Part 1 Tokyo
It’s hard to believe that 2 million people pass through Tokyo’s Shinjuku train station each day and yet there’s not one scrap of graffiti to be seen. This is Japan and this is where Reiki first began.
Reiki, for us, has always had a mysterious element. Who was Mikao Usui? What sort of person was he? What happened to his original teachings? Why are the Japanese so reticent to share information with people from the west? Is it true that Japanese students of his are still alive even though that would make them 100 years of age or more?
We step out at Shinjuku station and immediately hail a taxi to our ryokan or Japanese hotel. Check in time is strangely 4pm and it’s just 11am but the manager is kind enough to let us in earlier, “It’s been much quieter since the 11th of September” he explains. I had read in a Japanese magazine for foreign visitors that the Geisha were also on hard times as the Saudi businessmen were too scared to fly.
Our bags and suitcases are brushed off and our shoes are placed in a cupboard near the front door before we are allowed to cross the threshold into the ryokan itself. It is with precision that we are instructed and observed. This may be a cheap ryokan for Tokyo but it is the financial equivalent to a 4 star hotel in Sydney. Our room is just that – a room with the addition of tatami mats. The room is not new though immaculately clean. It has a square coffee table with 2 flat square cushions underneath it at one end and up the other, 2 rolled up futons for sleeping on. We also have our own toilet (with pictorial instructions on how to sit or stand, when relieving ones self, on the lid) and a bathroom. The shower head is attached to the wall at knee height with a half meter hose and a round knob waits to be pushed to eject 20 seconds of water. I watch Frans naked on his knees hosing his head with one hand and thumping the knob with the other – there are advantages to being short, especially in Japan!
Tokyo is definitely walls of neon, flashing light, coffee shops, noodle bars, gambling joints and high class European labelled clothes but there is also a sight here that any Reiki practitioner wouldn’t miss – Usui Sensei’s memorial stone. We couldn’t believe it when we realised it was within walking distance of our ryokan! We find the street name with ease and as we are about to enter it 2 Japanese come up to us and excitedly point down the end of a road. We look, and we look harder but we have no idea of what they are pointing at. Eventually they give up on us, nod politely and leave. There must be something there, we think. I look slightly upwards, above the buildings and in the distance I see a shape that looks curiously like Mt Fuji – Japan’s great volcanic tourist attraction. Is it visible from Tokyo? We don’t know but we shout after the the people a Japanese thank you, “arigato”, and gesture our appreciation. Mt Fuji! That must be an auspicious sign. Continuing on our way we walk down to the temple and graveyard. We use the hand water pump to fill a bucket with which to clean the memorial site of Usui Sensei. The religious statues of deities surround us as we follow our instructions to the site itself.
A massive menhur covered in old Japanese kanji tells the life story of Usui Sensei. It was erected by students of his in 1927, one year after his death. There is the Chiba samurai emblem from Usui Sensei’s family and an altar to place flowers on and wave incense over. There’s a stone Japanese lantern, some shrubs and a zen-like stone with a round indentation on its flat top which holds water. We wash the altar, place a flower on it and give thanks that our lives have changed since bringing Reiki into it. Oh, I almost forget – and we took many, many photos. Me and the stone, the stone and Frans, Frans, Bella and me and the stone etc.etc. Bella, our 2 year old daughter, stands there and sticks her tummy out and rubs it, looking just like one of the few photo’s of Usui Sensei that we know of. Click, gottcha.
We each spend time alone at the site to soak up its energy and have some time out. It’s always hard to imagine that you are in a foreign country and its often not till later that you realise you were there.
In retelling our visit I realise how peaceful we felt in Japan even though our time was limited and there was much to see and do before leaving. We had yet to meet with various Japanese Reiki Masters, we had yet to visit Mt Kurama and we had yet to experience Kyoto and it’s 1000 temples in the Autumn. And there was also one more plan which we weren’t sure how to carry out – the search for the 100 year old students of Usui Sensei. We had heard that they lived in Nara near Kyoto and we were planning to visit – would that be our lucky day?
Part 2 Kyoto
In part 1 of ‘In search of the roots of Reiki’ Frans and Bronwen Stiene, founders of the International House of Reiki, began their tour of Japan with a visit to Mikao Usui’s memorial stone in Tokyo. In part 2 they take the shinkansen and arrive in picturesque Kyoto.
