O-Sensei Mikao Usui was born on 15th. August 1865.
Mikao Usui was born in the village of Taniai, now called Miyama-cho,in the Gifu Prefecture on 15th August, 1865. His ancestors had lived there for eleven generations. His ancestry dated back to the Chiba clan, once an influential samurai family. Significantly for his life, his family followed the esoteric Buddhism of the Tendai sect. At the age of four he was sent to a Tendai Monastery to receive his primary education. Mikao Usui had three brothers, one named Sanya, another named Kuniji, while the third name is unknown. He also had an older sister called Tsuru. His father’s name was Uzaemon and his mother came from the Kawai family.
Born as a privileged member of a class-based system, Mikao Usui was educated accordingly. At the age of 12, Usui began martial arts training, studying ‘Aiki Jutsu’ and ‘Yagyu Ryu’ and attained a high degree of proficiency. Usui spoke many languages and became well informed on medicine, theology and philosophy. Usui’s memorial states that from the beginning he was outstanding and outshone his fellow students, knowledgeable in history, medicine, Buddhist and Christian scriptures and Waka poetry.
Usui was born during a period of major change. The1868 Meiji restoration, under the Meiji emperor (born 1852 – died 1912), brought in a regime of rapid social, military and industrial modernisation. The country had been re-opened up to Westerners by the previous regime and following the treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1858, some of the first Western arrivals had been Catholic and Protestant missionaries. Japanese people were officially banned from Christianity until 1873. Westerners taught students science and medicine among other subjects.
The missionaries first set up centres in Nagasaki and Kanagawa. The most influential centre for spreading Christianity through Japan was in Yokohama, under the influence of Rev. James Ballagh. There grew a frenzy of westernising every aspect of life. In every area of social and political life, men with some knowledge of science were promoted to high position. Every ambitious young man wanted to read the West’s ‘horizontal writings’ and men with the ‘new knowledge’ were almost idolised. Young people, many pupils of missionaries, were sent abroad to study subjects such as law, mining, music, chemistry. The motto of the era, Meiji, meant ‘Enlightenment’.
Usui’s father, Uzaemon, adopted the progressive political views of the new regime. Usui greatly respected his father and was very influenced by the national obsession to Westernise.
As an adult, Usui lived in Kyoto. He married Sadako Suzuki and had two children, a son named Fuji and a daughter named Toshiko. He continued his spiritual studies, becoming involved with a group named ‘Rei Jyutsu Ka’. This group had a centre at the base of the holy mountain, Kurama Yama, north of Kyoto.
An ancient Buddhist temple, Kurama-dera stands on the 1,700 ft mountain with a large statue of Bishamonten (Guardian of the North), one of the Four Directional Guardians. This central image is flanked by Senju Kannon on one side and by Son-ten on the other, in the form of an old man. The temple houses many artifacts that are part of Japan’s National Treasure. Built in 770 AD, the temple originally belonged to the Tendai sect, however, by 1945, it had become home to an independent Buddhist sect that also worshiped the Shinto deity Son-ten. As a place of spiritual renown, Kurama is a place of prayer to which the famous as well as the unknown are drawn. Usui is said to have gone to this area to meditate.
While living in Kyoto, it is said that Usui deepened his meditation studies and undertook lengthy retreats to further his spiritual development. Sources say that he trained in Shingon Buddhism. He is also thought to have undertaken the position of a lay Tendai priest (Zaike) and is said to have adopted the Buddhist name of Gyoho. He also invested considerable time and money studying and collecting Buddhist scriptures. He especially studied Buddhist healing techniques and invested enormous amounts of money collecting old medical texts. Usui had good political and academic connections and had many contacts in various countries seeking out texts. In Bombay merchants following the silk route through Tibet to China were given gold to find hidden Buddhist healing texts from these two countries.
Usui did much of his research in Kyoto, as it was home to many large and extensive Buddhist libraries and monasteries with collections of ancient texts. Usui persevered in collecting, studying and practicing using these texts, becoming an advanced practitioner and master of meditation. As a result, he became respected as a Buddhist teacher with a following of devoted students. They met regularly with Usui teaching from the texts that he had been collecting. The group practised rituals to avert new diseases that were ravaging Japan, as well as practices for healing every type of illness.
The Usui memorial states that he did not begin teaching his system of healing until 1922, however other sources state that he began teaching long before this. Mariko Suzuki, who was a cousin of Usui’s wife is said to have begun her training with him in 1915. Other people trace his system of healing back to the late 1890s.
The Usui Memorial states that one day Usui made a decision to undertake an an intensive meditation retreat on Mount Kurama, performing the practice of "shyu gyo". It was after this that he gained his insight into healing. According to a number of sources including the memorial stone, a great energy appeared above his head and he was empowered with the Universal healing energy. Using all he had learnt before and his degree of spiritual training, he put together a system of healing which became known as Usui Shiki Ryoho.
After much thought and contemplation, it was his decision to share these teachings. It is said that he exchanged his knowledge, techniques and ideas with people who included the founder of Akido, Morihei Ueshiba and Onisaburo Deguchi, founder of the Omoto religion. Usui first practised Reiki on his family and friends. Next he offered Reiki to Kyoto’s lower class district. Because Kyoto is a spiritual centre, the people in the streets were taken in and cared for. So Usui opened his home to many and with unbounded compassion brought them Reiki. This also gave him the opportunity to perfect and refine what he was teaching. He continued to hold regular classes for his growing number of Buddhist followers.
What Usui taught to each person may have depended on the individual student’s level of understanding and ability. His earlier teachings were perhaps less formalised. There were teachings that used mantra and kotodama and teachings that used meditation methods. The practice of healing was central.
In April 1922, Usui moved to Tokyo where he worked as the secretary to Shinpei Goto, at that time Mayor of Tokyo. Usui opened a Reiki clinic in Harajuku, Aoyama, where the Meiji Jingu shrine had been built in 1920. He began to set up classes and teach his system of Reiki. Many students are said to have come to study with him.
The Usui memorial is located at the Saihoji temple in the Suginami district of Tokyo. It was erected by Usui Sensei’s students shortly after his death. It is maintained by the Usui Shiki Reiki Ryoho, the organization started by Usui Sensei. The memorial stone is about 10 feet tall and 4 feet wide. The inscription on the Usui Memorial was written in old Japanese by Mr. Okata, a member of the Usui Shiki Reiki Ryoho and Mr. Ushida, who became president after Usui Sensei’s passing.