BBC WORLD NEWS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS
THE CHANTING MILLIONS
October 14th, 1995
In the year we commemorate the allied victory over Japan and the terrible atrocities it revealed, we are again reminded that this is a land of puzzling contradictions. As well as ornate temples and pastoral calm, and mysticism, and pacifism, there are sudden eruptions of extreme violence.
When, this year, poison gas was released into the Tokyo subway, the shocking suspicion emerged that it was done by a religious cult that claims its roots in Buddhism. It was in the foothills of Japan's sacred Mt. Fuji that the Aum-Shinrikyo sect that stands accused of a gas-attack trained its followers. It was in Buddhist Teachings and in The Book of Revelation, grossly perverted and corrupted, the justification was somehow found for mass-murder. That is the charge that faces the charismatic leader of Aum, Shoko Asahara, when he shortly goes on trial.
The Aum-case raises many concerns that have come up in foreign relation to other cults around the world. But it also poses questions that are peculiar to Japan. Above all, the Aum case calls into question of law the status and the influence of the vast number of other religious groups. Believe it or not, in Japan, today, there are roughly 241,000 officially registered religious organizations. Most of them are very small, but some are big and powerful. But with ten million followers, is by far the biggest, Soka Gakkai.
SOKA GAKKAI ACTIVITIES
Soka Gakkai is much more than a religious organization. It's a wide spread social and political movement, highly disciplined, some say dangerous. Head of Soka Gakkai since 1960 is Daisaku Ikeda.
Ikeda is the great cultural and, for his supporters, spiritual leader. Another view says he's a bully with a lust for power.
INTERVIEW WITH IKEDA: I'm a common, serious-minded man. The mass-media ..., with the exception of the BBC, make up this image of me as a dictator, and so forth. This troubles me.
Common men, however serious, do not find themselves as Mr. Ikeda frequently does, in the company of international elite that includes the likes of Mrs.Thatcher. He's frequently photographed with royalty, prime ministers and presidents. When president Mandella came recently to Japan on a state visit, his only private audience was with Mr. Ikeda. Why is a man who has never held public office found in such company? He has access to great wealth, but is that enough? Since powerful people seek the company of other powerful people, what does that tell us about Mr. Ikeda?
INTERVIEW WITH POLITICAL COMMENTATER MR. MINORU MORITA: I don't think anyone has more power in Japan than Ikeda. No one.
FOUNDATION OF IKEDA'S POWER -- TAISEKIJI-TEMPLE OF NICHIREN SHOSHU
This is the foundation of Mr. Ikeda's power. S.G. was the lay- organization founded to support Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, a 700 year-old sect. These followers of a 13th century Japanese monk, are considered heretical by main-stream Buddhist's.
Central to their belief is the power of chanting, that by the invocational recitation of the words
"Nam'-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo" almost anything can be achieved. S. G. took these ancient simple beliefs and marketed them with astounding success. It may look spiritual, but S.G. is all about practical things. That includes personal wealth and political power. It's in Japan's cities that Soka Gakkai gained most of its support. In the post war years, it grew rapidly, and it's thought to have had special appeal for a defeated and disillusioned generation. The faithful are expected to chant daily, to donate generously to Soka Gakkai funds, and to recruit new members.
INTERVIEW WITH S.G. MEMBERS IN KAWASAKI CITY, SOUTH OF TOKYO
In the city of Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, Soka Gakkai has devoted support from the Umezawa family, who own a small chain of beauty parlors. Apart from the father of the family, all the others, son, daughters and inlaws are in the business. First to join Soka Gakkai was Mrs. Umezawa. Not only she converted the rest of the family, but between them, they've introduced 112 other families to the practice of daily chanting. Now retired Mr. Umezawa sometimes chants for 5 hours a day. He and his family have no doubt that the growth of their business and other good fortune is entirely due to regular practice of this ritual. They faithfully pay their dues to Soka Gakkai, and according to Mrs. Umezawa, their loyalty and their chanting is rewarded.
MRS. YOSHIE UMEZAWA: We were always short of money. Although we worked very hard, things were tough. Now we travel abroad without any financial difficulty.
It's not only to make money that the Umezawas practice their daily chanting.
MR. TADASHI UMEZAWA: When my wife was pregnant, we talked about an abortion because I didn't want any more daughters. Soka Gakkai members told me that if I practiced hard, we might have a son. We chanted, and as a result, we had a son!
