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Discussion Paper 2 in 2010
First published in ejcjs on 31 January 2011

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Inroads or Crossroads?

The Soka Gakkai's Pacifist Endeavours in Japanese Foreign Policy


Timothy O. Benedict

Yodogawa Christian Hospital

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This paper explores the role of religion in contemporary Japanese politics by examining the efforts of the Sōka Gakkai in promoting pacifism through their political partner; the Komeito. By comparing the Sōka Gakkai's religious viewpoints and the Komeito's record on issues including: nuclear disarmament, revision of Article 9 in the Japanese Constitution and deployment of Japanese forces on UN missions, this paper will argue that the Sōka Gakkai was for the most part successful in pressuring the Komeito to be an advocate for their pacifist principles. However, in assessing the effectual impact of this pressure on political policy, I conclude that due to the rise and ebb of the Komeito’s political leverage vis-à-vis the ruling party, the Sōka Gakkai's efforts ultimately fell short of seriously mitigating Japan's path towards a more assertive foreign policy over the past two decades.


Sōka Gakkai; Komeito; Pacifism; Religion; Politics


I am absolutely opposed to war. No matter what reason might be given, I most certainly must oppose war. For this reason I have battled night and day through both religious and political activities. Ikeda Daisaku (1969: 222).

In contemporary Japanese society, the role of religion in politics remains marginal, is less often reported on, and stands opposed to the famous conflation of religion and politics in most other parts of the world. This is primarily because most Japanese describe themselves as non-religious (mushūkyō), and thus most religious groups are too numerically debilitated to successfully promote their agenda in the political sphere. However, there would seem to be one apparent exception. This is found in the third largest political party in Japan, the Komeito, which was founded by and is constituently dependent on a Buddhist lay organization with approximately 10 million members; the Sōka Gakkai.

In view of this seeming anomaly, an assessment of whether the Sōka Gakkai has in fact successfully promoted its religious values in the political sphere is key to understanding what role, if any, religion plays in Japanese politics. As a step toward illuminating this topic, this overview will examine the Sōka Gakkai's religious commitment to pacifism and see if a transmission of pacifist values into Japanese foreign policy can be observed in the last two decades. Concurrently, in surveying the Sōka Gakkai's and Komeito's views on pacifism, hopefully greater clarity will be brought to the evolution of the Komeito-Sōka Gakkai relationship as a whole; a relationship which is often fraught with misunderstanding.

Background of the Sōka Gakkai

Founded in 1930 by an educator, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944), the present day Sōka Gakkai grew out of its pre-war antecedent, the 'Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai' [SKG-Value Creating Education Society]. While Makiguchi's early activities were centered on seeking educational reform, his later writings emphasized the role of religion in his quest for educational and societal regeneration. He became convinced that 'Human happiness could best be achieved through the religious doctrines of Nichiren' and 'refocused the SKG's activities on the proselytization of his interpretation of Nichiren Buddhism' (Metraux, 1994:22). After Makiguchi died of malnutrition in prison during the Second World War, the leadership of the SKG fell on his protégé, Toda Josei (1900-1958) who survived incarceration during the war. While in prison Toda purportedly recited a Buddhist mantra two million times before becoming inspired by the 'Truth' and dedicating the rest of his life to the propagation of Nichiren doctrine. Toda faithfully carried on the work of his late mentor after the war by broadening the reach of the SKG and dropping 'Kyōiku' from its name in 1946 to simply become the 'Sōka Gakkai'. This was to show that the Gakkai had moved beyond education to much wider goals (Izumi, 1976: 32).

After Toda, the Sōka Gakkai's most rapid growth in membership and 'golden period' was left to Toda's close disciple and successor: Ikeda Daisaku (1928- ). Through the 1960s and 1970s, Ikeda oversaw the launch of the Sōka Gakkai from a relatively small, new religious movement of less than one million members to an international organization that claims some 10 million adherents in Japan and a further one million in some 150 countries under its global name Soka Gakkai International (SGI). A frequent traveler, speaker, and prolific writer—Ikeda has remained the dominant icon of Sōka Gakkai even after his resignation from the presidency in 1979 to become honorary president. Without doubt the most influential figure in the Sōka Gakkai, since 1983 Ikeda also annually submits 'Peace Proposals' to the United Nations (UN)—which awarded Ikeda with the United Nations Peace Prize in 1983—in which he sketches his observations on the state of the world and possible peaceful solutions through humanistic endeavors. In sum, the Sōka Gakkai has become one of the largest religious groups in Japan with the near 'cultic' personality of Ikeda Daisaku at the helm—a man who though controversial, nevertheless commands the respect of influential leaders around the world.