Shinkansen. If you don’t know what that word means then you’re obviously not a Thomas the Train Engine fan – you see, it’s a train. But not just any train, this train is fast, very fast and looks like something out of the 21st century (oops shall we say 22nd then?).
We had bought our Japan Rail pass in Sydney before leaving. This allows foreigners to get a cheaper price on train tickets but you do need to buy it out of the country. Cheap it wasn’t but then everything is relative. This allowed us unlimited travel for 7 days. At the station we dropped by the little shops and bought ourselves boxes of compartmentalised food and nori rolls for our journey to Kyoto from Tokyo. Food prices are reasonable in Japan and we read in the local English newspaper that a Mac Donalds hamburger was now half the price of the same burger bought in 1990. Burgers weren’t on our menu but it was still an interesting fact.
The slimline train drew up to the station where every 6 metres a small Japanese woman in a pink frilly apron and white maids hat stood with her bucket of cleaning accessories. Each woman was identical and they all worked with the same driven force, efficient and effective. Inside the train we relaxed in the large comfortable chairs and wished we’d known that this was a smoking compartment. Aaaaghh. Young men and woman walked the isles while continuously showing off their wares (as talented as many a Wheel of Fortune hostess). These wares included luxuriously packed Japanese sweets which, once you get used to the mung bean paste, you can’t say ‘no’ to. This shinkansen travelled over 500 kilometres in 2 hours and not a drop of green tea was dropped on the carpet.
Our ryokan in Kyoto was beautifully traditional with sliding rice paper doors, wooden slats and a hot bath for the whole family. Three sisters have run this ryokan for over 30 years and it is well known as a safe house for foreigners. Here everyone speaks English and breakfast can either be the raw egg and sea weed job or, thankfully, toast.
We had very few visual ideas about Kyoto and had not thought that it could be so quaint. Wooden houses, quiet streets and lush, surrounding mountainsides made us feel safe and comfortable. We had organised to meet a Reiki master called Hyakuten san (san is the polite form) here. He is also the translator for other Japanese teachers including Hiroshi Doi and Mrs Yamaguchi. Hyakuten met us at the fashionable Starbucks cafe and we recognised him straightaway as he had been described to us as ‘a monk who looks curiously like Mikao Usui himself’. He also reminded us of a a jolly friar without the pate. Hyakuten san knew a great deal of what was happening with Reiki in Japan due to the fact the he translated for many of the Japanese teachers. He assured us that Reiki was a Japanese method (not Tibetan, Egyptian etc…) and he also commented that Reiki in the West had more to do with Dr Hayashi (one of Mikao Usui’s student teachers) than with Mikao Usui himself. People often think that it was Mrs Takata who made a lot of changes to Reiki but this may have happened even previous to that. It is interesting to note that the memorial stone was made one year after Mikao Usui’s death and that Dr Hayashi was not one of the students who wrote their names on it. It seems there may already have been a break between the students and some were going their own way. Hyakuten made no comment when we mentioned that there may be students of Mikao Usui alive today. We were still very curious about this and were hoping that at some point in our journey we might stumble across her tracks.
Japan was more beautiful than we had imagined and the people helpful, though reserved. We were happy that this was just the beginning of our journey and that we still had meetings to attend, Mt Kurama to climb and geishas to gawk at.
Part 3 Mrs Yamaguchi
In part 1 of ‘In search of the roots of Reiki’ Frans and Bronwen Stiene, founders of the International House of Reiki, began their tour of Japan with a visit to Mikao Usui’s memorial stone in Tokyo. In part 2 they took the shinkansen and arrived in picturesque Kyoto to meet with Reiki Master/monk Hyakuten san. In part 3 they meet up with a student of Chujiro Hayashi, an eighty five year old woman called Mrs Yamaguchi.
Hyakuten san lead us through the metro in Kyoto. A maze of underground alleyways and turnstiles. As, with most things in Japan, there is a petiteness to the train platforms and the trains seem to zip from station to station noiselessly. Our initial attempts at buying a ticket from a machine were beyond us (though we’ve occasionally had trouble with Sydney Rail – so perhaps that’s not surprising) and we were very thankful for Hyakuten’s help.
