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REIKI-WEST MEETS REIKI-EAST
:
Genuine 'Japanese-lineage Reiki' or simply a
Western, 'New Age' import, redressed in Japanese clothing?
Copyright © 2005/6 James Deacon
[updated: Jan. 13, 2006]

 

The late 1970's saw the beginning of what could be described as Japan's 'New Age' boom, with a growing interest in everything from UFO's to channeling to Chinese Chi Gung to magical protection to crystals to Tarot cards to dolphin-communication and Tibetan chanting.

Through the 1980's and 1990's, New Age magazines such as 'My Birthday', and 'Mð', rapidly grew in popularity, with monthly sales reaching over a third of a million copies. The number of shops selling New Age and omajinai (magic) goods also mushroomed, as did the number and variety of New Age-related training seminars being offered across Japan.

Many alternative forms of healing (often imported from the West) also began to grow in popularity...

Reiki, it seems, was one of them.

In the mid 1980's Mieko Mitsui had introduced Barbara Ray's version of Reiki to Japan - training a number of students to level 2. (And it is known that at least one of Mitsui's students later travelled to the USA to undergo Alliance-style Master level training.)

Through the late 1980's and into the early 1990's, several other western Reiki teachers had temporarily visited Japan, providing training for small numbers of students.

Though it seems it was not until April 1993 that the first western Reiki teacher (Frank Petter) set up a permanent Reiki teaching presence in Japan - offering training in all three levels. [Petter had apparently only received his own attunement to all three levels - in Berlin - towards the end of 1992].

Yet, while there had been a growing interest in Reiki amongst the Japanese, there seems to have been very little interest in delving into the native origins of the art.

It could be said that with all things 'New Age' related, it is - in part at least - the allure of the exotic, the unknown, the culturally 'other', that fuels interest in the subject - and the growing interest in Reiki amongst the Japanese was essentially a part of their 'New Age' scene.
It turned out that on the whole, the Japanese who were drawn to the art of Reiki - either as clients or as students - weren't interested in homegrown Reiki - they wanted 'proper' Reiki - from America!

Of course, for those western Reiki practitioners who had had the opportunity to visit Japan, it was a very different matter. They were in, the main, eager to attempt to discover whatever they could about native Japanese Reiki.

And soon, several of the Japanese practitioners, who had been trained in western-style Reiki by Mieko Mitsui and others, began to find they were being contacted by growing numbers of gaijin (foreigners) wanting to know if they also practiced 'Japanese-style' Reiki, or if not, if they could at least tell them something about it and how it differed from their own 'western-style' Takata-lineage Reiki.

It seems that a couple of these Japanese practitioners (who had neither any actual knowledge of, nor any real interest in, native Japanese Reiki) told the gaijin who contacted them that the Reiki they practiced was actually a hybrid: part western-style, part Japanese-style.

Were they being intentionally deceitful? Well, no, not really.

In fact technically, their claims were only partly a lie - and, to the mindset of these particular Japanese practitioners, a 'white lie' at that.

To their way of thinking, part of what they were practicing was indeed Japanese Reiki - had not the essential core of Reiki as introduced from the west actually originated in Japan? And from what was understood, the system as taught in America by Takata was almost exactly what she in turn had learnt from Hayashi in Japan.

And afterall, these gaijin had obviously come a long distance in search of native Reiki. To be seen to be unable to help them - to have to dishearten them and turn them away empty-handed - would have been impolite.
It would have also meant a 'loss of face'.

Then, one of the English-speaking Japanese practitioners, in a genuine attempt to provide his western 'Reiki-cousins' with some factual information, made a fortuitous discovery.
After a little research he had managed to uncover what he considered a really helpful source of Reiki-related information.
Over a period of several weeks, in several discussions with some of the gaijin, this Japanese Reiki practitioner freely shared several - as the gaijin saw it - 'precious nuggets' of information concerning Chujiro Hayashi.
He told them how Hayashi and Usui had first met in a place called Shizuoka. That Hayashi had been 45 years old at the time. He mentioned that Hayashi had previously been a Commander in the Imperial Navy, but although technically retired when he met Usui, he was still part of the Naval Reserves.
The Japanese practitioner also told the gaijin that Hayashi had a wife named Chie, and one son and one daughter. He said that Hayashi had his own clinic in Tokyo, that he also had a home there, as well as having a summer villa in Atami, near Mt. Fuji. He further explained how it was at the villa, surrounded by his senior students, that Hayashi had committed suicide.
The Japanese practitioner also provided them with the exact date that Hayashi ended his life: May 10, 1940.
He said that, after her husband's suicide, Chie Hayashi continued to live in their Tokyo home, and took over running his Reiki Clinic. And that apparently, Chie Hayashi was still actually running the clinic some 14 years after Hayashi's death.

Needless to say, the foreigners were fascinated to learn this wonderful information concerning Chujiro Hayashi, so graciously provided by their new-found Japanese Reiki contact.

He, in turn, was pleased that they were pleased.

However, one wonders if they were perhaps less appreciative when they realized the actual source of this information?
That their contact had gained all of this valuable Hayashi-related information - not as the gaijin might possibly have imagined - from some Reiki Master in a surviving native Japanese lineage, but instead, from tape recordings of talks given in the 1970's in America - by Takata sensei...

