There is much that will remain unknown about the history of Reiki practice, and precisely what changes were made along the way. Misinformation and myth abounds, but new credible information is slowly emerging. The following is an overview.
Mikao Usui (1865-1926) was a lifelong spiritual aspirant and family man who created a system of practices for spiritual self-development from which Reiki practice as we know it today developed. Those who sought Usui’s help first received Reiki treatment through light touch. They were then taught his techniques for spiritual development and healing, and expected to practice diligently. Usui is said to have had little patience for those who were not prepared to make self-effort. Usui emphasized the importance of principled lifestyle, and offered his students Precepts to guide their behavior and demeanor.
Toward the end of his life, it seems Usui was approached by one of the Reiki masters he trained, Chujiro Hayashi (1878-1940), who wanted to develop the healing techniques separately for those not interested to engage in stringent spiritual practice. Usui, perhaps curious to explore the effectiveness of the healing techniques outside the context of spiritual practices, agreed, and asked Hayashi to write a handbook. This collaboration led to the practice of Reiki as it is known throughout the world today, including the foundational hand positions later taught by Hayashi’s student Hawayo Takata.
Five years after Usui’s death, Hayashi adapted the techniques further from the context of spiritual practice and more in the direction of a spiritual healing intervention. Although Usui had sometimes used the term Reiki, it is likely Hayashi who started using the term consistently. Hayashi had a small eight treatment table clinic in Tokyo where his students offered Reiki treatment in pairs.
Hawayo Takata (1900-1980) came to Hayashi’s clinic in the 1930s with serious respiratory and abdominal complaints. Takata was first-generation Japanese-American, a young widow with two small daughters. She was healed after three weeks of treatment, and petitioned to be trained in Reiki. Hayashi agreed, a radical and courageous decision to accept an American as a student at a time when only Japanese were trained. Takata learned First and Second degree Reiki from Hayashi. She offered Reiki in the clinic in the mornings and made housecalls in the afternoon. By the time she returned home to Hawaii in the summer of 1936, Takata had extensive experience both receiving and offering Reiki treatment, and had spent considerable time with her Reiki master, Chujiro Hayashi. Hayashi’s Reiki master, Mikao Usui, had made a point of sharing the beginning teachings openly with the public, which ran counter to Japanese tradition. Hayashi took this a step further, telling Takata to bring Reiki practice to America, and promising to support her efforts with a visit.
Takata accepted a profound challenge when she agreed to carry Reiki practice from the supportive womb of Japanese culture into 20th century isolationist America. In the subsequent decades, she distilled the essence of Reiki practice and organized it in a way Americans (and eventually the rest of the world) could grasp and practice, a form that combined American pragmatism with the potential offered by initiated practice, a potential that can only be actualized with disciplined, consistent practice over time.
As part of the transition from Japan to the United States, Takata developed a teaching story of Reiki’s origins that was palatable to American cultural and political sensibilities (this was just before World War II, and anti-Japanese sentiment was already strong in the US), a story in which Mikao Usui appeared as a Christian minister. Takata used the story as a teaching tool to illustrate various points about Reiki practice and illustrate traditional Japanese spiritual values.
As promised, Hayashi and his daughter came to Hawaii and spent 6 months with Takata. On February 21, 1938, Hayashi made a public announcement and signed a certificate acknowledging Takata as a fully credentialed Reiki master, the first woman Reiki master, and at the time, the only Reiki master outside Japan.
Takata made Reiki practice and teaching her life’s work. She shared Reiki practice in Hawaii and began visiting the US mainland frequently starting in 1973. Takata died in December 1980, having initiated 22 Reiki masters. The Reiki Alliance is an international organization of Reiki masters committed to an ethical, disciplined practice of Reiki as the legacy of Hawayo Takata.
As a direct consequence of Takata’s courage, her trust in Reiki practice and in her Reiki master, and her personal insight, discipline and skill, the practice of Reiki rapidly encircled the globe. In the process of this rapid expansion, however, many practitioners abandoned Takata’s standards for Reiki education and practice. Traditionally, a Reiki student would have substantial practice, as Takata did, before teaching. It is not uncommon today for students to take a weekend training, view themselves as Reiki masters, and begin teaching immediately. If you are interested to receive Reiki treatment or learn to practice Reiki, it is always important to inquire into a Reiki master’s experience and education.