Religious Tenets

In terms of the Sōka Gakkai's religious tenets, a key tenet relevant to its pacifistic orientation is its view of the world as being in a degenerate or chaotic eschatological state of mappo [Latter Day of the Law]; based on Nichiren's belief that unless his teachings were followed, further disasters would strike Japan (Yampolsky, 1990: 7). As a result, many Sōka Gakkai believers believe the contemporary world to be in a degenerative state of mappo similar to what Nichiren observed in his lifetime and that 'the demon of human misery in all of us must be expunged before the world will find true peace' (Metraux, 1994: 20). In order to combat the degenerative forces infecting society, Nichiren advocated that followers set about a policy of shakubuku [break and subdue], 'in which his followers would forcefully convert others to the Truth' (Hurst, 2000: 72). Due to the nature of their call to political and social activism, Sōka Gakkai believers became a dynamic force in Japanese society emphasizing kosen rufu or the 'responsibility for propagating the faith in other individuals' (Metraux, 1994:20). Significantly, in recent years the public face of the Sōka Gakkai has attempted to take a more ecumenical tone. Thus the Sōka Gakkai now prefers in public to emphasize diversity and interfaith dialogue while concentrating on issues of common concern such as 'care for the earth, non-violence, and abolishing war' instead of 'insisting that it has the one Truth that all others must accept' (Hurst, 2000: 90-91).

However, it has remained difficult for the Sōka Gakkai to shake its controversial past. As it rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, a spate of authors rose to document its transgressions. Azumi (1971: 919) and Nishio (1967: 779) both described the Sōka Gakkai as 'intolerant', while Doherty (1963: 284) and Helton (1965/6: 244) described it as 'militant'. White's definitive study also revealed the authoritarian nature of the group with the caveat that the 'average Sōka Gakkai member is no more authoritarian than any other Japanese' (1970: 194). Based on firsthand experience and with the help of critical scholarship, most Japanese came to regard the group with great suspicion. Still, in recent years the group has became more or less tolerated, as the growth of its membership has slowed, and their proselytization methods became more subtle. However, memories of past misdeeds as well as occasional reports of shady dealings continue to keep alive a generally negative image of the Sōka Gakkai that tends to overshadow their efforts to present a public front of ecumenical goodwill. This negative image of the Sōka Gakkai is nowhere as obvious as during election time when as any Japanese will relate, one finds out just how many friends, workmates, classmates, and even distant relatives are Sōka Gakkai members. Leading up to election day, Sōka Gakkai members are known to place phone calls to nearly everyone they know to encourage voting for their party of choice; the Komeito.

Although the gap between what is pronounced in public and private makes it difficult to discern what are the Sōka Gakkai's true religious priorities, there is no doubt that the concept of peace and non-violence has centered itself prominently in Sōka Gakkai activities. Largely based on Toda's theory of 'Life-Force', the Sōka Gakkai emphasizes the idea that 'as one part of this Life that permeates the whole universe, every single human being has immutable, all surpassing value' (Kisala, 1999: 86). Based on the idea that the dignity of every human being must be respected, the Sōka Gakkai has therefore eschewed violence as a method of settling disputes. This commitment to pacifism and non-violence permeates all of the Sōka Gakkai publications and remains a recurrent theme in Ikeda's speeches and writings. As one commentator noted, the call to pacifism as espoused so fervently in Toda's 1957 speech has become the Sōka Gakkai's 'lifeline' (AERA Henshūbu, 1996: 88).

Though the Sōka Gakkai's commitment to promote pacifism in a general way is incontestable, it remains to be seen what the Sōka Gakkai's pacifist ideology means in real terms. For this, it is necessary to study their response to major issues such as: nuclear disarmament; Japanese participation in UN peacekeeping operations; and revision of Article Nine in the Japanese Constitution.