We arrived at Mrs Yamaguchi’s apartment bursting with curiosity. She was a student of Chujiro Hayashi (student of Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki) and was aged 85. She’s only been teaching for the last couple of years and we were wondering what she could tell us about Reiki, Chujiro Hayashi and Mikao Usui. Mrs Yamaguchi’s son, Tadao, met us at the door. He understood some English and spoke it too but seemed more confident allowing Hyakuten san to translate for him and his mother.
Mrs Yamaguchi looked in great health and had a jolly manner that made us feel quickly at ease. We sat on mats on the floor while she she sat an a low chair. Our two year old daughter bounced around Mrs Yamaguchi and she responded affectionately.
We were first asked why we were here. We explained that we had come to find out more about Reiki in Japan to help us with our teaching and to make a stronger connection with its history and energy. Mrs Yamaguchi began to tell her own story and how Reiki had become a part of her life. All the members of her family had become Reiki practitioners with either Chujiro Hayashi or his wife as a teacher, so it was only natural that she too would learn it. Chujiro Hayashi committed suicide at the beginning of World War II as he refused to join the war. His wife had told Mrs Yamaguchi this herself. In fact, his wife continued to teach Reiki after this event and taught many Japanese Reiki. Mrs Yamaguchi was in her late teens when she learnt Reiki from Chujiro Hayashi.
After Mrs Yamaguchi married she travelled to Manchuria, China, with her husband but had to flee when the Chinese took back their land from the Japanese. This meant that she left behind her all of her belongings – including her Reiki certificates and photos.
In her apartment she had a room in which 2 framed photos hung. One was of Chujiro Hayashi and the other, Mikao Usui. They looked to have been blown up and the faces cut out and placed on white cardboard. To the right of these was a scroll which Tadao told us was a replica of Chujiro Hayashi’s hand written Reiki precepts. On the facing wall were Reiki certificates signed by Chujiro Hayashi. Unfortunately these items were not from Mrs Yamaguchi but from other members of her family. Tadao said that his Uncle was helping him with collecting information on Chujiro Hayashi as people did not know much about him.
We were then shown a beautiful picture with Mikao Usui and what looked to be a group of his students. One of these was Chujiro Hayashi. Mikao Usui looked different to how he is most often pictured in the 2 photos that the West has of him. We felt honoured to see this photo and being the crass Westerners that we are, asked if there was any way that we could take a photo or copy of it. I didn’t know that Japanese could say ‘no’ that easily. Tadao hinted that he was going to print them all in a book one day.
After tea and flat glue like (yet delicious!) deserts we thanked Mrs Yamaguchi and Tadao and made our way back to our ryokan, The Three Sisters. One point for visitors – if you are going to eat out in Japan you must eat early, before 8pm if possible, as otherwise you are likely to starve. The other alternative, which we ended up regularly doing, is to drop by one of the many 7-11 shops and grab some nori rolls (economical too!).
Our next major stop (in between buying packets of green tea, sweets and tea pots) would be Mt Kurama. Mt Kurama is said to be the mountain where Mikao Usui meditated and gained his understanding of Reiki.
Part 4 Mt Kurama
In part 1 of ‘In search of the Roots of Reiki’ Frans and Bronwen Stiene, founders of the International House of Reiki, began their tour of Japan with a visit to Mikao Usui’s memorial stone in Tokyo. In part 2 they took the shinkansen and arrived in picturesque Kyoto to meet with Reiki Master/monk Hyakuten san. In part 3 they meet up with a student of Chujiro Hayashi, an eighty five year old woman called Mrs Yamaguchi. In part 4 Bronwen and Frans climb Mt Kurama in search of some sign that Mikao Usui had meditated there.
We slipped on our shoes and hailed a taxi from our ryokan. It rove us to this quaint train station with 2 tracks and cosy carriage trains – certainly not in the same league as those mighty shinkansen. On the one side you could catch a train to Mt Hiei ( temple city on the side of a mountain) and on the other you could travel to Mt Kurama. Our train had seats facing outwards along the walls so that you could sit and enjoy the autumn colourings while those standing, clustered in the center of the carriage. We chugged along past neat Japanese gardens. All was bright green from summer growth and plenty of rain.
