The history of the modern practice of Reiki, although scarcely a century past, is beset by conflicting stories.  It is generally acknowledged that the healing methods comprising the system now known as Reiki were rediscovered in the early 20th century by Mikao Usui, of Japan.  In the US, Mikao Usui is traditionally referred to as Dr. Usui; although research indicates that he did not have a doctoral degree as formerly believed, he engaged in healing practices which would give him the equivalent title, as well as in teaching which entitled him to be called Usui Sensei ("Sensei" meaning "teacher").

Usui Sensei has been variously referred to as a failed businessman who engaged regularly in meditation, or as a Buddhist monk who purposely set out to research why healing methods known to the ancients, such as Gautama Siddhartha (commonly called "the Buddha") and Jesus of Nazareth, were no longer known or practiced.

Stories agree that Mikao Usui was meditating at Mount Kurama, when he experienced a "satori" or enlightenment.  In a vision, he learned the methods and symbols of Reiki, as well as how to give them to other people so that they would work as well.

Usui Sensei took this knowledge and started healing people, and established schools to teach others how to heal using the Reiki methods.