No doubt, Soka Gakkai has many satisfied members. But some feel betrayed, sensing that their loyalty, and their money, and their votes have been exploited to serve the political ambitions of Mr. Ikeda. He founded his own political party in 1964, and although it's been partially dissolved, suspicions remain, some of them, expressed at this protest meeting of former Soka Gakkai members.
KEIGO OUCHI (Member of Parliament at a meeting of AVSG - Asociation of Victims of Soka Gakkai): Mr. Ikeda often says he will take over Japanese politics and become the real leader of the Government.
Although Soka Gakkai has taken steps to sever former links with its political party, it still commands a block vote to use as it wishes.
INTERVIEW WITH POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, MR. MINORU MORITA:
Soka Gakkai is able to mobilize 6 million votes. These 6 million votes represent more than ten per cent of the electorate. Mr. Ikeda, as the head of S.G. has a strong influence over the political world.
Of 700 disgrunted former members here (at the meeting), many complain of how Soka Gakkai extracted money from them.
HIROHISA MASUDA (Former S.G. member): In 1982, when my grandfather died and we inherited his property, members of Soka Gakkai came, repeatedly, and demanded contributions. They wanted 10 million yen (U.S. $100,000). In the end we gave them 5 million yen.
Of course, Soka Gakkai justifies all of its money raising activities.
INTERVIEW WITH IKEDA: We want to promote a good religion. Religion is a metaphysical concept, but it needs to be advertised like any good product.
ADVERTISEMENT OF SOKA GAKKAI (S.G.I. PR video-tape): Soka Gakkai has gloriously embarked on its voyage toward the 70th anniversary of its founding. The Soka family throughout the world will continue to advance cheerfully and harmoniously in its Kosen-Rufu activities day and night, widening the current of Buddhism among the people throughout the universe, heralding the era of peace and freedom.
Yes, Soka Gakkai is now international. In the U.K. this is its lavish headquarters used by some 8,000 members. But in the U.S. and notably in California, Soka Gakkai has greater success, claiming some 150,000 adherents. But it's also been much criticized and even classified as a dangerous cult.
FRANK ROSS (Former S.G.I. leader): I think by anybody's definition of a cult, if someone's life is completely controlled by an individual or an organization, that would certainly fit into the category of a cult. When I was in S.G.I., I would have died for Ikeda. And I know hundreds of people that felt the same way.
AL ALBERGATE (SGI-USA Public relations director): I reject categorically the idea that we are a dangerous cult, because to me that would imply a pseudo religion that exists mainly to take advantage of people, whether financially or psychologically, and I know in my 28 years in the organization, we have never done that.
In America too, there are certainly satisfied customers. Among the affluent, who have seaside homes at Malibu, are those who believe that chanting has brought them health, wealth and happiness, and spread the word among their friends and neighbours.
NEIL STEVENS (S.G.I. member) (Note: At a discusiion meeting): I'd like to welcome everyone. We're going to chant, what we call morning evening gongyo...
Neil Stevens is an investment banker. He and his wife, Lynn, hold weekly meetings, where they introduce new comers to the practice of chanting.
(Scene of members chanting.)
For some newcomers, chanting in a foreign tongue seems odd. (Shot of woman sitting on couch at meeting, rolling her eyes as she looks on in disbelief, looking as if she wants to bolt out the door any second.) But believers are keen to extol the reward and the enlightment it brings.
INTERVIEW WITH MR. AND MRS.STEVENS:
LYNN: (Gushing tears) I thank, I thank everyday, the girl that introduced this practice to me, 'cause it changed my life. I have such a beautiful husband, a beautiful daughter. When I had, lost three little babies....and I had such, uh, oh, I don't know...I had so much fortune, but yet, that doesn't guarantee that you are going to be happy. And I was able to, ummm, uh tap into the joy in my life, and change such poison into medicine, and make all my dreams come true, and I really have.
NEIL: (Tears smeared on his face) So then Katy's got me going on this doing the Nam-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo thing, and, uhh, it really empowered me to create, uhh, pretty much my business dream, the beginning of it, anyway, and, uhh, really helped us push it through, uhh, when we had, you know, tremendous obstacles.
AL ALBERGATE: The actual practice of Buddhism is very accesible to everybody. Because there's a very simple formula and a daily practice, plus the idea that you tap so directly into your Buddha nature, your life condition, that you can actually see results in your daily life.
DIANE HONEYMAN-BLOEDIE (Former S.G.I. member): It turned my life into a living hell, basically. I was miserable!
