Is it Accurate to Categorize a Reiki Style as “Japanese” or “Western”?

In late May, I was fortunate to attend the first of a webinar series given by Dr. Justin Stein on the history of Reiki. Dr. Stein is a well-known Reiki scholar and has researched and written extensively on Reiki and the cultural context in which it arose. What follows is a brief summary of Dr. Stein’s first webinar, posted with permission.

East Meets West: Varieties of Reiki Practice

According to Dr. Stein, different styles of Reiki are commonly categorized as “Japanese” or “Western.” However, there are two main problems with this categorization. First, Usui, given his historical context, could not have escaped being influenced by the West, including American Spiritualism. Second, Japanese Reiki styles have developed to some extent in relation to Western Reiki, and therefore have been influenced by it.

Dr. Stein sees all Reiki forms as hybrids of Japanese and Western elements, with the Western content varying substantially between lineages. All styles have much in common: all are seen as promoting healing in a holistic manner, all are based on a natural ability that is awakened by a teacher and deepened through practice, all trace their lineage back to Usui, all are taught in graduated levels, and all are centered around a set of basic principles known as the gyokai or the Reiki precepts.

There are also elements that differ between Reiki styles. Some use meditation and recitation practices, while others do not contain these teachings or do not emphasize them. The exact procedures for awakening Reiki in students vary across time and between styles. The type of touch and hand positions are different, again across time and between styles. In addition, there are variations in symbol usage, anatomical understanding, the role of conscious intention, whether or not spiritual entities such as Buddha or angels are included in practice, and the attitude towards promotion and advertising.

When these differences are looked at across styles, there is very little consistency within the two supposed categories of “Japanese Reiki” and “Western Reiki.” On the other hand, when we look closely at Mrs. Takata’s work, especially keeping in mind her need to reach a Western audience in the mid- to late-1900s, we can see that what she presented was quite similar to Usui’s and Hayashi’s teachings.

Most of the new elements in non-traditional Western Reiki styles occurred after Takata. Some years ago, the late Phyllis Furumoto, Takata’s successor as spiritual lineage bearer of the “Western” Usui Shiki Ryoho style of Reiki, met with members of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, widely acknowledged as the most traditional Reiki organization in Japan. The teachers of the Gakkai expressed surprise at the similarities between what Ms. Furumoto learned from Mrs. Takata, and what they had learned from their teachers. And of course, even in the Gakkai, teachings have varied across time due to changes in societal context.

Upcoming Webinars

I found Dr. Stein’s discussion of similarities and differences between Reiki styles to be enlightening, and I am looking forward to his upcoming webinars, which are on June 28, July 26, August 30, and September 27. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Reiki Centers of America and will be dedicated to the English translation of an important Reiki book. For more information, see https://reikicentersofamerica.org/reiki-webinar-series/

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