The town of Kurama has an almost tourist atmosphere about it. It is one of many popular Japanese sites but not for the reason we were there. Few Japanese knew that this was considered a Reiki landmark. Mikao Usui was said to have meditated here. On one of these visits to Kurama – to quote Mikao Usui’s memorial stone in Tokyo – it is said that ‘On the beginning of the 21st day, suddenly he felt one large Reiki over his head and he comprehended the truth.’ Many practitioners believe this to be the beginning of Reiki.
Fortunately we were early as we had chosen a Saturday to climb the mountain. Weekends in autumn or spring in Japan are notoriously busy at any tourist spot. and what constitutes a tourist spot in Japan seems to be anything that isn’t home. This is a culture that appears to love getting out and seeing their own country – especially when its as pretty as it is in autumn.
We bought some tourist knick-knacks from the shops at the base of the mountain and then we began to climb. Stone and concrete steps trace the journey to the top of Mount Kurama. We left our 2 year old’s stroller at the base and she managed to, with the help of dad’s back, make it with ease (don’t know about dad’s back though). We noticed more and more Japanese moving along the path, the traffic was becoming quite dense. We rested on a seat and watched people of all ages, 2 to 82, climbing and climbing. Across from our seat the stone mountain rose before us and I noticed a beautiful spiral of lichen set into a rock.
After passing the main Temple we came to a section where the roots of trees lived above the earth creating havoc for two leggeds who weren’t watching where they were walking. It would have been a beautiful sight if we could have seen it. Instead the ground was littered with picnicking Japanese. Table cloths and neatly packaged foods and drinks were being past around while the most recent arrivals sprawled panting, unhealthily across the roots, cigarette in hand.
I sat amongst the party goers and read the literature we had been handed about Kurama Yama.
“More than six million years ago, Mao-son (the great king of the conquerors of evil and the spirit of the earth) descended upon Mt. Kurama from Venus, with the great mission of the salvation of mankind. Since then, Mao-son’s powerful spirit governing the development and the evolution not only of mankind but of all living things on Earth has been emanating from Mt. Kurama, and a priest named Gantei received the spiritual transmission.
In the first year of Hoki (A.D. 770), Gantei, who was the best pupil of High priest Ganjin, the founder of the Toshodaiji Temple in Nara, led by a white horse, climbed up to this holy place. His soul was enlightened with the realization of Bishamon-ten (the protector of the northern quarter of the Buddhist heaven and the spirit of the sun). Following, he founded the Buddhist temple on Mt. Kurama.
Later, in the 15th year of Enryaku (A.D. 796), the chief officer in charge of the construction of the Toji Temple, saw a vision of Senju-kannon (the thousand armed Kannon and the spirit of the moon) and built temples and pagodas on the mountain.
Mao-son, Bishamon-ten, and Senju-kannon are the symbols of the universal soul, forming a Trinity known as “Sonten” or the “Supreme Deity”. Sonten is the “Living Soul”, the “Supreme Soul of the universe”, the “Glorious Light”, and the “Activity of the Soul”. These three are the symbols of power, light, and love.”
Though there are no official records that Mikao Usui ever meditated on this mountain it is interesting that Sonten is said to be the supreme soul of the universe using the symbols of power, light and love. Many Reiki practitioners describe Reiki as the energy of everything, of the universe, if you like. Many practitioners also sign off their names with ‘love and light’.
I saw glints of light on red and gold leaves throughout my journey on Mount Kurama. I like to think that Mao-san was there with me aiding my own evolution on this planet.
As we walked down we decided to take the cable car instead of battling the hordes of Japanese struggling to the top. At the bottom of the mountain hundreds of metres of Japanese waited patiently in line to be able to jump the climbing queue with the aid of the cable car.
We were glad we had come early and decided not to visit any other sites on weekends again if possible.
Then we realised that we still hadn’t been to Nara, a whole city of gorgeous temples and wandering deer, and our time was limited in Kyoto – we might just have to go on Sunday. Oh no!
