Japanese new religions

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Japanese new religions are new religious movements established in Japan. In Japanese they are called shinshūkyō (新宗教?) or shinkō shūkyō (新興宗教?). 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 Shinto, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Western influences include the Bible and the writings of Nostradamus.[1][2]

Peacewalk of Nipponzan Myohoji

Japanese new religions before World War II[edit]

In the 1860s Japan began to experience great social turmoil and rapid modernization. As social conflicts emerged in this last decade of the Tokugawa period, known as the Bakumatsu period, some new religious movements appeared. Among them were Tenrikyo, Kurozumikyo and Oomoto, sometimes called Nihon Sandai Shinkōshūkyō (lit. Japan's three large Shinkōshūkyō), which were directly influenced by Shintō (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 toward 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 protected not only insults against the Emperor and his Imperial House, but also 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 Tsunesaburo Makiguchi of Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, who typically were charged with violation of lèse majesté and the Peace Preservation Law.

New religions after World War II[edit]


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 organisations, losing government protection and financial support. Although the Occupation Army (GHQ) practiced censorship of all types of organizations, specific suppression of Shinshūkyō 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 Shinshūkyō, not only because they were founded in the 19th century (as were other major Shinshūkyō), 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 Shinshūkyō are Buddhist- or Shinto-related sects. Major sects include Risshō Kōsei Kai and Shinnyo-en. Major goals of Shinshūkyō 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 Shinshūkyō 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 Shinshūkyō.[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 Shinshūkyō 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[edit]

In the 1950s Japanese wives of American servicemen introduced Soka Gakkai to the United States. Since then it has steadily gained members while avoiding much of the controversy encountered by some other new religious movements in the US. Well-known American Soka Gakkai converts include musician Herbie Hancock and singer Tina Turner.[3]

In Brazil Shinshūkyō, like Honmon Butsuryū-shū, 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]


Statistics for major Shinshūkyō.[4]

The periodical division into the following four periods was done by Shimozono. The table contains: common name of the religious community, the founder's name with birth and death dates, the date the organization was founded and then, if available, the number of members in the years 1954, 1974 and 1990.

Organization Founder Founded 1954 1974 1990
1st Period
Nyorai-kyō Isson-nyorai Kino (1756-1826) 1802 75,480 33,674 27,131
Kurozumi-kyō Kurozumi Munetada (1780-1850) 1814 715,650 407,558 295,225
Tenri-kyō Nakayama Miki (1798-1887) 1838 1,912,208 2,298,420 1,839,009
Honmon Butsuryū-shū Nagamatsu Nissen (1817-1890) 1857 339,800 515,911 526,337
Konko-kyō Konkō Daijin (1814-1883) 1859 646,206 500,868 442,584
Maruyama-kyō Itō Rokurōbei (1829-1894) 1870 92,011 3,200 10,725
2nd Period
Ōmoto-kyō Deguchi Nao (1837-1918)
Deguchi Onisaburō (1871-1948)
1899 73,604 153,397 172,460
Nakayama-Shingoshō-shū Kihara Matsutarō (1870-1942) 1912 282,650 467,910 382,040
Honmichi Ōnishi Aijirō (1881-1958) 1913 225,386 288,700 316,825
3rd Period
En'nō-kyō Fukada Chiyoko (1887-1925 1919 71,654 266,782 419,452
Nenpō-shinkyō Ogura Reigen (1886-1982) 1925 153,846 751,214 807,486
Reiyū-kai Kubo Kakutarō (1892-1944) 1924 2,284,172 2,477,907 3,202,172
Perfect Liberty Kyōdan Miki Tokuharu (1871-1938)
Miki Tokuchika (1900-1983)
500,950 2,520,430 1,259,064
Seichō-no-Ie Taniguchi Masaharu (1893-1985) 1930 1,461,604 2,375,705 838,496
Sōka Gakkai Makiguchi Tsunesaburō (1871-1944)
Toda Jōsei (1900-1956)
1930 341,146 16,111,375 17,736,757[6]
Sekai Kyūsei-kyō Okada Mokichi (1882-1955) 1935 373,173 661,263 835,756
Shin'nyoen Itō Shinjō (1906-1956) 1936 155,500 296,514 679,414
Kōdō Kyōdan Okano Shōdō (1900-1978) 1936 172,671 417,638 400,720
Risshō Kōsei-kai Naganuma Myōkō (1889-1957)
Niwano Nikkyō (1906-1999)
1938 1,041,124 4,562,304 6,348,120
Bussho Gonenkai Kyōdan Sekiguchi Kaichi (1897-1961)
Sekiguchi Tomino (1905-1990)
1950 352,170 1,210,227 2,196,813
Tenshō Kōtai Jingū-kyō Kitamura Sayo 1900-1967) 1945 89,374 386,062 439,011
Zenrin-kyō Rikihisa Tatsusai (1906-1977) 1947 404,157 483,239 513,321
Myōchikai Kyōdan Miyamoto Mitsu (1900-1984) 1950 515,122 673,913 962,611
4th Period (Post 2nd World War, Shin-shin-shūkyō)
Ōyama Nezunomikoto Shinji Kyōkai Inaii Sadao (1906-1988) 1948 59,493 826,022
Byakkō Shinkō-kai Goi Masahisa (1916-1980) 1951 500,000
Agon-shū Kiriyama Seiyū (1921-) 1954 500 206,606
Reiha-no-Hikari Kyōkai Hase Yoshio (1915-1984) 1954 761,175
Jōdoshinshū Shinran-kai Takamori Kentetsu (1934-) 1958 100,000[7]
Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyōdan Okada Kōtama (1901-1974) 1959 97,838
Sūkyō Mahikari 1978 501,328
Honbushin Ōnishi Tama (1916-1969) 1961 900,000[7]
God Light Association Sōgō Honbu Takahashi Shinji (1927-1976) 1969 12,981
Shinji Shūmei-kai Koyama Mihoko (1910-) 1970 1988: 440,000[7]
Nihon Seidō Kyōdan Iwasaki Shōkō (1934-) 1974 69,450
Extra-Sensory-Perception Kagaku Kenkyūjo Ishii Katao (1918-) 1975 16,000[7]
Ho-no-Hana Sanpōgyō Fukunaga Hōgen (1945-) 1980 70,000[7]
Yamato-no-Miya Ajiki Tenkei (1952-) 1981 5,000[7]
Ōmu Shinri-kyō Asahara Shōkō (1955-) 1984
Worldmate Fukami Seizan (1951-) 1986 30,000[7]
Happy Science Ōkawa Ryūhō (1956-) 1986 1989: 13,300
1991: 1,527,278[7]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Shimazono, Susumu (2004): From Salvation to Spirituality: Popular Religious Movements in Modern Japan. Trans Pacific Press. pp. 234-235
  5. ^ The (1925) date refers to the Hito-no-Michi Kyōdan, the mother organization of Perfect Liberty Kyōdan
  6. ^ Sōka Gakkai has not released figures for 1989 and 1990, so this figure is the membership number for 1988,
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Most of the statistics in these charts are from the 1991 edition of the Shūkyō Nenkan (Religion Yearbook, Tokyo: Gyōsei). Numbers marked with this footnote are from other sources[citation needed] reporting the organizations‘ own membership statistics around 1990.


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