Japanese New Religions
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Japanese New Religions
The Dai Heiwa Kinen T?, Peace Tower built by Perfect Liberty Ky?dan

Japanese new religions are new religious movements established in Japan. In Japanese, they are called shinsh?ky? () or shink? sh?ky? (?). Japanese scholars classify all religious organizations founded since the middle of the 19th century as "new religions"; thus, the term refers to a great diversity and number of organizations. Most came into being in the mid-to-late twentieth century and are influenced by much older traditional religions including Buddhism, Shinto and Hinduism. Western influences include Christianity, the Bible and the writings of Nostradamus.[1][2]

Before World War II

In the 1860s Japan began to experience great social turmoil and rapid modernization. As social conflicts emerged in this last decade of the Edo period, known as the Bakumatsu period, some new religious movements appeared. Among them were Tenrikyo, Kurozumikyo and Oomoto, sometimes called Nihon Sandai Shink?sh?ky? ("Japan's three large new religions"), which were directly influenced by Shinto (the state religion) and shamanism.

The social tension continued to grow during the Meiji period, affecting religious practices and institutions. Conversion from traditional faith was no longer legally forbidden, officials lifted the 250-year ban on Christianity, and missionaries of established Christian churches reentered Japan. The traditional syncreticism between Shinto and Buddhism ended and Shinto became the national religion. Losing the protection of the Japanese government which Buddhism had enjoyed for centuries, Buddhist monks faced radical difficulties in sustaining their institutions, but their activities also became less restrained by governmental policies and restrictions.

The Japanese government was very suspicious towards these religious movements and periodically made attempts to suppress them. Government suppression was especially severe during the early 20th century, particularly from the 1930s until the early 1940s, when the growth of Japanese nationalism and State Shinto were closely linked. Under the Meiji regime lèse majesté prohibited insults against the Emperor and his Imperial House, and also against some major Shinto shrines which were believed to be tied strongly to the Emperor. The government strengthened its control over religious institutions that were considered to undermine State Shinto or nationalism, arresting some members and leaders of Shinshukyo, including Onisaburo Deguchi of Oomoto and Tsunesabur? Makiguchi of Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (now Soka Gakkai), who typically were charged with violation of lèse majesté and the Peace Preservation Law.

After World War II


After Japan lost World War II, its government and policy changed radically during occupation by Allied troops. The official status of State Shinto was abolished, and Shinto shrines became religious organizations, losing government protection and financial support. Although the Occupation Army (GHQ) practiced censorship of all types of organizations, specific suppression of Shinsh?ky? ended.

GHQ invited many Christian missionaries from the United States to Japan, through Douglas MacArthur's famous call for 1,000 missionaries. Missionaries arrived not only from traditional churches, but also from some modern denominations, such as Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jehovah's Witnesses missionaries were so successful that they have become the second largest Christian denomination in Japan, with over 210,000 members (the largest is Catholicism with about 500,000 members). In Japan, Jehovah's Witnesses tend to be considered a Christianity-based Shinsh?ky?, not only because they were founded in the 19th century (as were other major Shinsh?ky?), but also because of their missionary practices, which involve door-to-door visiting and frequent meetings.

Despite the influx of Christian missionaries, the majority of Shinsh?ky? are Buddhist- or Shinto-related sects. Major sects include Rissh? K?sei Kai and Shinnyo-en. Major goals of Shinsh?ky? include spiritual healing, individual prosperity, and social harmony. Many also hold a belief in Apocalypticism, that is in the imminent end of the world or at least its radical transformation.[1] Most of those who joined Shinsh?ky? in this period were women from lower-middle-class backgrounds.[2]

Soka Gakkai has a particular influence to politics since 1964, thanks to their affiliated party Komeito, later New Komeito. In 1999, it was estimated that 10 to 20 per cent of the Japanese population were members of a Shinsh?ky?.[2]


After World War II, the structure of the state was changed radically. Prior to WWII, the National Diet was restricted and the real power lay with the executive branch, in which the prime minister was appointed by the emperor. Under the new Constitution of Japan, the Diet had the supreme authority for decision making in state affairs and all its members were elected by the people. Especially in the House of Councillors, one third of whose members were elected through nationwide vote, nationwide organizations found they could influence national policy by supporting certain candidates. Major Shinsh?ky? became one of the so-called "vote-gathering machines" in Japan, especially for the conservative parties which merged into the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955.