Part 5 Nara
In part 1 of ‘In search of the Roots of Reiki’ Frans and Bronwen Stiene, founders of the International House of Reiki, began their tour of Japan with a visit to Mikao Usui’s memorial stone in Tokyo. In part 2 they took the shinkansen and arrived in picturesque Kyoto to meet with Reiki Master/monk Hyakuten san. In part 3 they meet up with a student of Chujiro Hayashi, an eighty five year old woman called Mrs Yamaguchi. In part 4 Bronwen and Frans climb Mt Kurama in search of some sign that Mikao Usui had meditated there. In part 5 they decide to take on Kyoto’s shops and go in search of a living student of Mikao Usui.
Kyoto has so much to do and see.
As Kyoto edges its way into the surrounding mountains you will find temples – hundreds of them. In November, the magnificent gardens of these temples are lit at night so that visitors can view the beauty of their planning. You wander through the dark following cobbled paths underfoot. Zen gardens raked to perfection are lit by a centre lamp – rings of sand resemble rings of water blurring into the night. Statues of deities shine next to waterfalls, white bamboo stalks ghostily out of the shadows, miniature lakes reflect autumn tinted trees under foot bridges. People whisper as they wander not wanting to disturb the beauty of these magical lands while unaffected monks shuffle through the grounds.
Another form of beauty lies within Kyoto. This one can be seen throughout Japan and yet some areas are more famous for it than others. Geisha. We take our seats in a cafe in the Gion area of Kyoto, huddled next to a large window, waiting. We have read that true Geisha don’t ever walk plainly in the streets except at sunset when they are on their way to various assignations. In reality, a Japanese woman in kimono with a chalk white face and rouged cheeks and lips is enough to satisfy us. We also read that many of the woman that you do see in this area looking like Geisha are in fact their aides. They are said to not be as exquisitely dressed as geisha and yet are still extremely exotic to foreigners.
Kyoto is broken up into sections. A number of these are renowned as great shopping areas. One shopping area is a Kris cross of streets completely undercover. Here you can buy pottery, pre-packaged tea, Hello Kitty pencil cases, children’s kimonos, as well as day-to-day items. There are also market areas which are more reminiscent of Japan’s cultural past – pickled vegetables in large vats and loose tea intermingle with small temples.
We decide to drag ourselves away from the great shopping and visit Nara. Yet another temple city within half an hour from Kyoto. We had a special reason for coming here. In Usui Teate it is said that that there are still 12 students of Mikao Usui alive today – they are aged between 97 and 111.Some of these are nuns and monks. AND some of them are said to live in and around Nara. We had made no attempt to deliberately meet up with these people as we had understood that they were old, didn’t speak English and were unappreciative of westerners turning up on their doorstep. Deep inside we held a little glimmer of hope that, perhaps, we might simply bump into a nun whose name was Suzuki san and is a cousin of Mikao Usui. Though the ‘bump’ didn’t happen – Nara itself turned out to be glorious.
Tame deer wandered the stone streets scavenging food from tourists. And there were tourists a plenty. It was Sunday. We were running out of time in Japan and, as mentioned in Part 4, weekend is not an optimum time to go to tourist areas. At least our new knowledge was a forewarning and we managed to wind our way in-between children in their best kimonos having their photos taken and young couples snapping each other. The world’s largest wooden structure exists in Nara. It is an enormous temple and it is hard to imagine that it used to be 3 times the size before a fire brought it down in size. Inside, storeys high deities of shining metals glitter under the light of camera flashs. Outside, a wooden Binzuru, the Japanese God of curing and fine vision awaits people who come to rub their sick bodies on to his own. He himself is unable to escape pain, so therefore he helps others to do so.
There are park-like fields with traditional stone lanterns lining the paths in Nara. Stone steps leave aching knees as you climb higher and higher to temples set into small hilltops. Nara definitely has a medieval feel to it. It is easy to imagine horses pounding the roads with coloured headgear flouncing in the air. Lanterns flickering at dusk and warlords powerfully dominating the countryside.
We return to the train and leave Nara and its crowds behind heading back to our quiet ryokan in Kyoto.
Ahhhhh, an evening soaking in the Japanese bath is exactly what our family needs.
Bronwen and Frans Stiene are the co-founders of the International House of Reiki and co-authors of The Reiki Sourcebook, The Japanese Art of Reiki, Your Reiki Treatment, The A-Z of Reiki Pocketbook and the Reiki Techniques Card Deck. Bronwen and Frans teach in the USA, Europe and Australia. Visit the Courses page to find a course near you.