INTERVIEWER: Why principally?
DIANE: Mostly because of my husband. They manipulated my husband into becoming a totally different person. He was not the person I fell in love, and married, and wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He became totally obsessed; was never home. They had him going 24 hours a day. And he was hell to live with.
AL ALBERGATE: If we put pressure on each other, it was only so that we could, duh, move forward and advance as a religious organization in this country it was not..., primary, our idea was never to take people's money.
DIANE HONEYMAN-BLOEDIE: As I was walking out the building, one of the "Women's Division leaders said, "Did you make a contribution today?" and I said, "No, I don't have any money to make a contribution. I have 5 dollars in my purse" (She said), "You should give that $5." (I said,) "It's Tuesday. I don't get paid until Friday. I have to buy milk." She said, "If you give the $5 today, it'll come back to you in a much bigger way." So I said, "So you're telling me, I shouldn't buy milk for my 18 month old daughter and I should give the $5 to you?" and she said, "Yeah." and I said, "No."
AL ALBERGATE: Some of our members and leaders, although sincere, were over-zealous. And, basically, about 5 years ago, we just put an end to most specific targets and just decided that the best way to go was to just help people practice Buddhism, and as their own personal circumstances improve in society, as they feel appreciation for this Buddhism, then they will donate.
DIANE HONEYMAN-BLOEDIE: We're their little worker bees. We're collecting all their little money, all their little honey for them, and we gladly give it over. You know, I just... My feeling was that they just think we're stupid. And if we're promised that we can get anything we want, that if we can get instant gratification, which is sort of the American way, we're gonna go for it. So that's how they pass it off. You want a car? Chant! You want a better job? Chant! You want more money? Chant!
INTERVIEWER (to Al): It occurs to me that one of the attractions, perhaps, of your particular type of Buddhism is that it does promise practical benefits.
AL ALBERGATE: That's correct. And I think that's very attractive to many people. Maybe more so Americans. We're sort of, err, an instant microwave kind of culture, and I'm sure that appeals to many, I know it appeals to many people.
INTERVIEWER: Is it somewhat dangerous, though, that if you expect it to work miracles in your life, that if you expect the Porche tomorrow, that you're going to be disapointed, and that you may think the religion has failed you?
AL ALBERGATE: Yes, that's true. It is a problem if we don't take the time to help people really study the profundity of Buddhism and to understand it's not about Porches and cars and things like that. These are nice incidentals that might come your way as a result of a higher life condition and your increased ability to work and perform your daily life. But we have to teach that, after all, the idea is to become an enlightened human being, with or without a nice car.
FRANK ROSS: People are approached from the standpoint of doing something for their personal lives, and, little by little, they are told that the only way they can advance their personal lives is to advance the organization. Once you've made that connection, that advancing the organization is advancing your personal life, then they have total control over you. So, watching the people who have been abused over time and just fleeced, you know, year in and year out for money, that certainly is a horrible form of abuse.
INTERVIEWER: But you were one of the abusers?
FRANK ROSS: Yes, I certainly was. But at that time, I didn't realize that it was abuse. I was part of that operation, and we thought that no matter what people did for the organization, it would be good for them.
If that's the way it is in the United States, how much greater is the money making machine in Japan?
Soka Gakkai means "value creating society" and essentially it peddles another one of those familiar "Samuel Smile's Recipes For Self-improvent." While other philosophies suggest the ultimate values of "truth" and "goodness," Soka Gakkai contends that happiness lies also in profit, and it's something the organization itself is very good at.
PROF. HIROHISA KITANO (Professor of law at Nihon University): Nobody knows actually how rich Soka Gakkai is. Experts estimate Soka Gakkai has more than 1,000 properties throughout Japan with total assets of more than 10,000 billion yen (125 billion U.S. dollars).
In the wake of the Kobe earthquake, S.G. used its money raising skills to great effect. Special appeals were launched and Soka Gakkai membership responded with extra donations, on top of those they routinely make. More than a dozen fund raising drives have supported U.N. relief activities for refugees, and numerous exhibitions have been mounted to promote Mr. Ikeda's good works.
DAISAKU IKEDA: Religion can be compared to mother earth. We must cultivate the earth in order to bring forth plants and flowers. The promotion of peace, education, and culture is a fundmental role for religion.
