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EDITORIAL | Death of Daisaku Ikeda Spotlights Separation of Politics and Religion

A man of enormous political force, Daisaku Ikeda expanded Soka Gakkai globally and created a political party that has strongly influenced Japan's China policy.

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Soka Gakkai Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda on October 7, 2006 at Soka University in Hachioji, Tokyo (©Sankei)

Daisaku Ikeda, honorary president of the Soka Gakkai, passed away recently at the age of 95.

After becoming the third president of the Soka Gakkai in 1960, Ikeda promoted the expansion of the organization. He increased the number of its followers to a nominal 8.27 million households, thereby making it one of the largest religious organizations in Japan. 

In addition, he was undoubtedly one of the leading figures of the Showa and Heisei eras. For one, he formed the Komeito Party and came to exert great influence on the political world. Moreover, he strove to promote friendship between Japan and China

On the other hand, Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai have not been without controversy. 

Soka Gakkai General Headquarters on the afternoon of November 18, Shinjuku, Tokyo (©Sankei by Yuta Yasumoto)

A Not-Always-Easy History

During the period when the sect was rapidly expanding, its overly aggressive techniques for recruiting followers invited criticism. The technique was known as shakubuku, or literally "break and subdue." 

Moreover, the Soka Gakkai and Komeito made efforts around 1970 to use political influence to prevent the publication of a book critical of Ikeda. It became known as the "free speech prevention controversy" and created a social issue. 

There was also the attempt to use Komeito to advance the Soka Gakkai's plan to establish a "National Ordination Platform" to promote Nichiren Buddhism.  That initiative was widely condemned for violating the principle of the separation of church and state enshrined in the Constitution. 

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For this reason, in 1970, Ikeda declared his adherence to the principle of "separation of church and state" by distancing the Soka Gakkai and Komeito as organizations. He also rejected the creation of a "national ordination platform."

Chinese President Hu Jintao greets Soka Gakkai Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda at Hotel New Otani in Tokyo on May 8, 2008 (Pool photo)
Soka Gakkai Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, April 12, 2007 (©Sankei)

Exerting Political Influence

Whereas previously Komeito had always been a party in opposition, in 1993 for the first time it became part of a ruling party. That was during the administration of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa

Komeito first became a coalition partner with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 1999. The party has continued to expand its political power. It has remained in government since 1999 for all but August 2009-December 2012. Those were the three years when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was in power. 

Although organization-wise religion and politics have been divorced, the inseparable relationship between Komeito and its parent organization, the Soka Gakkai, remains intact today.

Until his disappearance from the public eye more than a decade ago, Ikeda exerted influence on various Cabinets as the head of a support group. His activities included engaging in informal meetings with former prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe. 

Soka Gakkai Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda = February 2008 (©Kyodo)

From Humble Beginnings to Great Influence

Ikeda also left his mark on the policy front. He proposed the normalization of relations between Japan and China in 1968. That was under the moniker of promoting "friendship between Japan and China." Since then, his approach has been the de facto party policy of the Komeito. The manner in which the party continues to emphasize Japan-China relations is a good example of this commitment.

Daisaku Ikeda was born in Tokyo in 1928 into a family with 10 children. They ran an edible seaweed (nori) business. However, during World War II his father became seriously ill. Ikeda then had to go to work in a factory to help support the family. 

As a youth, he knew his share of suffering. His death symbolizes the end of the "Showa" era, both in name and reality. It was a period when, against a backdrop of postwar turmoil and the rise of new religions, a single individual could rise to a position of power and enjoy great influence not only in religious circles but also in the political world. 

While we pray for the repose of Ikeda's soul, his death provides us with an opportunity to reconsider the relationship between religion and politics. Especially in light of the ongoing controversy regarding the Family Coalition for World Peace and Unification (the former Unification Church).

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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