A Buddhist Leader Is Accused Of Rape

Newsweek International Edition/July 8, 1996
By Hideko Takayama

Nobuko Nobuhira has been a faithful member of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai for much of her life. Every day for the past four decades she has chanted part of the Lotus Sutra to pray for happiness. She became a senior member of the regional Hokkaido division, spreading the group's message of peace. But last month Nobuhira, 69, voiced a very different message: she accused Soka Gakkai leader Daisaku Ikeda of rape. Nobuhira filed a 75 million yen civil suit against the 68-year-old Ikeda, alleging that he raped her on three separate occasions and called her "nigo-san," or "my mistress," in front of other followers. "He should not be allowed to speak of salvation or world peace," she says. "He is worse than a beast."

David had an easier task when he took on Goliath. Soka Gakkai claims 12 million members inside Japan - a tenth of the population - as well as 1.4 million in 127 other countries. It owns Japan's third largest newspaper, Seikyo Shinbun, as well as Soka University. Its political arm, the now defunct Clean Government Party, has formed the core of the New Frontier Party, which is the government's chief opposition. Ikeda, who has been the top leader of Soka Gakkai for 36 years, is a charismatic figure famous for jetting around the world to hold "dialogues" with such luminaries as John Kenneth Galbraith and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Soka Gakkai leader has been under fire before. Last year he was asked to testify before Parliament after the Liberal Democratic Party proposed setting strict limits for religious groups, following the subway nerve-gas attacks by the Aum Shinrikyo cult. In 1991 the order on which Soka Gakkai is based, Nichiren Buddhism, disowned the lay group over a dispute about priestly authority.

Ikeda has not commented on the latest charges. But Soka Gakkai's attorney called the accusations groundless fabrications motivated by personal resentment. According to Soka Gakkai, Nobuhira and her husband have been ordered to repay large sums of money that they allegedly extorted from Soka Gakkai members. Furthermore, the group says, at least one of the alleged attacks couldn't possibly have occurred, because the coffee shop where Nobuhira claims it took place didn't exist at the time.

Nobuhira's lawyers acknowledge that they face a tough fight. At a press conference last week, during which Nobuhira described in detail the alleged assaults, one of her lawyers defended the decision to file a civil as opposed to a criminal suit on the ground that they wanted to retain control of the case and avoid putting Nobuhira through the ordeal of recounting the alleged crimes. Soka Gakkai, meanwhile, is seeking desperately to control the damage to their leaders' reputation: they have been bombarding the press with faxes insisting that Nobuhira and her lawyers filed civil charges because "they do not want the case to be investigated by the police and public prosecutor because it would only prove that their allegation is groundless."

Nobody would like to see Soka Gakkai fall more than some leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party. As the biggest member of Japan's ruling coalition, the LDP establishment fears Soka Gakkai's growing power base. Forty of the opposition New Frontier Party candidates endorsed by Soka Gakkai in upper-house elections last year won seats, giving the NFP its strongest showing yet. Nobuhira's lawyer says that dozens of women's groups are also supporting her. One tabloid newspaper recently dubbed the case "Daisaku vs. All Women." That may be stretching it a bit, but whatever the outcome, the case will illuminate the workings of one of Japan's richest and most powerful organizations.

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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