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Japanese new religions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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 Christianity, the Bible and the writings of Nostradamus.[1][2]

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As of 2015 there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world - some are thousands of years old and there are new ones being created all the time. Here’s seven extremely bizarre religions that sound completely made up, but they’re not. Let’s begin with the biggest religion in our list. In 2001, thanks to each country completing a census of their populations, this religion was found to be the second biggest in New Zealand and the fourth biggest in England and Wales. Any guess as to what it might be? Strange the answer is; it’s Jedi Yes, around 1.5% of Kiwi’s put Jedi or Jediism as their official religion. 58.9% put Christian and then the next two spots were “No Religion” and “Object to answering”, so that puts Jediism as the number two religion in New Zealand; unless “object to answering” is a religion, there’s probably no point in asking them if it is though. In England and Wales 0.8% of the country claimed their religion was Jediism, with the only larger faiths being Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. So, how did this all come about? A long long time ago, in a country not very far away, the galactic council, I mean the national governments of many commonwealth countries, let everyone know they would be having a census. Many people on the internet decided they didn’t want to tell the government about their religion and so one of the first online viral phenomena began, with people spreading the idea of saying they were Jedi on the census. When you look at their beliefs, it’s actually all pleasantly positive. They obviously believe in the force, and the inherent worth of all life within it, and much of the rest is just about not discriminating, being logical and, I’m guessing here, never ever talking about The Phantom Menace in public. Their doctrines have actually allowed them to be a fully recognised international ministry and a publicly registered charity. So if you’ve got some spare galactic credits lying around, you know where to send them. There are some people who you can imagine being mistaken for gods; Ryan Gosling with his annoyingly handsome face, chess champion Bobby Fischer with his godlike intelligence and quick thinking, or maybe Hugh Jackman if you saw him chopping wood high up a mountain. But none of these people have an actual religious following. The unlikely man who does however, is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth the second. And his followers are not some extreme British nationalists, they are, in fact, inhabitants of a small island called Tanna, part of the Republic of Vanuatu. Vanuatu is a chain of islands in the South Pacific, just under 2000 km east of Northern Australia. Tanna is one of the 82 odd islands and is populated mainly by Melanesians, a pacific island people of similar origin to the Australian Aboriginals. An old myth exists on the island about a spirit ancestor who had run off across the seas to find himself a powerful wife. So when Prince Philip visited the island in 1974, arm in arm with her Royal Majesty, one of the most powerful women in the world, they decided that he fitted the bill and declared him to be their god. I imagine he endured a similar fate as C-3PO did under the hospitality of the Ewoks, during his visit to Endor. Prince Philip, being the affable man that he is, sent them a signed photograph. In return they sent him a club for killing pigs. I can neither confirm nor deny if this had any connection to the increase in bacon consumption at Buckingham Palace that year. Prophet Jack, the Prince Philip Movement’s soothsaying religious leader, has claimed that a devastating cyclone, which came to the island in early 2015, was a holy sign that the great Prince himself will be returning to the island in 2016. We’ll just have to wait and see. So for our next religion we have to travel all the way to… actually we don’t need to travel at all, we’re staying on the island of Tanna. Vanautu has a number of Cargo Cults. These are Melanesian movements that originated from the native people coming into contact with the colonising societies who visited the Islands. On Tanna, about 50% of the population are part of the