And there were other Japanese practitioners of imported 'Western' Reiki who found themselves in the awkward position of having gaijin pressing them for all sorts of other Reiki-related information. For example, wanting to know about the particular training methods used in early 'Japanese-style' Reiki, or the precise origins of the symbols, the exact meanings of their names; information about the initiations; Usui sensei's background, his spiritual and religious beliefs, etc. etc.

No doubt there were those amongst them who, though not actually having the requested information to share, yet at the same time not wishing to appear impolite, simply told their gaijin 'Reiki-cousins' what they thought they wanted to hear - albeit in somewhat vague and noncommittal terms - agreeing with assumptions, and taking cues from the many 'leading questions' that, in their overeagerness, the foreigners would certainly have asked. Afterall, what harm would it do?

For example, one or two 'influential' gaijin Reiki Masters had begun incorporating Chi Gung derived exercises into their Reiki training classes. The primary reason for this, it seems, was in an attempt to strengthen the flow of Reiki energy, which (possibly due to various modifications made - by themseves and others - to the system as it had originally been taught by Takata-Sensei) had, in the opinion of many practitioners, become noticably less potent.
Was it, one wonders, sheer coincidence that in discussion with their new-found Japanese contacts, these same gaijin were to learn that Usui-sensei had apparently also taught his students a set of energy-development exercises - from something called 'ki-ko'? (Ki-ko is the Japanese pronunciation of the term 'Chi Gung') [1]

And when the gaijin began asking about Usui's religion - well, the foreigners themselves had already decided that, contrary to what Mrs. Takata had claimed, Usui was not a Christian. (Now, to a great many Japanese, Shinto is not actually spoken of in terms of being a 'religion,' per se) So when the gaijin asked what religion Usui practiced, well, unless he belonged to one of the so-called 'new religions' then in all likelihood he must have been a Buddhist of some sort. So that is what they let the foreigners believe. Afterall, it was probably true - just not definitely true.

During the 90's, several western Reiki Masters (having completely missed the inner significance of the use of symbols in relation to Japanese spiritual-transmission traditions) had decided that the symbols might not be all that necessary to the Reiki system of healing. They had, it seems, begun to view the symbols as little more than 'training wheels' - something for the novice level 2 student to work with, then discard as their abilities developed.
How pleased they must have felt when - on sharing these opinions with their Japanese counterparts - they were told that in Usui-sensei's original Reiki Society (which still existed, but perhaps conveniently wanted nothing to do with gaijin Reiki practitioners), the Reiki symbols were also no longer used [2]. Moreover, that they had not even been part of the original form of Usui-sensei's Reiki, but had been added at a later date - simply as a training aid for students!


And we know that in at least one instance, when someone asked a leading question along the lines of: "Did Hayashi teach Reiki in 2 and 3-day classes like we do today?" the answer received was (predictably) in the affirmative. And again: "Is it known if he also taught levels 1 & 2 back-to-back like we do today?" Of course, in yet another attempt to please, the answer was again a 'yes'. (At the time of answering, this particular Japanese practitioner was obviously unaware that, as we know from Takata-sensei, initial tuition for the first level consisted of four days of training - second level tuition not being given until the student had showed progress in developing their skills at level one. Also, that the concept of teaching Reiki levels back-to-back was actually something devised by 'Independent' western Reiki Masters - but not until several years after Takata sensei's passing.)


And so it was that what had started out as a series of simple attempts to be polite (and find 'face-saving' ways to respond to the requests made by honoured guests), would - further down the line - lead to much misunderstanding (as to the individuals' motivation) and also confusion (as to the 'hard facts' concerning native Japanese Reiki).

It was part of the culture - to attempt to fulfil your guests' requests - but it was also proper for a guest not to be too demanding. It was impolite to have to say no - it was also impolite to (however unintentionally) force a host into the position where they were unable to fulfil your requests - it was even worse not to recognize that this was what you were doing. And many of these gaijin were so 'blunt' - didn't seem to grasp Japanese sensibilities - always 'in your face' and (albeit unintentionally) aggressive - and, in their enthusiasm, ever pushing for more, more.

In time, many Japanese practitioners became frustrated with the seemingly endless demands for information they did not have. Several eventually realized they would have to adopt a western-like mindset response - and, at the risk of 'loss of face' - admit they were unable to be of help their 'Reiki-cousins' from the west.

However, sad though it may be, in Reiki (both 'Western' and 'Japanese'), just as in any other area of life, there are always unscrupulous, dishonourable people willing to take advantage.

Several such people it seems, were quick to latch on to some of the more wide-eyed and over-trusting gaijin Reiki practitioners who have ventured forth in search of the 'secrets' concerning native Japanese Reiki...


To be continued...

 

_______________________________

NOTES:
[1] While ki-ko, as a New Age import, became popular in Japan from the late 1970's onward, it is unlikely that Usui-sensei would have been familiar with the name. Though it is indeed the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term 'Chi Gung', it seems the Chinese had only begun using the term 'Chi Gung' to describe these particular practices some time around the 1950's.

[2] While initially it was said that the symbols were no longer used in the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, now it seems they are still used. It was also said they did not have names, but were simply referred to as : Symbol 1, symbol 2, etc. Now it seems, the Gakkai does use names for them afterall!


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