Mikao Usui was born on August 15, 1865 in the village of Taniai (ania 合 村, Taniai-mura), part of the current city of Yamagata in the Gifu prefecture. His family was well-off and lived in this place for eleven generations. Usui's father was called Uzaemon, of which only his family name Kawaai is known from his mother. Usui grew up in a family with four children, one brother Sanya became a doctor, the other Kuniji police officer. Usui also had a sister Tsuru.
Usui’s family was a "Hatamoto samurai", a high level within the samurai ranks. The family crest consisted of the Moon and Star. These were the symbols of "Myoken Bodhisattva": the icons for samurai and the helmet signs of the Chibas. Usui's ancestor, named Toshitane Chiba, conquered the city of Usui in 1551. To honor his heroic deed, his descendants adopted the family name Usui.
Mikao Usui himself gained world fame as the rediscoverer and founder of the "Usui Reiki healing system." The system is based on two pillars. On the one hand it is a method of spiritual medicine, it forms the basis for inner peace for the dakini. On the other hand, the system is a lesson in energetic medical practice. The technique itself is already several centuries old and was used, among other things, as medicine by Tibetan monks.
Around 1900 there was an epidemic in the region of Kyoto. Usui also became very seriously ill. He had a profound near-death experience in which he received instructions in visions from Mahavairocana Buddha, the Great Buddha who occupies a central place. This experience led Usui to refocus on the meaning of life. It would thoroughly change his life forever. From that moment on, Usui developed an interest in the esoteric science of healing as taught by Buddha. He developed the desire to learn this method for the benefit of humanity out of compassion. When he recovered from his near-fatal illness, he began to discuss his experiences with his family and the family priest. These were shocked and bewildered by Usui’s claim that he had seen Enlightened Buddhas, and they asked him to leave the temple.
Usui, however, remained determined to find the answer to his questions about his vision. Finally, he met Shingon priest Bonze, who immediately recognized Usui's enormous spiritual potential and took him in his care as a student. Thus Usui became a dedicated Shingon Buddhist. His family was very shocked and baffled by this. He was therefore removed from the family tree. To this day, his family refuses to talk about him. They say that it is against the will of their ancestors to pronounce his name. His daughter even included a clause in her will that her father's name should never be pronounced in her house.
Meanwhile, Usui spent a lot of time and money collecting and studying Buddhist scriptures to follow his newly discovered spiritual path. In particular, he studied the Buddhist healing techniques and energetic disciplines that focused on the use of 'Ki'. Since Kyoto has many large and extensive Buddhist libraries and monasteries with collections of ancient texts, it is very likely that Usui has done a lot of research there.
Another remarkable thing; around the turn of the century hands-on-healing or Teate became very popular in Japan. Toschihiro Eguchi was a very good friend of Mikao Usui. They studied together in the 1920s. Toshihiro Eguchi founded the Tenohira Ryoji Kenkyu kai or the Hand Healing Research Center.
Mikao Usui has never been a western model doctor; he did become a "Zaike Tendai priest" , according to the students of Suzuki san. This means that Usui could continue to live with the family without having to stay in a temple, as is normally expected from priests. From the moment Usui became a "zaiki", it is said that he took the Buddhist name Guoho, Gyohan or Gyotse.
In April of the tenth Taisho year (1922), Usui Sensei founded the "Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai", also known as the Usui Reiki Healing Method Learning Society. He opened his first clinic in Aoyama, Tokyo where he practiced Reiki and gave workshops to a large audience. The education of Usui Sensei was mainly focused on achieving enlightenment, becoming one with the source. The healing techniques were part of his spiritual system. Performing treatments was only part of that.
Usui opened its first study center in Harajuku, a suburb of Tokyo. The school was his home, it had a large room that he used for meetings and education. His teaching was a true spiritual doctrine based on the Gokai (the Reiki principles) and leading a decent life.
In the following years he devoted himself to passing on the system, which officially did not yet have a name. Usui referred to it as a "method of achieving personal perfection." During his studies of Shinto and Mahayana Buddhism, he also came into contact with Reiju (energy-building method) and Hatsurei-ho (cleansing for body and mind).
Usui developed seven levels of education. They were numbered from six (lowest level) to zero (highest level). Usui worked with a small manual. It did not contain hand positions for treating others, but basics, meditations and Waka poetry. In the beginning he did nothing according to fixed hand positions, but purely intuitively in the areas of imbalance and pain. When he started teaching in Reiho, he learned that it was necessary to give instructions according to a certain pattern. He called this the Usui Reiki Hikkei.
It is also interesting to know that Usui based his practice on a Tantra that was later added to the Bhaisajayaguru Sutra (the Healing Buddha) - one of the last Sutras to know about Buddhism - and which has become the basis for Shingon Buddhism. He also got his inspiration from the Mahavairocana Sutra and the Dainichi-Kyo. Both sources for this determination do not exclude each other, but do not mention each other.
On September 1, 1923, just before noon, Tokyo and Yokohama were hit by the extremely strong Kanto earthquake of 7.9 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was 75 kilometers from Tokyo. More than 100,000 people died and a myriad of seriously injured. Tokyo and Yokohama went down in flames. It would go down in history as the greatest natural disaster of all time in Japan. Usui Sensei’s method was praised during this emergency because of the relieving and healing effect for the many victims. He did this work mostly for free and during this period passed on to many "Shoden", the starting level of Reiki, so that they too could help treat the large number of injured people with Reiki. Usui Sensei became famous throughout Japan as a result of these successes with Reiki and his merciful and charitable act.
The need for Reiki was enormous. Usui opened larger Reiki clinics and traveled around Japan to talk about Reiki and to initiate people. He passed on his knowledge to more than 2000 people and he trained a number to the Shinpiden level, or the teacher level. They were all Buddhists: four naval officers, five Buddhist nuns, a Christian naval officer, namely Chujiro Hayashi; the rest consisted of ordinary citizens.
In 1924, the Japanese emperor gave Mikao Usui the Kun San To, an award for his merits towards his fellow men. In 1925 he moved with his clinic to Nakano, a suburb of Tokyo. In the meantime Usui Sensei traveled all over Japan to teach in Reiki. It is striking that he mainly came to naval bases and a large part of his students came from the army. Possibly the high degree of discipline played a role. Mikao Usui was a friendly and sometimes a little mischievous man with a constant smile on his lips. He had a "big heart" and belly, and was always in a good mood. He lived and thought not in problems but in possibilities and lessons.
Mikao Usui took over the rules of life that the Japanese emperor Meiji established with the aim of teaching inner peace as a fulfillment of life. Usui always gave the rules of life to his students; they had to read and follow these every day. He became increasingly famous and people often lined up at his house to be treated by him. Mikao Usui first established a clinic in Harajuka near Tokyo in April of the tenth Taisho year (1921). He later also opened clinics in Nagano and Shizuoka. He also founded the Reiki organization Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai. The Japanese Reiki movement is also called Usui Shiki Ryoho.