Lawmakers feud on Buddhist ties Coalition members mixed over Soka Gakkai

Asahi Evening News/June 8, 2000
By Koichi Iitake

An emergency message dated June 4 appeared on a bulletin board at Soka Gakkai's facility in Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture. The message was from Soka Gakkai President Einosuke Akiya, who urged members to "determinedly deal a crushing blow" to enemies of the nation's largest lay Buddhist group and its de facto political arm, New Komeito.

"Such determination to fight it out stems from a teaching in our religion that allows us believers to resort to even 'swords' for the purpose of protecting the teachings of Buddhism," said a local member of Soka Gakkai, on condition of anonymity.

The ultimate goal of Soka Gakkai and New Komeito in Niigata's No. 6 single-seat district race in the June 25 Lower House election, which covers Joetsu, is "to oust incumbent Katsuhiko Shirakawa of the Liberal Democratic Party from national politics," he said.

Shirakawa, a former home affairs minister, is one of several LDP politicians who have openly insisted that it is against the constitutional principle of "separating politics from religion" for Soka Gakkai to have created a political party.

He has also opposed the current ruling coalition of the LDP, New Komeito and Hoshuto (New Conservative Party).

"It may seem that we are acting here against New Komeito's coalition with the LDP at the national level, but we just couldn't remain indifferent to Shirakawa's unjust actions," said Mikiro Nishizawa, a Joetsu Municipal Assembly member of New Komeito.

Nishizawa, who is also a Soka Gakkai member, has recently promoted the unusual decision by the party's prefectural chapter to support opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) candidate Nobutaka Tsutsui. New Komeito has not fielded any candidate in the race.

Nishizawa said the LDP-New Komeito feud in the area has been fueled by a police cover-up of traffic violations in Niigata. A key figure in the case is Shirakawa's private secretary, who has been indicted on charges of asking prefectural police to destroy certain traffic records.

New Komeito in April filed a criminal complaint with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors' Office, claiming that Shirakawa hinted in magazine interviews that New Komeito fabricated the secretary's involvement in the case.

Such friction has intensified in some districts since the two parties formed a coalition in October last year because the LDP lacked a majority in the Upper House.

New Komeito's moves represent a present-day version of the dubious relationship between political power and religion that played an important role in Japan's militarism before and during World War II, said Kiyoyasu Kitabatake, professor of religion and journalism at Siebold University of Nagasaki.

There are estimated 8 million Soka Gakkai followers across the nation. Based on that figure, there are at least 20,000 Soka Gakkai votes in each of the 300 Lower House district races. The figure is not sufficient for a candidate to win a single-seat district race, but can function as a "swing vote."

But there is an anti-Soka Gakkai group called Shigatsukai, formed by religious organizations in 1994. Shirakawa has close ties with the group.

"The LDP-New Komeito coalition will be denied by the voters on June 25," Shirakawa told Asahi Evening News. At Shirakawa's office in Joetsu, there is no poster of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori "because Mori is a promoter of the coalition with New Komeito," Shirakawa said.

A similar regional battle is heating up in Tokyo's No. 17 single-seat constituency, where LDP incumbent Katsuei Hirasawa and New Komeito's Natsuo Yamaguchi are competing.

Hirasawa so harshly criticized New Komeito's ties with Soka Gakkai that the LDP did not officially recognize him as a candidate of the party until he apologized.

Yamaguchi, for his part, said: "My victory would be possible if not only Soka Gakkai members, but also other unaffiliated voters support me. If I win, that will mean that my party's presence is widely supported by the public."

Soka Gakkai has its origin in Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value Creating Education Society), an educators group set up in 1930 by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who died in prison as a "thought criminal" in 1944 under Japan's military regime which cracked down on opponents of state Shinto.

As Japan entered an era of high economic growth, Soka Gakkai expanded by offering an ideology to many young and poor people who moved from rural areas to industrial centers like Tokyo and felt lonely.

Soka Gakkai members believe that daily chanting of the Lotus Sutra makes Buddhists better people and helps to improve society.

A 61-year-old engineer at a Tokyo-based electric appliance company said he became a believer of Soka Gakkai when he was a high school student. At that time, he said, his family members thought he was crazy.

"I have so far persuaded about 100 people into becoming Soka Gakkai members, including dozens of my family members and relatives who once said the religion was nonsense," he said.

Komeito, predecessor of New Komeito, was established in 1964 by Daisaku Ikeda, who became president of Soka Gakkai in 1960 and honorary president in 1979.

It was a declared political arm of Soka Gakkai until 1970, when Soka Gakkai said its activities would be separated from those of Komeito.

However, the support base of Komeito and New Komeito has been limited to the lay-Buddhist group and the number of its seats in the lower chamber has usually hovered around 50.

Some die-hard Soka Gakkai members have chosen not to participate in New Komeito.

"Religiously, I still am faithful as before," said incumbent Liberal Party candidate Nobuaki Futami, a former member of Komeito. "But politically, I support my party's policies for the drastic reform of the nation.

"I had learned quite a lot as a Komeito member, particularly from the perspective of the socially weak," Futami said. "But politicians sometimes must demand that the people endure some severe policies that will help reform the nation in the long run."

However, he faces a tough battle in Ibaraki Prefecture's No. 6 single-seat district race, where New Komeito is set to support LDP incumbent Yuya Niwa as part of the ruling coalition's election cooperation plan.

"Almost all the former Soka Gakkai members who supported him are gone," Futami's secretary sighed.

Many Soka Gakkai members say that Futami has ignored the fact that he became a politician thanks to the support of Soka Gakkai and Komeito.

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