This is the Tokyo Soka Elementary school, part of an integrated system of private schools ranging from kindergarten to university, founded by Daisaku Ikeda. Today, the children celebrate the Tanabata Festival. These are the wish trees decked out with wish paper streamers. Each one carrying a child's wishes and dreams. Almost all of the children are from Soka Gakkai families.
HIDETO IIJIMA (Soka Elementary School, 2nd grade): I am Hideto lijima, a second-year pupil. I want to become a millionaire so that I can help the poor by giving them my money.
Like the elementary school, the Soka High School is four times over-subscribed. No religion is taught here. But the children are certainly well versed in the achievements and importance of their school's founder, Mr. Ikeda.
MITSUKO YAKANI (Soka High School student): He has a philosophy based on humanism for the education. He is also a poet, and he is like, I feel very warm meeting him. He's like, I feel like he's like my father.
DAIGO KURAISUKO (Soka High School student): If you compare, compared to other schools, I found my friends, friends much brighter, and...
INTERVIEWER: Much brighter? Really?
DAIGO KURAISUKO: Brighter. Yes. And...they know why they're studying. Because they have dream.
Mr. Ikeda's biggest and most powerful dream machine is another one of his creations. Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai's newspaper, is part of a large publishing empire, and has a daily circulation of 5,500,000. It's virtually compulsory reading for Soka members, as it carries a regular column by the leader, as well as promoting, in its own words, the movement for peace and culture. The paper is extremely profitable, making more than 60 million pounds a year. It has its own special view of the world and is not averse to tidying up the picture to match the Soka version of reality.
>From the cradle to the grave, Soka Gakkai cares for its members. In a country of many religions, it's always been the Buddhists of Japan who have looked after the "here-after." This has worked very much to the financial benefit of Soka Gakkai. In partnership with the Mitsubishi Bank, a country- wide chain of cemetaries has been constructed, complete with piped Mozart, and with thousands of plots, all of them sold.
In Japan, it's believed that the spirits of the ancestors care for the living, and so strong emotional bonds are expressed in the way the living remember and treat the dead. This means there's great pressure to purchase a suitable and expensive memorial, and to tend it diligently.
This deep sense of duty to the ancestors appears to be useful to Soka Gakkai in its dealings with members and employees.
JIRO OSHIKO (Former S.G. official): I was forced to buy a cemetary plot in Hokkaido (The northern-most island of Japan). I live in Ohmiya, a suburb of Tokyo. So, there was no need to buy a cemetary plot in a remote place like the island of Hokkaido. I was not allowed to pay for the plot in cash. I was, to some extent, coerced to take out a loan with Mitsubishi Bank. The bank calculated my monthly payments. And, in the end, I think I finished up having to pay twice the normal amount.
PROF. KITANO: The Mitsubishi Group is a major (business) concern. Before the war, Mitsubishi was even more powerful. Today the Mitsubishi Bank is Soka Gakkai's main bank. There are strong ties between them.
An investigation into Soka Gakkai's gravestone business was triggered by the discovery of the yen equivalent of 1.2 million (U.S.) dollars in a safe discarded in a scrap yard.
PROF. KITANO: A top member of Soka Gakkai said it was his own, personal money, and that it had no connection with Soka Gakkai. The tax office thought it strange, and they started a full-scale investigation.
MINORU MORITA (Political Commentator): Contributions to Japanese religious organizations are not subject to either taxation or inspection. They are free to collect and spend money as they choose.
In the shadow of Mt.Fuji, there is spectacular evidence of how Soka Gakkai spent some of its vast wealth. They constructed here a complex that included halls, guest houses, shrines, and a structure that's the largest temple in Asia, and possibly the largest in the world. This is where the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood tended to the spritual needs of the Soka Gakkai faithful. But not any longer, following a long running power struggle between Ikeda and the priesthood. He and the entire Soka Gakkai membership were excommunicated. Since 1992, the temple has been off limits, and the war of words continues.
REV. KOGAKU AKIMOTO (Nichiren-Shoshu Bureau of Religious Affairs): Our High Priest had talks with (gave guidance to) Soka Gakkai. They refused to change their ways, and we had to excommunicate them.
DAISAKU IKEDA: They mercilessly excommunicated us without any real reason. Simply because they had enough money and no longer needed us. There has been no worse incident in Buddhist history than this. They treated the believers like slaves. It was like religion in medieval times.
INTERVIEWER: And you see yourself like Luther, reforming the church and bringing it away from the corruption of Rome?
