Sex case haunts Japan religious leader

Asia Times/June 25, 1996
By Bradley Martin

The leader of eight million Japanese families which adhere to the Soka Gakkai offshoot of Buddhism likes to be called the most powerful man in the country.

Not so welcome to Daisaku Ikeda and his followers are recurrent charges that power has corrupted him, as he has bent the doctrines of the faith to craft a personality cult in which his wish is the command of followers - whether at the ballot box or in the boudoir.

Ikeda has done more than anyone in the post-war era to inject religion into the country's politics. His organization's get-out-the-vote clout strikes fear into the hearts of opponents - to the extent he has become the chief bogeyman of the Liberal Democratic Party and its partners in the ruling coalition.

But the tough-talking, 68-year-old pacifist, a big power behind the scenes in the opposition New Frontier Party or Shinshin-to, can handle the slings and arrows from fellow politicians. The attacks that really sting - and get the Soka Gakkai public relations apparatus humming - are accusations of sexual peccadilloes, perhaps because they appear threatening to what is widely seen as a more or less open campaign to win him a Nobel Peace Prize.

The latest such charge comes from a former high-ranking follower, Nobuko Nobuhira, who has filed a civil lawsuit claiming that the "eternal master", as some followers have called him, raped her brutally not once but three times - in 1973, 1983 and 1991 - while she worked as an unpaid Soka Gakkai local chief in Hakodate, Hokkaido.

Ikeda was unavailable for comment but Soka Gakkai spokespersons vigorously denied the charge and noted that Nobuhira, in the 23 years since the first alleged rape, had never brought a criminal charge. Her civil suit, they argued, was a media stunt by a disaffected ex-member who had been kicked out, a ploy to avoid a quick resolution of the case and thus prolong the feeding of scandalous anti-Ikeda tidbits to the tabloid press.

"Without police investigation, the complainant can say anything she wants to in court, including fabricated 'testimony' and 'evidence'," said a Soka Gakkai spokesman.

The 69-year-old housewife at a press conference on Monday acknowledged that a major purpose of her suit was to let the public know "what kind of a human being Mr Ikeda really is". Her lawyer explained that they had filed a civil suit in order to retain control of the case - a criminal case would be handled by public prosecutors - and to avoid the humiliation of Nobuhira being grilled and put through graphic crime-scene re-enactments by the police.

Mrs Nobuhira's accounts of the alleged rapes in the legal complaint and at the press conference were fairly graphic themselves. She told how Ikeda had visited Hakodate in June 1973 and she had been in charge of all preparations for his visit. She was bending over making up his bedding on the straw-mat floor when Ikeda attacked her from behind, knocked her face-down on to the bedding and raped her, she said. Soon after that, she said, he started referring to her when he saw her as "Nigo-san" (my mistress).

A little over 10 years later, on the same premises, he raped her again. Another eight years passed before the third alleged attack - again at the Hakodate training center.

Mrs Nobuhira was asked why, after the first and second alleged rapes, she stayed on, not only as a member of Soka Gakkai but in a position that would involve her deeply in providing hospitality to Ikeda during his visits.

She replied that she had built the local organization and she was a strong believer in the Nichiren-sect Buddhist teachings that the lay group Sokka Gakkai espoused. It would have looked strange if she had stepped down, and she feared she would end up shamed by having to tell her husband and others what Ikeda had done to her. By the time of the third alleged rape, she said, she mistakenly assumed she was out of danger on account of her age.

Soka Gakkai and Ikeda often have found themselves in public disputes. Ikeda sued the former editor of a monthly magazine for libel after the magazine in 1976 printed articles about intimate affairs he had allegedly had with female Soka Gakkai members. The editor drew a 10-month prison sentence before the Supreme Court ordered a retrial.

There are other issues as well. Some former members of the group have complained of campaigns of intimidation to keep members from leaving. A group of those dissidents allied several years ago with priests of the Nichiren sect who excommunicated the entire membership of Soka Gakkai.

Soka Gakkai spokespersons described the Nichiren priests as a sybaritic lot who inherited their temples from their fathers and grandfathers, drove sports cars, dined with geisha and insisted that priestly intervention - at a price - was necessary for spiritual salvation. Soka Gakkai argues that laypersons can find their own salvation through home repetition of a chant expressing belief in the Lotus Sutra.

In a more recent case, Soka Gakkai filed another criminal libel complaint against the editor of the weekly Gendai magazine and the husband and daughter of a local councilwoman who was found dead beneath an apartment building under suspicious circumstances. The complaint noted that the magazine's article suggested that Soka Gakkai had been involved in the death, which the authorities ruled a suicide. The councilwoman was an anti-Soka Gakkai campaigner.

Subsequently, reports appeared - not denied by Soka Gakkai - saying that the prosecutor who had decided not to investigate possible homicide in the case was a graduate of the religious group's Soka University.

Political opponents of the group have sought to use such incidents to press for new legislation to tighten separation between state and religion, a campaign that gathered steam after an upper house parliamentary election last year in which the group's support was decisive in victories by Shinshin-to candidates.

LDP leaders like secretary-general Koichi Kato argue that Ikeda is trying to take over the whole country through the get-out-the-vote efforts of its brigades of housewife proselytizers.

That is a group that used to include Nobuhira, who as a former member now sides with the Nichiren priests.

Japan's religious wars rage on.

Postscript: The Nobuhira lawsuit against Ikeda was dismissed by a Japanese court in 1996 and in 2006 that lower court decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.

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