Sōka Gakkai's Pacifist Ideology

Nuclear Disarmament

To put it simply, the Sōka Gakkai's commitment to nuclear disarmament has been unequivocal throughout its history. The consistency of this message was most effectively summed up by Ikeda himself in a Peace Proposal (2007: 1-2) in which he quoted an excerpt from a speech made fifty years before by his predecessor Toda:

Although a movement calling for a ban on the testing of atomic or nuclear weapons has arisen around the world, it is my wish to go further, to attack the problem at its root. I want to expose and rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons. I wish to declare that anyone who ventures to use nuclear weapons, irrespective of their nationality or whether their country is victorious or defeated, should be sentenced to death without exception.

Acknowledging that 'some have suggested that the time has come for Japan to begin reviewing its own nuclear options', Ikeda warned that 'Japan might get caught in the flawed doctrine of nuclear deterrence' if these kind of ideas were acted upon (2007: 1-2). In a 1967 address titled 'The Vision of the Komeito' Ikeda also set forward as one of the goals for the new political party that: '[one must] plead in the name of all human beings that production, experiments, possession and use of nuclear weapons be completely banned for the safeguard[ing] of the human right to live' (1967: 12). This statement was repeated later in a speech before the Sōka Gakkai General Assembly during which Ikeda went as far as to describe nuclear weapons as a 'demon' or 'devil' which contains the capacity to 'bereave life' (1977-1980: 193). Moreover, beginning with the first annual peace proposal submitted to the UN in 1983, all of Ikeda's subsequent peace proposals have decried the possession of nuclear weapons by nations around the world. In a series of editorials written for The Japan Times beginning in 2006, Ikeda also made a case against nuclear arms by maintaining that 'Japan's war-renouncing Constitution and policy of not possessing nuclear arms are essential conditions for gaining the trust of our fellow Asians. The loss of either of these conditions will increase regional instability and undermine Japan's security' (2006a). Beyond such public statements, the Sōka Gakkai has also shown its commitment to nuclear disarmament in ways such as collecting 10 million signatures on a petition for abolishing nuclear weapons in 1974, or by sponsoring an exhibition that toured internationally titled: 'Nuclear Arms: Threat to Humanity' (Ikeda 2007: 3).

UN Peace Keeping Operations (PKO)

In contrast to its clear opposition to nuclear arms, the reconciliation of the Sōka Gakkai's pacifist ideology with Japanese participation in UN peacekeeping operations remains complex. While one might expect the Gakkai to ardently oppose any type of 'peacekeeping' by armed forces, the Sōka Gakkai has maintained a form of what Robert Kisala identifies as 'compromised pacifism' in which the 'necessary use of force for the maintenance of collective security is recognized in the case of the Persian Gulf War' while simultaneously disallowing Japan from participation since such action is prohibited by the Japanese constitution—a document unique to Japan (1999: 73-94). In other words, while Ikeda does not oppose UN sponsored peacekeeping operations, he does oppose Japan's participation in them. Accordingly, Ikeda has maintained that the responsibility for peacekeeping missions to conflict regions should lie exclusively with the United Nations. This understanding of the UN's role fits perfectly with Ikeda's belief that: 'The core principles that guide the UN are cognate with the principles of Buddhist humanism—peace, equality and compassion' (2006: 13).

As the debate over whether Japan should allow Japanese Self-Defense forces (SDF) to participate in peacekeeping operations unfolded in the early 1990s, the Sōka Gakkai's position on this issue remained unclear. According to a survey (Kisala, 1999: 89-90) taken in 1993, 92 per cent of Sōka Gakkai respondents supported Japanese involvement in UN peacekeeping operations. What was puzzling about this support was that while a clear majority of Sōka Gakkai believers supported involvement in peacekeeping operations, nevertheless 75 per cent maintained that the Persian Gulf War should have been settled by non-violent means. Furthermore, while 90 per cent of respondents agreed with the general idea of self-defense, they also stated that they would actively oppose Japanese participation in any future war. This apparent ambivalence in the Sōka Gakkai's position might be partly seen as a result of the mixed signals given by the Komeito's role in passing the Peacekeeping Operations Law in June of 1992.

