of Kyoto

Tucked deep in the dense and quiet side streets of Kyoto, not far from Shijo Station, is a small Buddhist monastery with gorgeous, ornate woodwork throughout and a large ornamental gate out front. I have come to this particular gate in order to meet Hyakuten Inamoto, a Japanese Buddhist monk and reiki practitioner whose lineage can be traced directly to Mikao Usui, the founder of reiki. Hyakuten is waiting for me at the gate, and he is smiling—or perhaps smirking—his thick eyebrows tilted up, his tranquil gaze staring out at me from behind a pair of thick glasses.

Edited By Bryan Whalen
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Photos By Emily Polar
The Quiet Side Streets of Kyoto

He greets me with some formality, as is the custom in Japan, and soon we’re stepping through the gates, into the monastery where Hyakuten holds his weekly reiki shares. The atmosphere of the monastery is relaxing and inviting for the reiki share, and the light streaming in is perfect for the photos I have come to take. It’s six p.m., the reiki share starts at seven, and soon people from every walk of life start trickling through the door. Each carries their own individuality, and yet there is a shared warmth and presence behind the eyes of everyone I speak to. We smile and laugh and exchange stories in broken English.

Reiki is something I’ve been practicing myself for several years, but there’s something special about being so near to the heart of where reiki began. In 1922, Mikao Usui traveled to Mount Kurama, a sacred spot just fifteen kilometers away from Kyoto, where Mikao received the inspiration for reiki. Nearly a century has passed since Mikao’s inspiration, and his system of healing has traveled the world over. But for this moment, I am captured by something special about this warm little room in Kyoto where Hyakuten continues to practice and share the teachings of Mikao Usui. The feel of the room is calm and welcoming. The room has filled with eighteen to twenty people, and soon they move from their chairs to cushions that have been set up on the floor for meditation. The room falls silent as everyone closes their eyes and transitions from their busy workdays to the spiritual practice they have come for.

When the meditation ends, the group stands and forms a circle. Hands are raised to motion a connection to the divine-universal the practitioners believe moves through all of us. Each reiki practitioner floats their hand beside the hand of the reiki practitioners on both sides of them, and as a group they begin to feel the healing powers of their practice. The circle then moves apart and everyone breaks into groups around large tables that have been set up. The first person to receive the reiki lays down on the table and is covered with a soft sheet, their eyes closed as they prepare to receive the reiki.

I feel odd taking photos throughout the reiki share, but that is what I have come to do. Everyone breathes deeply. Everyone is immersed in their own practice and nobody seems to mind me amidst my own practice. The reiki share lasts just over an hour, with each person receiving reiki for ten to fifteen minutes, half while they lie on their back, and half while they lie on their stomach.

One person can receive reiki from up to six people at a time, which is inspiring to witness, as previously I’ve only seen reiki performed with one practitioner and one receiver. But seeing this underlying concept of reiki manifest seems to me one of the most beautiful things about it — giving reiki is a practice in simultaneously receiving reiki. Some call it prayer or meditation, but above all it is about sharing reiki’s healing powers with others, and receiving the healing powers of others in return. In giving, we receive, and in receiving, we have more to give.

As I continue taking the photographs, the openness of the practitioners becomes increasingly apparent and it sweeps over me, too. Witnessing this community as unveiled and open as it is, I think, is as powerful as the reiki itself.

Hyakuten motions to me, inviting me to receive the reiki. I smile. I have captured what I have come to capture, and gladly accept his invitation. I lay down on the table. I am covered in that soft sheet. I close my eyes. Hands are floating above me, and the feeling — so lovely, so comforting — reminds me of the warmth of my mother, or of an embrace from a good friend. This is what reiki is all about, I think. People accepting, giving, and receiving the warmth within all of us.

My session ends but I continue to sit at the table and to give reiki to the next receiver. To be able to witness and participate in the reiki share makes the experience all the more powerful. I’ve come to take photos of the group, but by the time the session has ended, I feel that I have become one of them — or one with them, perhaps. Yes, I feel that we are all one. That even Hyakuten, with all his wisdom and serenity, is just like any of us, save that he makes a point to practice reiki and to share that practice every day. None of us is separate, I think. Reiki flows through all of us, whether we know it or not.

“Reiki is still not popular in Japan,” Hyakuten tells me after the share. “Because people here, they think it is cultish or like voodoo.” It’s the same in the US, of course, but it seems strange to me to be so close to the origins of reiki and still have so much wariness around the practice. Distrusting reiki seems akin to distrusting meditation — these aren’t practices with benefits that can always be quantified or measured, but having experienced them in my own life, and having felt the power and warmth in that tiny room, I find it hard to view reiki as anything but positive, and I say as much to Hyakuten. But all he offers me is his smirk.

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