DAISAKU IKEDA: Yes, it's the same thing. History is repeating itself. It's just like Luther. I am proud of it.
Mr. Ikeda's role as a thinker, rivaling Martin Luther, is enhanced by Soka University, which he founded in 1971, which is now regarded as one of Japan's more successful seats of learning, and one of the fastest growing. It's already linked to a sister campus in California, and soon to be joined by a second. Thanks to lavish endowment, the pangs of recession have scarcely been felt here. The department of bio- engineering has recently opened and a new building program will make room for more faculties and departments that feature in the founder's vision of the future. In the university prospectus is a fullsome account of the founders life and works, pointing out that he has tirelessly devoted his life to promoting peace, culture and education by establishing numerous cuItural and educational institutions. It also lists his honorary doctorates and professorships from around the world -- over 40 of them, and his national decorations, and other major awards, and major publications!
in English. There's also a translation of the founding spirit of the university, penned, of course, by Mr. Ikeda. -- "Be the highest seat of learning for humanistic education, be the cradle of a new culture, be the fortress for the peace of mankind."
One of Ikeda's major publications in English is titled "Choose Life."
It's a dialogue with the late Arnold J. Toynbee, distinguished British historian, and grandfather of Polly Toynbee.
POLLY TOYNBEE (Journalist): It's hard to imagine here, but the name "Toynbee," in Japan, is still extraordinarily influential. Not just in the academic world and in the political world, but the students still read his books, because he is this prophet of the rise of the Pacific Basin and the power of the Pacific.
STEVE GORE (Former SGI employee): Ikeda went to London, England to have a series of dialogues with a noted British historian, ArnoId Tynbee, and we were part of the entourage traveling in a capacity as a liaison agent, but also in the ever presence, our job was to jump on a bomb, or in front of a bullet, or in front of a knife in case this man was attacked by some fanatical, unhappy person.
DAISAKU IKEDA: Dr. Toynbee welcomed me like his own son. Our talks were intense and at a very high Ievel. We had to change interpreters twice.
For the Soka faithful, the book is almost Holy Writings. Years after Prof. Toynbee's death, and to their great surprise, Polly Tynbee and her husband were invited to visit Mr. Ikeda in Japan.
POLLY TOYNBEE: Everything that we did was formal; huge, formal gatherings; meetings, with different people; meetings with the women of Soka Gakkai; meetings with different groups, people associated in their minds with my grandfather in some way or another, and we found it very oppressive; very alarming; and certainly by the time it came to the meeting with him, by then we had formed a very clear idea of this extraordinary, militarily run organization. Phenomenal power, wealth, and a sinister level of obedience.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get any impression of Ikeda, "the great spiritual leader"?
POLLY TOYNBEE: I think it would be hard to imagine a less spiritual man. He was in every way earthy. A powerful megalomania; we got this aura of power from him that was extremely alarming. We then went, on another day with him, to some huge Nurenberg style rally in a stadium, where everything was to the greater worship of him. And again, what he really liked was this feeling of power.
Power and the trappings of power. This palace is the Japanese government's official guest house, where its most important visitors are housed. Recently, the press was summoned here for a photo-call to witness the presentation to Pres. Nelson Mandela of an honorary degree by Daisaku Ikeda. Throughout the ceremony, Mr.Ikeda appeared to be on the most intimate terms with the distinguished visitor.
DAISAKU IKEDA: We first met five years ago. It was a very warm occasion. He had read my book in jail. He said we should foster our friendship for the rest of my life.
POLLY TOYNBEE: What he did with my grandfather he has done time and time again with distinguished people all over the world, who haven't a clue who he is, or what he is, and just imagine that he is an important and serious Japanese leader. And so they agree to have a meeting with him, and out of perhaps one meeting comes the impression that it's a very close and important relationship, and that this person has given their full support to Ikeda and his movement.
As founder of Soka-University, Mr. Ikeda has been able to confer honorary degrees on many of Japan's most eminent visitors. When Mr. Gobechav was so rewarded, it was another splendid opportunity with Ikeda at center stage -- friend of the powerful and patron of the arts.
Among Ikeda's more grandiose ventures in his cultural crusade is the establishment of two major museums of art. This one (Tokyo Fuji Art Museum) houses 5,000 works, including paintings by many of the greatest European masters, from all the principle periods and schools, up to the present day. Although there are fine paintings here, experts regard it as a curiously mixed bag, which may be explained, in part, by the way it was put together. When Mr. Ikeda went shopping in the art galleries of Europe, he didn't waste time on second thoughts or second opinions.