In the case of the invasion of Iraq (March 2003), the Sōka Gakkai's position was equally unclear. On the one hand, one might examine those Sōka Gakkai members who delivered a petition to Komeito headquarters with 2,000 signatures protesting the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq. According to the organizer of the petition—Sōka Gakkai member Ito Yoshihiko:

The party is acting against the principle of Sōka Gakkai, which strictly opposes war; many Sōka Gakkai members do not consent to the party's stance. It is neglecting to serve as a pacifist force and is merely following in the LDP's (Liberal Democratic Party) footsteps (Kajimoto, 2004).

On the other hand, then Sōka Gakkai Vice President Kunishige Maeda took a more nuanced approach by admitting that:

We understand there are members calling for absolute pacifism, but there are also others who insist on the need to make an [sic] international cooperation. The SDF has not gone to war and will not engage in battle. They have been sent to provide humanitarian assistance for Iraq's reconstruction as part of an international contribution (Kajimoto, 2004).

The Japanese Constitution: Article Nine

One of the more fascinating issues in considering the future direction of Japanese foreign policy is the debate over whether to revise Article 9 in Japan's Constitution. The Article states that Japan will 'forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.' However, after an embarrassing episode in the first Gulf War (1991) when Japan's inability to contribute militarily to coalition forces was disparagingly dubbed 'check-book diplomacy', many in Japan called for a revision of Japan's Constitution to allow for 'peacekeeping' deployments.

One of Ikeda's oldest recorded statements on this issue is stated in his 'Vision of the Komeito' speech (1967) in which he established as one of the first principles to 'protect the "Peace" Constitution' (1967: 1). This inviolable view of the 'peace constitution' is, as Helen Hardacre notes, not uncommon amongst Japanese religious groups in that 'Article 9 is widely regarded as sacred, as an article of faith by many new religious movements, Christianity, and in some Buddhist circles as well (2005: 6)' In his first Peace Proposal to the UN in 1983, Ikeda repeated this commitment by writing: 'Our position on the Japanese Constitution is consistent: we aim to protect it, in all eventualities, in the quest for lasting peace' (Ikeda [No Date: circa 1990]: 29). This view is repeated again in his 2001 Peace Proposal, albeit with some qualification, when he noted: 'While there is room for multifaceted debate on specific national security policies, I am concerned above all that the principles and spirit of the peace constitution not be eroded. And, for this reason, I feel that Article 9 should not be touched, a view that I have long asserted' (2001a: 14). While Ikeda again maintained in his 2005 Peace Proposal that the article was 'not to be touched', the willingness of the Sōka Gakkai to at least allow 'debate' over revision could be seen in a comment made by Sōka Gakkai president Minoru Harada during his first press conference when he remarked: 'We should hold fast to the pacifist principle of Article 9. Only after a wide national debate has taken place should we move forward, and we shouldn't tolerate anything done hastily' (Kimura, 2006: 2).

History of the Komeito

The roots of the present day New Komeito can be traced to the successful efforts of the Sōka Gakkai to help some 53 candidates win seats in the local elections of 1955. Encouraged, the Gakkai sponsored three independent candidates to the upper house in the following year and an additional six were elected in 1958 before coming together in a loose federation called the Komei Seiji Renmei [League for Clean Politics] in 1961. In its first press conference, the League announced its specific commitments to: 1) Campaign against nuclear weapons; 2) Safeguard the democratic, pacifist constitution; 3) 'Clean-up' the political community; and 4) Establish an independent minded policy (Chosha Kōmei Shimbun Henshūkyoku, 1975: 14). By early 1964, the Komei League would claim a respectable total of 1,171 representatives throughout Japan (Palmer, 1971:12) This league was then relaunched in November of 1964 as the Komeito before the 1965 general election. With the backing of the Sōka Gakkai, all of the twenty-five candidates of the new party were elected and the number of successful candidates nearly doubled to forty-seven in 1969.

The next watershed in Komeito history came in May of 1971, when the Komeito officially separated itself from its religious parent, the Sōka Gakkai. This occurred after the so-called 'freedom of the press incident' when the Komeito allegedly tried to obstruct the publication of a book critical of itself and the Sōka Gakkai (Aruga, 2000: 116). While the circumstances of the case remained cloudy, the Komeito nonetheless took steps to sever its official ties with the Sōka Gakkai in an effort to broaden its appeal. However, even 30 years later, veteran political observer Gerald Curtis noted that ultimately 'the Komeito was unable to significantly expand its support beyond Gakkai membership' (1999:102).

