born on August 15, 1865 in the village of Taniai in the Yamagata district of Gifu prefecture, which is located near present day Nagoya, Japan. It is thought that he entered a Tendai Buddhist school on or near Mt. Kurama (“horse saddle mountain”) at age four.
He also studied kiko, the Japanese version of qigong, which is a health and healing discipline based on the development and use of life energy. The young Usui found that these healing methods required the practitioner to build up and then deplete his own life energy when giving treatments. He wondered if it were possible to do healing work without depleting one’s own energy.
Usui Sensei had an avid interest in learning and worked hard at his studies. He traveled to Europe and China to further his education. His curriculum included medicine, psychology, and religion as well as the art of divination, which Asians have long considered to be a worthy skill. Some think that he was from a wealthy family, as in Japan only the wealthy could afford to send their children to school although others think this was not the case. Eventually he became the secretary to Shinpei Goto, head of the department of health and welfare who later became the Mayor of Tokyo. The connections Usui Sensei made at this job helped him to become a successful businessman. Usui Sensei was also a member of the Rei Jyutu Ka, a metaphysical group dedicated to developing psychic abilities. In March 1922 Usui Sensei’s personal and business life was failing. As a sensitive spiritualist, Usui Sensei had spent much time meditating at power spots on Mt. Kurama where he had received his early Buddhist training. So he decided to spend some time on this holy mountain to see if he could discover a solution to his personal problems; he was not seeking to discover a method of healing as some have said. He enrolled in Isyu Guo, a twenty-one-day training course sponsored by the Tendai Buddhist Temple located there. We do not know for certain what he was required to do during this training.
When this happened, he was filled with excitement and went running down the mountain. On his way down he stubbed his toe on a rock and fell down. And in the same way anyone would do, he placed his hands over the toe, which was in pain. As he did this, healing energy began flowing from his hands all by itself. The pain in his toe went away and the toe was healed. Usui Sensei was amazed by this. He realized that in addition to the illuminating experience he had received, he had also received the gift of healing.
Usui Sensei practiced this new ability with his family and developed his healing system through experimentation and by using skills and information based on his previous study of religious practices, philosophy, and spiritual disciplines. He called his system of healing Shin-Shin Kai-Zen Usui Reiki Ryo-Ho (The Usui Reiki Treatment Method for Improvement of Body and Mind) or in its simplified form Usui Reiki Ryoho (Usui Reiki Healing Method).
In April 1922, he moved to Tokyo and started a healing society that he named Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai (Usui Reiki Healing Method Society). He also opened a Reiki clinic in Harajuku, Aoyama, Tokyo. There he taught classes and gave treatments.
The lowest degree of his training was called Shoden (First Degree) and was divided into four levels: Loku-Tou, Go-Tou, Yon-Tou, and San-Tou. (Note that when Mrs. Takata taught this level, which in the West we refer to as Reiki Level I, she combined all four levels into one. This is most likely why she did four attunements for Level I.) The next degree was called Okuden (Inner Teaching) and had two levels: Okuden-Zen-ki (first part), and Okuden-Koe-ki (second part). The next degree was called Shinpiden (Mystery Teaching), which is what we call master level. The Shinpiden level includes, Shihan-Kaku (assistant teacher) and Shihan (venerable teacher).
Contrary to previous understanding, Usui Sensei had only three symbols, the same three we use in the West in Reiki II. He did not use a master symbol. This fact has been verified by Hiroshi Doi and by research done by Hyakuten Inamoto, Arjava Petter and Tadao Yamaguchi.
In 1923, the great Kanto earthquake devastated Tokyo. More than 140,000 people died and over half of the houses and buildings were shaken down or burned. An overwhelming number of people were left homeless, injured, sick and grieving. Usui Sensei felt great compassion for the people and began treating as many as he could with Reiki. This was a tremendous amount of work, and it was at this time that he began training other Shihan (teachers). It was also at this time that he developed methods including a more formal Reiju (attunement) process.
Demand for Reiki became so great that he outgrew his clinic, so in 1925 he built a bigger one in Nakano, Tokyo. Because of this, his reputation as a healer spread all over Japan. He began to travel so he could teach and treat more people. During his travels across Japan he directly taught more than 2,000 students and initiated twenty Shihan, each approved to teach in the same way he did.
The Japanese government issued him a Kun San To award for doing honorable work to help others. While traveling to Fukuyama to teach, he suffered a stroke and died March 9, 1926. His grave is at Saihoji Temple, in Suginami, Tokyo, although some claim that his ashes are located elsewhere.
There were many hands-on healing schools in Japan at the time Usui Sensei started his school. These other schools were not part of Usui Reiki. There may have been some connection between Reiki and MahiKari and Johrei as these two Japanese religions have a Reiju like (attunement) process and offer people healing through the hands. After Usui Sensei died, his students erected a memorial stone next to his gravestone. Mr. J. Ushida, a Shihan trained by Usui took over as president of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, and was responsible for creating and erecting the Usui Memorial stone and ensuring that the grave site would be maintained. Mr. Ushida was followed by Mr. lichi Taketomi, Mr. Yoshiharu Watanabe, Mr. Toyoichi Wanami, and Ms. Kimiko Koyama. The current successor to Usui Sensei is Mr. Kondo, who became president in 1998