History of Reiki to the West via Hawaii
Updated: Aug 29, 2018
Reiki as we know it today came to the West via Hawaii in the 1930s. At that time, one of the students the founder of reiki, Makao Usui's students, Dr. Chujiro Hayashi taught reiki to a Mrs. Hiromi Hawayo Takata, a Japanese American diasporic ailing of various illnesses, seeking healing in Tokyo. Dr. Hayashi later trained Mrs. Takata to master level over several years. She would later be the first to teach reiki in the West.
Mrs. Takata was born and raised on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she established a "healing studio." Her life's work thereafter included training 22 students in reiki as we know it today.
Reiki in the Japanese American community in Hawaii
Dr. Masaki Nishina, jikiden reiki master and Japanese translator, has documented extensive travel records and bulletins in "Hawaii Hochi," a Japanese-language newspapers read by Japanese diasporics, in the 1930s. Dr. Nishina's detailed research shows the travels between Mrs. Takata's teacher Master Chujiro Hayashi in the transition of reiki to the Hawaiian healing community. Records in Dr. Nishina's article are found at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii. I highly recommend his article for those interested in a deep understanding of how reiki was presented during seminars in Hawaii. Read more here.
What was it like for Japanese Americans during this time?
The history of Japanese in Hawaii dates back to the 1800s, when Hawaiian sugar cane, coconut, and pineapple plantations employed young, single males from Japan, China, India, and the Philippines for low-wage laboring jobs. In effect, the first Asian Americans came to the U.S. as migrant workers to Hawaii and California (i.e., Transcontinental Railway workers). Asians including Japanese were not given rights to become naturalized citizens until 1965. Nor could Asians legally marry outside of their race ("anti-miscegenation laws") until that time.
Mrs. Takata's service to the community in the 1930s is deeply embedded of this anti-Japanese racial history in Hawaii and the U.S. that began decades before World War II. Mrs. Takata's development of reiki into the 1940s is also written within the context of World War I and II era American society, when simmering anti-Japanese sentiment justified the internment of millions of Americans of Japanese decent. Many criticize that certain aspects of reiki were "Westernized" in the transition to the rest of the world. However, given the history of racism toward Japanese Americans in particular, it would be difficult for any reiki practitioner to claim nationalism or gesture toward Japanese "authenticity" for an new, esoteric healing practice, already outside of the medical establishment. This is not to justify false distortion of a practice. It is simply to make us think more deeply about history and context before we pass judgment over "dilution" of any non-Western practice.