Through the 1980s the Komeito began a slow drift to the center as it dropped the word 'progressive' from its founding expression of being 'progressive centrist', and began focusing on realistic reforms (Aruga, 2000: 120). It rose to prominence with the Gulf War crisis in 1991 when the Komeito's support was needed for the government to pass a USD9 billion support package for the Gulf War. Though long committed to pacifism, the Komeito eventually passed the law, after negotiating some significant concessions from the LDP including a reduction in the defense budget to defray the cost, and making sure that the aid package was limited to non-military use (Aruga, 2000:121). Its tie-breaking role was evidenced again in the passing of the Peace-Keeping Operation law (1992) which the Komeito supported.

During the political shakeup that occurred as the ruling LDP was briefly ousted from power in 1993, the Komeito joined the short-lived coalition party before eventually entering into a remarkable coalition government with the LDP in 1999—placing it within the mainstream of modern Japanese politics as a crucial make-or-break partner for LDP power. However, their sojourn with the ruling party came to an abrupt end in the summer of 2009 when the LDP was ousted from power in a general election and the Komeito lost a third of its seats.

Komeito's Pacifist Ideology

That the LDP's plans for constitutional revision have been moderated in consideration of certain opposition from Komeito has been widely recognized in the vernacular press, but without making the link to Sōka Gakkai. Neither the LDP nor Komeito would profit from exposing their dependence upon a religious leader to public view (Hardacre, 2005: 3).

Abolition of Nuclear Arms

As stated by Ikeda himself in his 'Vision for the Komeito', the Komeito made a very early effort to establish itself as opposed to nuclear weapons in all shapes and forms. Ikeda stated his hope that the Komeito would: 'plead in the name of all human beings that production, experiments, possession and use of nuclear weapons be completely banned for the safeguard[ing] of the human right to live' (1967:12). This anti-nuclear view continued to be reiterated in subsequent years such as during the 1973 Komeito National Convention when an explicit statement was made that: 'All nuclear powers should immediately agree to scrap all nuclear weapons they possess' (Komeito, 1973:35) and that: the 'Komeito will exert all efforts to realize complete and total disarmament in the world. The development, manufacture, testing, possession and use of all nuclear weapons should be prohibited' (Komeito, 1973: 48). In the year following, the rationale behind this anti-nuclear stance was further elucidated by stating:

Because of the fact that this nation is the only victim of atomic bombs and also in view of the preamble and Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan, since our party's formation it [Komeito] has persistently demanded the total abolition of nuclear weapons, upholding the policy that all nations should prohibit nuclear detonations, as well as the manufacture and use of nuclear weapons, regardless of aims or reasons (Komeito, 1974: 13).

The Komeito also helped pass a law in 1971 that established 'three non-nuclear principles' to promote an anti-nuclear weapon campaign in which Japan should specifically make a commitment: 'not to manufacture nuclear weapons, not to possess nuclear weapons and not to permit bringing such weapons into Japan' (Komeito, 1980a: 54). However, in reality, these principles never deterred the US from deploying nuclear missiles, storing components on military bases and routinely docking nuclear-armed ships in Japanese ports under a secret agreement with the Japanese government that was recently revealed (Fuwa, 2010).

While many other instances of the Komeito's vehement opposition to nuclear weapons might be cited, by the end of the Cold War, much of their rhetoric began to lose its sense of urgency as the threat of an imminent nuclear holocaust declined. Thus, shortly before the Soviet Union fell, although the Komeito advocated further US-Soviet disarmament talks, it more realistically sought to introduce a system: 'to obligate all nuclear-armed nations to keep informing the United Nations of the kinds, quantities and other details of the nuclear weapons in their possession' and 'start efforts to convene an international conference of all nuclear-armed nations to study a program to attain an eventual abolition of every nuclear weapon [emphasis added]' (Komeito, 1991a: 39).