Other nations

In the 1950s, Japanese wives of American servicemen introduced the Soka Gakkai to the United States, which in the 1970s developed into the Soka Gakkai International (SGI). The SGI has steadily gained members while avoiding much of the controversy encountered by some other new religious movements in the US. Well-known American SGI converts include musician Herbie Hancock and singer Tina Turner.[3]

In Brazil Shinsh?ky?, like Honmon Butsury?-sh?, were first introduced in the 1920s among the Japanese immigrant population. In the 1950s and 1960s some started to become popular among the non-Japanese population as well. Seicho-no-Ie now has the largest membership in the country. In the 1960s it adopted Portuguese, rather than Japanese, as its language of instruction and communication. It also began to advertise itself as philosophy rather than religion in order to avoid conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and other socially conservative elements in society. By 1988 it had more than 2.4 million members in Brazil, 85% of them not of Japanese ethnicity.[1]


Edifices and emblems of various Japanese new religions
Emblem of Tenri-kyo.
Head office of Oomoto at Kameoka, Japan.
Flag of S?ka Gakkai.
Headquarters of Reiy?-kai.
Emblem of Konko-ky?
Rissho Kosei-kai's Great Sacred Hall.
Emblem of Church of World Messianity (Sekai Ky?sei Ky?).
Name Founder Founded 1954 1974 1990 2012
Nyorai-ky? () Isson-nyorai Kino (1756-1826) 1802 75,480 33,674 27,131 7,477
Kurozumi-ky? () Munetada Kurozumi (1780-1850) 1814 715,650 407,558 295,225 297,767
Tenri-ky? () Nakayama Miki (1798-1887) 1838 1,912,208 2,298,420 1,839,009 1,199,652
Honmon Butsury?-sh? () Nagamatsu Nissen (1817-1890) 1857 339,800 515,911 526,337 345,288
Konko-ky? () Konk? Daijin (1814-1883) 1859 646,206 500,868 442,584 430,021
Maruyama-ky? () Rokur?bei It? (1829-1894) 1870 92,011 3,200 10,725 11,057
Oomoto () Nao Deguchi (1837-1918)
Onisabur? Deguchi (1871-1948)
1899 73,604 153,397 172,460 169,525
Nakayama-Shingosh?-sh? () Matsutar? Kihara (1870-1942) 1912 282,650 467,910 382,040 295,275
Honmichi (?) ?nishi Aijir? (1881-1958) 1913 225,386 288,700 316,825 318,974
En'?-ky? () Chiyoko Fukada (1887-1925 1919 71,654 266,782 419,452 457,346
Reiy?-kai () Kakutar? Kubo (1892-1944) 1924 2,284,172 2,477,907 3,202,172 1,412,975
Nenp?-shinky? (?) Ogura Reigen (1886-1982) 1925 153,846 751,214 807,486 408,755
Perfect Liberty Ky?dan ( ?) Miki Tokuharu (1871-1938)
Miki Tokuchika (1900-1983)
500,950 2,520,430 1,259,064 942,967
Seich?-no-Ie (?) Masaharu Taniguchi (1893-1985) 1930 1,461,604 2,375,705 838,496 618,629
S?ka Gakkai (?) Tsunesabur? Makiguchi (1871-1944)
J?sei Toda (1900-1958)
1930 341,146 16,111,375 17,736,757[5] 20,000,000
Sekai Ky?sei-ky? () Mokichi Okada (1882-1955) 1935 373,173 661,263 835,756 835,756
Shinnyo-en () Shinj? It? (1906-1956) 1936 155,500 296,514 679,414 902,254
K?d? Ky?dan (?) Sh?d? Okano (1900-1978) 1936 172,671 417,638 400,720 184,859
Rissh? K?sei-kai () My?k? Naganuma (1889-1957)
Nikky? Niwano (1906-1999)
1938 1,041,124 4,562,304 6,348,120 3,232,411