Cargo Cult called John Frum, which allegedly started with the visons of some elders in the late 1930s and became cemented when the American troops came during WWII. The name is said to come from when a soldier told the natives that he was “John from America” The people saw all the wonderful cargo that these troops brought, such as lorries, radios and the world’s most iconic brand; Coca Cola. When the soldiers left, the people knew that John Frum would return some day and share his wonderful bounty with them all. In a way, they were right, since the island now boasts an airport and some infrastructure for education, as well as a variety of western brands. The people are very grateful and they share evenly amongst their community. February 15th is known as “John Frum Day”, the date which they believe John Frum will return to the island. They celebrate John Frum Day, with a military-like parade, marching through the island, carrying the stars and stripes and scrawling “USA” on their chests in red paint. Throw in some fireworks and beer pong and it’s basically the 4th of July. Our next religion is followed by a large number of atheists. I know what you’re thinking; how can you have a religion for people who don’t believe in religion? Well the Pastafarians have a pretty good reason. Pastafarianism came about in 2005 when Bobby Henderson discussed The Flying Spaghetti Monster in an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education. This God is a sort of floating blob of wobbly noodles and meatballs. If this all sounds very silly, it’s supposed to be. He came up with the idea in order to fight against the decision to allow Creationism to be taught in schools, thanks to the campaigning of Christian groups. For those of you not familiar with the argument; Atheists agree with the large consensus of scientists who believe that the universe is around 14 billion years old, with Earth being formed about four and a half billion years ago, and that life has grown and diversified through evolution; with the smallest amoebas eventually leading to us, the pinnacle of human evolution. Creationists believe that God created the world around 10,000 years ago and that each creature was made as it is now. It’s called Intelligent Design and it argues against evolution. Pastafarian’s beef (and whatever other meats their noodly deity contains,) with creationism being taught in schools, is that it violates the secular nature of the laws of the USA. There is supposed to be a complete separation of church and state, and this includes schools. Creationism is a religious idea, specific to a few religions, not to all of them, therefore it shouldn’t be part of state education. To prove this, Bobby Henderson argued that he believed a supernatural Italian dinner was the world creator and that whenever a scientist tried to carbon date an object, to see how old it was, this god was there “changing the results with his noodly appendage”. He said his beliefs were just as valid as Creationists, therefore should be included in the curriculum as well. The idea took hold and spread around the internet and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has many followers, allegedly leading back to pirates, who were the original Pastafarians. I’m sure you’ll all be very worried to know that they think the decline in the number of pirates is a direct cause of global warming. Only the release of another 18 Jack Sparrow films will start to reverse this trend. So, from extra pasta sauce to extra-terrestrials; let’s have a look of one of the many UFO religions that sprung up in the second half of the 20th century. Universe People, also called Cosmic People of Light Powers, is a group that believe a fleet of spaceships float around the earth where they subtly intervene in the lives of the good, assisting them on their way. And some day the Ashtar Galactic Command, who lead the ships, will pick up the believers and send them off to another wonderful dimension. Most of the followers are based in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, thanks to the religion’s founder Ivo A. Benda, whose name sounds like the punchline to a politically incorrect joke. In 1997 he published the delightfully titled Interviews With Instructions From My Friends From the Universe and he used this as a platform to begin touring with a series of public lectures. He eventually made his way onto national TV in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In