Cooperation with the UN and SDF Deployments

The second foreign policy issue related to the Komeito's stated pacifist goals, pertains to Japan's relationship with the United Nations. While the Komeito's emphatic endorsement of a peaceful diplomacy exclusively centered on the UN has not been as longstanding as its commitment to make sure that Japan remains ardently anti-nuclear, it has nonetheless figured prominently in their policy platform, especially since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Thus, at the 1991 National Convention, the Komeito advocated 'the construction of a new kind of peace and order and a universal collective system of security guaranties, all centered on the United Nations' (Komeito, 1991a: 13). In the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the Komeito lauded the 'indispensable nature of the United Nations' that is the 'parliament of the world' without which 'it will be impossible to expect the guaranty of security of the whole world' (Komeito, 1991a: 14). They were further convinced after its success in the early 1990s of the: 'rightness and truth of the idea of bringing the United Nations into the nucleus or the center of all international efforts to build the new international order' (Komeito, 1991b: 3-4).

While the support of United Nations as a peacekeeping institution was affirmed by the Komeito, the understanding of Japan's specific role as a member of the UN was similar to the Sōka Gakkai in that it was also complex. This was most clearly seen during the Persian Gulf War when both the Komeito and the Sōka Gakkai initially opposed Operation Desert Storm and urged a diplomatic solution (Metraux, 1994: 62). At the time, then Komeito Chairman Ishida Koshiro stated that: 'Sending Self-Defense forces members abroad in ambiguous terms should never be tolerated' (Japan Times, 1990: 1). The Komeito also opposed the sending of Japanese troops in a background support capacity since it would still involve sending troops to an active war zone and ultimately stipulated that any funds sent had to be earmarked for only humanitarian activities and that some of the USD9 billion sent for relief would be raised by cutting defense expenditures (Japan Times, 1990: 1). At the time, the decision of whether to support the bill was extremely controversial and was made all the more dramatic due to the fact that the success of the bill literally hinged on whether the Komeito would support it or not. During this debate, the Komeito was torn between a desire to bolster Japan's international image, and opposition from its base, who 'lashed out at any moves by Komeito to support the bill' (Japan Times, 1991: 2). Ultimately, the Komeito opted to approve the bill, and the rationale behind this decision was explained in 1991 when the Komeito acknowledged its difficult position by stating that after extensive study:

Pacifism as opposition to all acts of war may be naturally important for this nation. However, should we always keep ourselves pent up in the enclave of pacifism no matter what circumstances? When peace has been destroyed, how will we try to recover it? And when we make such effort, can Japan simply remain an idle bystander without doing anything to help in the effort? In such an instance, should Japan not make some kind of contribution to the restoration of peace if such effort is centered on the United Nations? If Japan cannot send any of its Self-Defense Forces to the Persian Gulf area due to the anti-war provisions of the Constitution's Article 9, shouldn't Japan at least cooperate in the United Nations centered international activities for peace through extension of fiscal support? (Komeito, 1991a: 22).

Thus, with the statement that 'Japan cannot continue as a member of [the] international community without making contributions', Ishida announced the Komeito's support for the bill (Yomiuri Shimbun, 1991: 2). In addition, during the euphoria surrounding the UN's successful restoration of Kuwait's sovereignty, the Komeito ultimately approved another controversial law in 1992 that would finally allow Japanese forces to participate in UN peace-keeping operations (PKO)—albeit with a range of strict limitations that made sure they would always play a non-combative role. This ushered in the era of what the Komeito labeled 'creative pacifism', an era in which the Japanese were exhorted to 'step out of their past mindset of single-nation, anti-war pacifism' (Komeito, 1991b: 3).

Defense of Article 9

By far one of the most heated debates, and what might be seen as the core to the issue of whether Japan should continue as a nation committed to pacifism, involves nothing less than the question of revision of Article 9 in Japan's Constitution. Indeed, the questions surrounding Japan's anti-nuclear commitment and of whether Japan should have allowed their SDF to participate in UN PKOs largely hinges on one's interpretation of Article 9, and thus the Komeito's interpretation of this issue is in some ways the crux of the issue. If one were to identify two of the most consistently emphasized foreign policy issues in the Komeito platform over the last forty-odd years, one would be its abhorrence of nuclear weapons and the other would certainly be the Komeito's commitment to protect Japan's pacifist Constitution. Like clockwork, the Komeito reaffirmed every year its commitment during its national conventions to: 'Uphold Japan's present national Constitution at all times, and to oppose every undue or undesirable attempt to revise that fundamental national law of Japan'; to 'Absolutely oppose Japan's redevelopment into a military power' (Komeito, 1985: 58) and to 'safeguard Japan's peaceful Constitution and promote a good national security policy based on the Constitution' (Komeito, 1988: 32).

