Why Reiki and not Leiki?

by Jessica Miller

When Japanese people pronounce “Reiki”, they say “Leiki.” If Reiki is from Japan, why do they pronounce it with an "L"? It is not just the word Reiki. If you look at a map of Japan, many of the place names have "R"s in them also, but the pronounce these names with an "L".  So, why do the Japanese pronounce the "R" like an "L"?

The answer appears to go back to the Portuguese Jesuits of the 1540’s. The Portuguese were the first Westerners to try to trade with the Japanese and convert them to Christianity. To do this they had to learn the language. They were the first to create a dictionary of how to pronounce words in Japanese using a Western alphabet.

The Portuguese use more of a rolling "R" than we do. To the Portuguese, what sounds like an “L” to us, sounded like a Portuguese “R”. I once had a student who could make both sounds and they really are quite similar. Try the word earl; with a rolling "R". Notice how similar the sounds are to make. Even though this dictionary was not widely circulated, it started the tradition. So when Japanese place names were translated into a western alphabet, the "R" was used, and we have Reiki rather than Leiki.

© copyright 2000 Jessica Miller reprinted with permission