the late 2000s, Benda began to realise that the alien world, much like Earth, contained both helpful and harmful people. The Saurians, or Lizard people, were out to get us, and Benda was going to do his best to stop them. It was all very reminiscent of the classic Czech novel War with the Newts by Karel Capek, where the salamanders end up turning on mankind. In 2007, Benda’s plan caused a security alert at the Slovak ministry of defence when his suspicious protection packages arrived, containing instructional CDs and promotional material. But if a man can’t protect his country from large alien lizards with a recorded lecture and some fliers, then how else is he supposed to do it? He still fights the good fight and you can see what he’s up to on his website; Just to warn you, you might want to put on sunglasses before you enter; it’s more colourful than a teenage unicorn’s sock collection. Now I’m not saying lizard people are real, but if they are, I’m pretty sure our next religious leader is one of them. Happy Science was founded in 1986 by the rather reptilian-looking Ryuho Okawa. He had read an inspiring series of books by Takahashi Shinji, no I’m not talking about the baseball player, but the other famous Takahashi Shinji who is leader of the God Light Association. The books had a big impact on Mr Okawa and made him see that he was actually the living embodiment of, among others, Christ, Buddah and Allah. It was a tough decision but he realised that since he was an omnipotent super god, he was probably over-qualified for his job at a large Japanese trading company, good job though it was. So he resigned and began spreading the good word that he was in fact the great super-deity; “El Cantare”. The fact that this means “the singer” in Spanish, is just a cosmic coincidence. To be a Happy Scientist, you need to focus on the fourfold paths of Love, Wisdom, Self-Reflection and Progress, no actual scientific knowledge is required, so don’t worry if you’ve forgotten all your chemistry. You might need to forget some of your history though, as El Cantare has told us that certain parts of Japanese history, such as the odd massacre of two, definitely didn’t happen. The politics don’t end there since the political wing, called The Happiness Realisation Party, was set up in 2009 and received a rather surprising 1 million votes across Japan’s 300 constituencies. They didn’t end up with any seats though. The main focus of their campaign was to double the Japanese population and to develop a nuclear deterrent to threaten China and North Korea. They really don’t like China and North Korea. I’m not sure that nuclear weapons are exactly what I would call Happy Science but hey, I’m not the flamenco god of the universe so what do I know, right? Our final religion has a much darker history than the others. It’s all fun and games when it’s British princes, lizard men and El Cantare, but when your cult leads to murder and mass suicide, that’s a whole different story. The Order of the Solar Temple was set up in 1984 by Joseph di Mambro and Luc Jouret and was a continuation of other groups Di Mambro had been in and founded in the previous decade or so. They started out in Switzerland and moved to a headquarters in Quebec, Canada, in the late eighties. The religion was based on a mix of sources, the main one being the famous Knights Templar. Their idea was to reassert the correct balance of power in the world and to lay the way for the second coming of Christ, the Solar King. They also took inspiration from notorious British occultist, Aleister Crowley. The Order’s dark side was revealed to the world on October 1994, with deaths on both sides of the Atlantic. A couple and a young baby where killed in Quebec, with rumours that Di Mambro had accused the child of being the Antichrist. A few days later, in Switzerland, both Di Mambro and Jouret were found dead along with 46 other cult-members. Not only that but the bodies were discovered, arranged in a disturbing sun-shaped pattern on the floor. The true story will never be uncovered but many of the group had been drugged, some were shot, some suffocated with bags over their heads and both buildings were on fire. Unfortunately, it didn’t end with the death of the founders, and there were further mass killings in 95 and 97. It transpired that mass murders and group ritual suicides were all part and parcel of being a member of the Order of the Solar Temple. No thanks, I'm going to join the Jedi instead.