However, after the first Gulf War and the international criticism Japan endured for having practiced 'check-book diplomacy', a new spin on what it meant to be a pacifist nation emerged. Accordingly, the Komeito announced in 1991 that it was their firm belief that:

The provision to 'renounce war' in the Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, if to be faithfully and truly observed, should be limited not to only the 'elimination of every organized act of violence' aimed at Japan. It should be also developed into a movement to 'renounce' and remove all causes or roots of war (Komeito, 1991b: 7).

In short, the Komeito sought to introduce a 'philosophy' into the heart of Japanese 'peacekeeping activities' that was described as: 'globalization of Japan's peaceful Constitution' and 'universal application of the Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution' (Komeito, 1991b: 6).

In recognition of a new mandate in which Japan's new role as a 'peacemaker' was to be emphasized, the Komeito agreed in 1999 to establish a Research Commission on the Constitution that would report to the Diet and took steps to show that it was open to kaken [adding to the Constitution] as opposed to kaiken [revision of the Constitution] (New Komeito, 2005: 19). In other words, while the Komeito remained strictly opposed to any revision of Article 9, they began a shift to a more realistic acknowledgment that by 'adding' to Article 9 to provide for peacekeeping operations, the Constitution would come in line with the reality that had existed on the ground for over a decade.

US-Japan Alliance

One final foreign policy issue informed by the Komeito's 'pacifism', is the US-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty was originally signed in 1951, and was signed again in 1960 amid national protests that forced the Prime Minister Kishi to resign. It was in reaction to this treaty that the Komeito reaffirmed 'its stand of demanding the immediate scrapping of the Japan-US security system' (Komeito, 1974: 19-21). As a political party already committed to protecting the country's pacifist constitution and seeking to dissuade the Japanese government from nuclear collaboration, the US—Japan Treaty was seen as a compromise of those ideals which catapulted Japan into the Cold War struggle instead of allowing it to remain a neutral observer.

This position of demanding the immediate abrogation of the Treaty continued to be reiterated until 1980 when the Komeito began backing off its hard-line stance by accepting a motion that called for the 'eventual abrogation of the Security Treaty by mutual consent' and even of upholding its continuation 'until the world situation changes' (Metraux, 1994: 61). This was apparently a more 'realistic stand… for the time being' (Komeito, 1980b: 4) in recognition of the desire to 'avoid inviting new tension or antagonism between Japan and the US by immediately doing away with the Japan—US security treaty and its system' and in recognition of the fact that 'Japan's friendly relations with the United States are an important premise and foothold for Japan's international policies' (Komeito, 1980b: 36). A year later, the call for abrogation was completely dropped and the Komeito gradually began supporting the treaty openly until it eventually became incorporated into its platform. By the turn of the century, the Komeito could unashamedly proclaim that 'the US-Japan security treaty must be maintained' given the 'geopolitical challenges of our time' (New Komeito Website, 2002). Thus ultimately, the Komeito embraced a more realistic grasp of the international situation in which its commitment to 'eternal peace' was placed within the framework of a proactive pacifism that described the security alliance with the United States as a necessary evil for maintaining world peace.

The Sōka Gakkai and Komeito Relationship

As the preceding summation of Sōka Gakkai and Komeito views and positions on foreign policy issues show, they are extremely similar. Even if there was not a causal relationship between the two groups, it would seem no intelligent Sōka Gakkai adherent would not vote for the Komeito, or an intelligent Komeito politician not appeal to the Sōka Gakkai for electoral support. Significantly, the Sōka Gakkai and Komeito also agree on welfare, social security, political reform, educational reform, and a host of other domestic issues. Furthermore, in light of the fact that 'the majority of the Komeito's representatives at various levels of government, numbering over 3,000, were members of the Sōka Gakkai', it remains hard to argue for a clear demarcation where the Sōka Gakkai ends and the Komeito begins (Aruga, 2000: 123). While they remain separate in matters of personnel, finance and other management, it is safe to say that at the very least, both the Sōka Gakkai and Komeito continue to enjoy an extremely close relationship and basis for continuance of mutual support. Or for those less charitably inclined, there is plenty of fodder for rumors of financial and other types of chicanery (Ishii, 2007). In any case, it is useful to think of the Sōka Gakkai and Komeito as a unified entity—with the Sōka Gakkai on top. Or as one blunt journalist noted: 'The tail does not wag the dog' (Interview with Akita).