Tensh? K?tai Jing?-ky? (?) Sayo Kitamura 1900-1967) 1945 89,374 386,062 439,011 479,707
Zenrin-ky? () Tatsusai Rikihisa (1906-1977) 1947 404,157 483,239 513,321 132,286
?yama Nezunomikoto Shinji Ky?kai (?) Sadao Inaii (1906-1988) 1948 59,493 826,022
Bussho Gonenkai Ky?dan (?) Kaichi Sekiguchi (1897-1961)
Sekiguchi Tomino (1905-1990)
1950 352,170 1,210,227 2,196,813 1,277,424
My?chikai Ky?dan () Mitsu Miyamoto (1900-1984) 1950 515,122 673,913 962,611 709,849
Byakk? Shink?-kai () Masahisa Goi (1916-1980) 1951 500,000
Agon-sh? () Seiy? Kiriyama (1921-) 1954 500 206,606 353,890
Reiha-no-Hikari Ky?kai (?) Hase Yoshio (1915-1984) 1954 761,175
J?doshinsh? Shinran-kai (?) Kentetsu Takamori (1934-) 1958 100,000[6]
Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Ky?dan () K?tama Okada(Yoshikazu Okada) (1901-1974) 1959 97,838
Honbushin () ?nishi Tama (1916-1969) 1961 900,000[6]
God Light Association S?g? Honbu (GLA?) Shinji Takahashi (1927-1976) 1969 12,981
Shinji Sh?mei-kai () Mihoko Koyama (1910-2003) 1970 1988: 440,000[6]
Nihon Seid? Ky?dan () Sh?k? Iwasaki (1934-) 1974 69,450
Extra-Sensory-Perception Kagaku Kenky?jo (ESP) Katao Ishii (1918-) 1975 16,000[6]
S?ky? Mahikari (?) Yoshikazu Okada(1901-1974) 1978 501,328
Ho No Hana () H?gen Fukunaga (1945-) 1980 70,000[6]
Yamato-no-Miya (?) Tenkei Ajiki (1952-) 1981 5,000[6]
World Mate (?) Seizan Fukami (1951-) 1984 30,000[6] 72,000
Happy Science () Ry?h? ?kawa (1956-) 1986 1989: 13,300
1991: 1,527,278[6]
Aum Shinrikyo () Sh?k? Asahara (1955-2018) 1987 (-2000) 2005: 1,650 2018: 1,950[7]

Data for 2012 is from the Agency for Cultural Affairs.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Peter B. Clarke, 1999, "Japanese New Religious Movements in Brazil: from ethnic to 'universal' religions", New Religious Movements: challenge and response, Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell editors, Routledge ISBN 0415200504
  2. ^ a b c Eileen Barker, 1999, "New Religious Movements: their incidence and significance", New Religious Movements: challenge and response, Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell editors, Routledge ISBN 0415200504
  3. ^ Eugene V. Gallagher, 2004, The New Religious Movement Experience in America, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0313328072, pages 120-124
  4. ^ The (1925) date refers to the Hito-no-Michi Ky?dan, the mother organization of Perfect Liberty Ky?dan
  5. ^ S?ka Gakkai has not released figures for 1989 and 1990, so this figure is the membership number for 1988,
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Most of the statistics in these charts are from the 1991 edition of the Sh?ky? Nenkan (Religion Yearbook, Tokyo: Gy?sei). Numbers marked with this footnote are from other sources[] reporting the organizations' own membership statistics around 1990.
  7. ^ "()". 25 July 2011. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 2018.
  8. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20140827014822/http://www.bunka.go.jp/shukyouhoujin/nenkan/pdf/h24nenkan.pdf


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