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 Shinkōshūkyō ("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 Tsunesaburō 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 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

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 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]


Edifices and emblems of various Japanese new religions
Emblem of Tenri-kyo.
Head office of Oomoto at Kameoka, Japan.
Flag of Sōka Gakkai.
Headquarters of Reiyū-kai.
Emblem of Konko-kyō
Rissho Kosei-kai’s Great Sacred Hall.
Emblem of Church of World Messianity (Sekai Kyūsei Kyō).
Name Founder Founded 1954 1974 1990 2012
Nyorai-kyō (如来教) Isson-nyorai Kino (1756–1826) 1802 75,480 33,674 27,131 7,477
Kurozumi-kyō (黒住教) Munetada Kurozumi (1780–1850) 1814 715,650 407,558 295,225 297,767
Tenri-kyō (天理教) Nakayama Miki (1798–1887) 1838 1,912,208 2,298,420 1,839,009 1,199,652
Honmon Butsuryū-shū (本門佛立宗) Nagamatsu Nissen (1817–1890) 1857 339,800 515,911 526,337 345,288
Konko-kyō (金光教) Konkō Daijin (1814–1883) 1859 646,206 500,868 442,584 430,021
Maruyama-kyō (丸山教) Rokurōbei Itō (1829–1894) 1870 92,011 3,200 10,725 11,057
Ōmoto (大本) Nao Deguchi (1837–1918)
Onisaburō Deguchi (1871–1948)
1899 73,604 153,397 172,460 169,525
Nakayama-Shingoshō-shū (中山身語正宗) Matsutarō Kihara (1870–1942) 1912 282,650 467,910 382,040 295,275
Honmichi (ほんみち) Ōnishi Aijirō (1881–1958) 1913 225,386 288,700 316,825 318,974
En'ō-kyō (円応教) Chiyoko Fukada (1887–1925 1919 71,654 266,782 419,452 457,346
Reiyū-kai (霊友会) Kakutarō Kubo (1892–1944) 1924 2,284,172 2,477,907 3,202,172 1,412,975
Nenpō-shinkyō (念法眞教) Ogura Reigen (1886–1982) 1925 153,846 751,214 807,486 408,755
Perfect Liberty Kyōdan (パーフェクト リバティー教団) Miki Tokuharu (1871–1938)
Miki Tokuchika (1900–1983)
500,950 2,520,430 1,259,064 942,967
Seichō-no-Ie (生長の家) Masaharu Taniguchi (1893–1985) 1930 1,461,604 2,375,705 838,496 618,629
Sōka Gakkai (創価学会) Tsunesaburō Makiguchi (1871–1944)
Jōsei Toda (1900–1958)
1930 341,146 16,111,375 17,736,757[5] 20,000,000
Sekai Kyūsei-kyō (世界救世教) Mokichi Okada (1882–1955) 1935 373,173 661,263 835,756 835,756
Shinnyo-en (真如苑) Shinjō Itō (1906–1956) 1936 155,500 296,514 679,414 902,254
Kōdō Kyōdan (孝道教団) Shōdō Okano (1900–1978) 1936 172,671 417,638 400,720 184,859
Risshō Kōsei-kai (立正佼成会) Myōkō Naganuma (1889–1957)
Nikkyō Niwano (1906–1999)
1938 1,041,124 4,562,304 6,348,120 3,232,411
Tenshō Kōtai Jingū-kyō (天照皇大神宮教) Sayo Kitamura 1900–1967) 1945 89,374 386,062 439,011 479,707
Zenrin-kyō (善隣教) Tatsusai Rikihisa (1906–1977) 1947 404,157 483,239 513,321 132,286
Ōyama Nezunomikoto Shinji Kyōkai (大山ねずの命神示教会) Sadao Inaii (1906–1988) 1948 59,493 826,022
Bussho Gonenkai Kyōdan (佛所護念会教団) Kaichi Sekiguchi (1897–1961)
Sekiguchi Tomino (1905–1990)
1950 352,170 1,210,227 2,196,813 1,277,424
Myōchikai Kyōdan (妙智会教団) Mitsu Miyamoto (1900–1984) 1950 515,122 673,913 962,611 709,849
Byakkō Shinkō-kai (白光真宏会) Masahisa Goi (1916–1980) 1951 500,000
Agon-shū (阿含宗) Seiyū Kiriyama (1921–) 1954 500 206,606 353,890
Reiha-no-Hikari Kyōkai (霊波之光) Hase Yoshio (1915–1984) 1954 761,175
Jōdoshinshū Shinran-kai (浄土真宗親鸞会) Kentetsu Takamori (1934–) 1958 100,000[6]
Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyōdan (世界真光文明教団) Kōtama Okada(Yoshikazu Okada) (1901–1974) 1959 97,838
Honbushin (ほんぶしん) Ōnishi Tama (1916–1969) 1961 900,000[6]
God Light Association Sōgō Honbu (GLA総合本部) Shinji Takahashi (1927–1976) 1969 12,981
Shinji Shūmei-kai (神慈秀明会) Mihoko Koyama (1910–) 1970 1988: 440,000[6]
Nihon Seidō Kyōdan (日本聖道教団) Shōkō Iwasaki (1934–) 1974 69,450
Extra-Sensory-Perception Kagaku Kenkyūjo (ESP科学研究所) Katao Ishii (1918–) 1975 16,000[6]
Sūkyō Mahikari (崇教真光) Yoshikazu Okada(1901–1974) 1978 501,328
Ho No Hana (法の華三法行) Hōgen Fukunaga (1945–) 1980 70,000[6]
Yamato-no-Miya (大和之宮) Tenkei Ajiki (1952–) 1981 5,000[6]
World Mate (ワールドメイト) Seizan Fukami (1951–) 1984 30,000[6] 72,000
Happy Science (幸福の科学) Ryūhō Ōkawa (1956–) 1986 1989: 13,300
1991: 1,527,278[6]
Aum Shinrikyo (オウム真理教) Shōkō 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 Kyōdan, the mother organization of Perfect Liberty Kyōdan
  5. ^ Sōka 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 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.
  7. ^ "オウム真理教対策(警察庁)". 25 July 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  8. ^


This page was last edited on 23 January 2019, at 07:54
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