Soka Gakkai tried to censor the foreign media but failed to stop broadcast of BBC's The Chanting Millions

Japan Times Weekly/November 4, 1995

A Weekly correspondent in London reports that Soka Gakkai is now embroiled in a dispute with the BBC, which aired a feature on the sect Oct. 14. A spokesman at Soka Gakkai's Tokyo headquarters said a complaint was filed because the BBC had agreed to show a program outline to the sect before broadcast. Such a demand, of course, is tantamount to censorship -- the kind of de facto censorship the sect has exercised through meetings with media executives, paid advertising and libel suits.

At a recent seminar sponsored by the Roppongi Bar Association, a Tokyo-based foreign lawyers' group, an executive with a major TV network explained that the media has honored a press taboo on two issues: The Imperial household and religion. He cited Aum Shinrikyo and Soka Gakkai. Will any major Japanese network broadcast the BBC program, titled The Chanting Millions? A similar CBS 60 Minutes program on Soka Gakkai has never been aired in Japan, despite strong audience interest in such material.

In defense of the public's right to know, the Weekly asked a London correspondent to summarize BBC's Assignment: The Chanting Millions.

Assignment: The Chanting Millions is narrated by reporter Julian Pettiler. Following words from the sect's honorary chairman Daisaku Ikeda, Professor Minoru Morita avers that the leader of Soka Gakkai is the most powerful man in Japanese politics. The professor explains that the lay arm of the 700-year-old Nichiren Shoshu sect is regarded as heretical by the Buddhist mainstream. The belief in chanting to achieve material ambitions is said to be an example of heresy.

The program then features a Japanese family, who run a small chain of hairdressers, as an example of the SG faithful. In contrast, a meeting of some 700 disgruntled members and sect deserters is highlighted. Despite the growing number of disillusioned followers, the SG voters can still tally some 6 million votes, 10 percent of the electorate.

Soka Gakkai International now boasts chapters in Britain and much of the rest of Europe, as well as 150,000 members in the United States. In Southern California, NSA (the SGI chapter still retains the Nichiren Shoshu of America moniker) spokesman Al Albergate gives bland responses.

Disenchanted American members describe the sect as a money-grabbing enterprise that begins the conversion process by introducing devotees to the belief that chanting will bring their heart's desire, and ends by subordinating them.

Hirohisa Kitano, a law professor at Nihon University, estimates SG's wealth as more than 1,000 properties across Japan and ¥10 trillion (U.S.$100 billion). The sect affiliated newspaper Seikyo Shimbun has a circulation of 5.5 million.

The sect operates a network of schools, from primary to university levels. In the sect-run secondary schools, the children are not yet taught religion but are exposed to the personality cult of the great leader Daisaku Ikeda.

Ikeda states that Soka Gakkai's excommunication by its mother temple: Nichiren Shoshu, was the worst disaster in Buddhist history.

The program moves on to another money-making scheme -- selling burial plots with the cooperation of Mitsubishi Bank (the sect's main bank). A former sect official relates how, despite the fact that he lived in Omiya, he was pressured into buying a burial plot in Hokkaido. He was not allowed to pay cash, but was forced to take a loan from Mitsubishi; the payment was twice the price.

Polly Toynbee, the journalist and former social affairs reporter for BBC News is also the grand-daughter of the late British historian Arnold Toynbee, whose conversations with Ikeda were published in a book titled Choose Life. On a visit to Japan, she saw Ikeda as a power seeker and not a religious person at all.

The Toynbee dialogue illustrated the pattern of Ikeda's attempt to associate himself with prominent individuals. The sect-affliated Soka University allows Ikeda to award honorary degrees, for example, to Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev. In Britain, he met Margaret Thatcher.

The sect was linked to an art scandal, involving a sect-affiliated museum and Mitsubishi Bank. Apparently, the two institutions claim to have purchased the same painting at the same auction -- but reported different prices. The police investigation has gone nowhere.

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