STEVE GORE: The rapidness at which Ikeda would walk through the galleries impressed me. He would spend maybe 4 to 6 minutes in each gallery. He would point and utter these commands. The names of the works, the prices and the catalog, everything was written down. Several hours later, one of the general secretaries would come back with the briefcase full of money. If the man was willing to meet for the bulk price - - the 3, 4 or 6 pieces from his gallery -- he was given the cash. I found it amazing to see how fast one man could spend so much money.
Very serious questions have been asked on how so much money was spent on certain works of art, and where the money went. Here at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, negotiations allegedly took place, in 1989, for the purchase of two French impressionist paintings that are now in the Soka Gakkai collection. Tax authorities became suspicious, because both Soka Gakkai and Mitsubishi claimed to have purchased the same paintings, on the same day, in the same place, but at a different price.
Tax investigators could find no trace of two French nationals who supposedly sold the two Renoir paintings to Mitsubishi. It appears to have been a double sale of the paintings in which 11 million (U.S.) dollars went astray -- simply disappeared.
Japanese newspapers suggest that the money probably finished-up in a political "slush-fund," and that Soka Gakkai is more interested in pedaling political influence than it is in French impressionism.
DAISAKU IKEDA: Our museum bought the Renoir masterpieces for a very high price, but I knew nothing about it. If there is a scandal, people always blame me.
No one was really made the scape-goat, although the authorities raided the premises of art dealers to discover who did sell the paintings, and to whom. And aIthough they confiscated documents, and although Mitsubishi was ticked- off for dealing in antiques without a license, and although inquiries went on for months by official agencies and the press, nothing was resolved.
PROF. KITANO: Without finding what happened to the money, the Japanese tax office stopped their investigation. We believe that this was the result of strong political pressure by Soka Gakkai.
DAISAKU IKEDA: They can say or write what they like. They won't imprison me, or kill me with poison-gas. But I am concerned at the way the mass media becomes emotional and prejudiced. This can hinder democracy and human rights.
To make sure that its members are not corrupted by hostile media, Soka Gakkai has its own communications network to spread the word to 1,000 meeting halls and cultural centers. This can be of great value when it comes to election time.
Last year, Soka Gakkai's own party, Komei, was partially merged to form a new party, Shinshin-to (New Frontier Party [NFP]). Recently, elections for the Upper House were the first real test of its strength. The voter turn-out was the lowest in recent history, benefiting the party that could best deliver the votes. The results sent shock-waves through the political circles, with the new party winning 40 seats, thanks to the Soka Gakkai vote, and that must have profound implications for Mr. Ikeda.
INTERVIEWER: As Shinshin-to, it must stand a reasonable chance, does it not, of being actually elected and forming a government?
IKEDA: I am placed in a very difficult position. If I say yes, then people might slacken their efforts. If I say no, some people may lose confidence. And so, I must say, maybe yes, and maybe no.
PROF. KITANO: Although Soka Gakkai calls itself a religious body, in reality, it's Ikeda's political organization. Ikeda's aim is to use Soka Gakkai to take over Japanese politics and the civil service.
If we conclude from all the evidence that Soka Gakkai is not quite the great force for peace and harmony and human happiness that it claims to be, does that really matter except to a number of hurt and angry individuals? For surely, the Aum- Shinrikyo case tells us that it does matter. What that bizarre story reveals is a dangerous weakness in the Japanese Constitution that leaves it virtually powerless to deal with the religious organizations. The constitution imposed on Japan by the United States, at the end of World War II, guarantees freedom from state interference with religious groups, and that provision protects their tax exempt status. Now, unless changes are made to the law, they will continue to use, or misuse, their great wealth as they will. Changes to the Religious Corporation Law could check the secret use of funds that, in the Aum-Shinrikyo case, were used to develop chemical weapons. Such reforms are now before Japan's legislatures. If they become law, they cou!
ld curb the power of all religious groups, including Soka Gakkai.
In a recent development, Japan's Justice Minister announced his resignation following allegations that in a secret deal with the opposition, Shinshin-to party, he would agree to obstruct his own government's efforts to make religious organizations more accountable. The name of Soka Gakkai, through its support of Shinshin-to is bound to be linked to the scandal.
The Japanese public is well aware that if recent election results are repeated in a general election, Shinshin-to could take the reign of the government. And where then, would the real power lie?
An Antelope Production For BBC