Going Overseas: Reiki Beyond Japan

The third webinar in Dr. Justin Stein’s 2020 series on the history of Reiki examined the beginnings of Reiki’s movement beyond Japan, including the nature of Takata’s training, how Reiki spread in Hawaii, and what changes occurred in that process. Dr. Stein is a well-known Reiki scholar and has researched and written extensively on Reiki and the cultural context in which it arose. This blog is a summary of Dr. Stein’s third webinar, posted with permission.

Hayashi Reiki Kenkyukai

In 1938, there were 4-5,000 members in Hayashi’s Reiki organization in Japan. The headquarters were in Tokyo, with branches in Kyoto, Nagoya, Daishoji, Chichibu, Sendai Morioka, and Aomori. There were 13 teachers (shihan), and there may have been additional assistant teachers (shihan-kaku) certified to teach level 1 only (shoden).

In looking at how Hayashi-trained practitioners conducted sessions, we have a few sources. One is an article by Matsui Shoo, a student of Hayashi. From this source, it appears that practitioners sometimes treated with one hand at a time, or even just a few fingers. Treatments were often quite long, and might involve multiple practitioners. Especially for serious illness, treatments might be given every day for several days. Matsui recounts treating a woman who seemed near death for six consecutive days, 7-8 hours per day. In a testimonial, a Reiki recipient describes an initial session of 2-3 hours, conducted by Matsui and 2 assistants.

Sessions were generally given with the recipients lying down, on futons or mats. Hayashi’s treatment manual describes sets of hand positions for treating particular conditions; his manual is similar to the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai’s handbook. Some describe recipients disrobing and receiving treatment under a quilt, but there are also indications that recipients were treated while clothed.

We have access to brief notes that Takata took during her Reiki 1 class with Hayashi. She writes that “in order to concentrate” the Reiki, the practitioner “must purify one’s thought…and to let the energy come out from within.” These concepts are very consistent with Buddhist theories of emanation of healing energy being linked to moral development. She adds that the energy is stored in the abdomen “about 2 inches below the navel,” which is consistent with Japanese Buddhist beliefs about the energy body.

Mrs. Takata writes to “sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, concentrate on your thoughts and relax, close your hand together and wait for the sign. Kindly and gently apply the hand starting from [either the heart or the head – writing not legible] downward.” This echoes a practice that Usui apparently taught, of sitting in Gassho (hands in prayer position), purifying one’s thoughts, and then waiting for a sign to begin treatment.

Mrs. Takata mentions, “the patient could be diagnosed just by the touch of hand,” which is apparently a reference to “byosen” – indications of the location of the source of disease by sensing energetic stimuli in the hands. She also addresses the mindset of the recipient. “The patient…must first purify one’s thoughts, feel comfortable and [have] a desire to get well…Gratitude is a great cure for the mind.” This emphasis on gratitude is consistent with the Reiki precepts.

Usui’s teaching system was apparently gradual, with various ranks and with practical examinations given to determine advancement, similar to a martial arts school. There were 3 main levels—shoden, okuden, and shinpiden—with sublevels in each. Hayashi seems to have had a similar system, although probably not as graduated. Classes were apparently 4-5 days long, with daily reiju (attunements). Hayashi may have taught the first two levels together under certain circumstances. Some students apprenticed at his clinics; during her initial training with Hayashi, Takata was a clinic apprentice.

Reiki in Hawaii

After her initial training, Takata returned to Hawaii in 1936. She treated clients in the afternoons and evenings, perhaps after her work day. She seems to have charged a fee for her treatments, but also offered free clinics. She was apparently teaching, perhaps only Reiki 1 as a shihan-kaku (assistant teacher). She returned to Japan in 1937 for further training. Takata seems to have been among the top students of Hayashi. She lived in Hayashi’s home, and traditionally in Japan, this would be the case if she were in the inner circle.

Hayashi travelled to Hawaii, arriving in October of 1937. From then until February 1938, he and Takata travelled throughout Hawaii teaching Reiki. This period was a continuation of her apprenticeship. Their classes seemed to have varied from 3 days to 5 days, with some of the five-day classes involving 2 hours of instruction per day. Class size was approximately 20 students, mostly women. They were taught in Japanese, and there were very few students who were not of Japanese origin. After Hayashi’s Hawaii trip, Mrs. Takata was apparently considered a fully-trained teacher by Hayashi, who gave her a certificate to that effect. Takata then regularly taught Reiki 1 and Reiki 2, mostly in Buddhist meeting spaces. She also ran a Reiki clinic.

Changes

Reiki practice apparently changed somewhat in the process of coming to Hawaii. It is difficult to discern exactly which changes Hayashi made prior to this period, which occurred during Hayashi’s time in Hawaii, and which Takata made afterwards.

That being said, overall, Takata’s way of practicing and teaching Reiki was quite similar to Japanese practice, particularly at first. Her early students were taught to use byosen (sensations in the hands) to determine the location of the cause of disease. They gave long treatments for no specific fee. Distance treatments were given by placing fingertips on a person’s photograph.

Some of her early students later criticized Takata for establishing a set fee for hour-long treatments. It is worth noting that Japanese cultural norms about reciprocity would likely have resulted in Japanese recipients paying practitioners a reasonable fee without the practitioners asking directly. Perhaps Takata discovered that the same reciprocity did not apply with non-Japanese or bicultural recipients. It is also worth noting that we have no information about Hayashi’s payment structure for Reiki sessions.

Takata had studied massage and naturopathy, and these apparently influenced her practice. She made nutritional recommendations, and also employed a stroke alongside the spine plus massage of feet and lower legs. However, it may be significant that a stroke alongside the spine is taught in at least one Reiki lineage that descended from Hayashi but not Takata.

At some point, recitation of poetry and the precepts in Hawaiian Reiki classes ceased. Perhaps we should note that these features might have been the most obviously Japanese elements of Reiki, and we are dealing here with Hawaii prior to and during the second world war. Takata advertised her classes prior to Pearl Harbor, but not afterwards. She also disbanded her Reiki clinics when the United States entered the war.

Takata taught in 3 levels. She reestablished a firm separation between first degree and second degree, which Hayashi apparently sometimes taught together. We don’t know why she made this change, but it might have been to make first degree more financially accessible.

Upcoming Webinars

Dr. Stein’s fifth and last webinar is on Sunday September 27: Unsolved Reiki Mysteries. 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/

Stay tuned for my upcoming blog summarizing Dr. Stein’s fourth webinar Coming to North America: One Woman’s Mission to Spread Reiki. This lecture examines Takata’s teaching of Reiki in the mainland United States.

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