Komeito and LDP Foreign Policy

While the Sōka Gakkai and Komeito clearly hold near identical views on foreign policy issues and continue to enjoy a political partnership, the question still remains: has this cooperation translated into an effectual moderation of Japanese foreign policy? In order to ascertain the extent of the Sōka Gakkai's influence, it is instructive to examine several legislative examples. Key to this discussion is an understanding of how relevant the Komeito was as the LDP's coalition partner in a time when the votes garnered by the Komeito remained key for the LDP's hold on power (Nakamoto, 2003).

Aerial Refueling Tankers

One interesting example of how the Komeito initially blocked but then later collapsed on an 'un-pacifist' issue being pressed by the LDP involved the purchase of aerial refueling tankers that would extend the military reach of SDF planes. First proposed in July 1993, the debate over whether such a procurement violated Japan's pacifist constitution dragged on until the controversial provision was finally passed in the 2001 fiscal budget (Stratfor, 2000). Though backed by the LDP, according to news reports, the seven year delay resulted from the reticence of leading ruling and opposition law makers who felt the purchase of tankers was unnecessarily provocative to the Asian region and could not be justified under Japan's constitutional provision for 'self-defense' as expressed in Article 9. Though the Defense Agency [now Ministry] pushed hard for its provision in the 2000 fiscal budget, the proposal was scrapped after strong objections were expressed by the Komeito (Japan Times Online, 2000a). Even though it was not exclusively due to the Komeito's influence that the proposal was scrapped [then LDP Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka also voiced strong opposition (Japan Times Online, 2000a] the Komeito was 'particularly blamed' for 'killing the tanker proposal' (Stratfor, 2000).

However, in the following year (2000), the proposal was finally included as part of an overall JPY4.99 trillion defense budget request with the support of Komeito lawmakers. According to then Komeito Secretary General Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, this turnaround occurred because: 'neighboring countries did not [formerly] possess any [refueling planes], but China does now possess them. There has been a change in circumstances' (Japan Times, 2000b). Although the primary implications of tanker procurement was to extend the flight range of SDF fighters—a need the Komeito could not justify by itself—the Defense Agency succeeded in wooing lawmakers and especially the Komeito party on the grounds that 'the refueling planes would also be useful for humanitarian aid operations' (Japan Times, 2000b).

Aegis Weapons System

Another example showing the Komeito's initial opposition and then eventual capitulation over an 'un-pacifist' issue involved the dispatch of SDF ships equipped with the advanced Aegis weapons system to support the American led War on Terror in the Middle East. Enjoying political capital gained in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks (2001), then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi successfully passed special anti-terrorism legislation in November of that same year that permitted the deployment of the SDF to the Indian Ocean to support the US fleet during their military operations in Afghanistan. The deployment was then extended for a further six-month period in November 2002. Although the US was hoping Japan would deploy one of its Aegis equipped destroyers at the time, the issue was 'shelved for future debate' because the 'ruling coalition partner the New Komeito has[d] been opposed' (Japan Times Online, 2002b). The controversiality of the Aegis destroyers centered on their advanced air defense capability which raised the issue of whether their deployment would violate Japan's constitutional ban on 'collective defense' (Sato, 2008: 98).

However, this debate—if it indeed took place—was extremely short. Just a few weeks later, an Aegis equipped destroyer was dispatched to the Indian Ocean with the purported intention of 'provide[ing] security' for the SDF tankers already deployed (Japan Times Online, 2002a). In response to this development, then Komeito head Takenori Kanzaki merely remarked that it was 'regrettable' (Japan Times Online, 2002a). Other explanations for this turnaround included reports that a Defense Agency official personally visited the Komeito party headquarters to explain how the newer Aegis equipped destroyers were 'more crew friendly in hot climates than the escort ships currently in the Indian Ocean' (Berkofsky, 2002). In response to this plea on the behalf of the well-being of Japanese soldiers, one Komeito official supposedly remarked, 'Why didn't you tell me that earlier?' (Berkofsky, 2002). There were even reports that one unit commander demonstrated the heat on board the ships by cracking an egg on the deck of the ship and taking a picture of the sunny-side-up egg 20-30 minutes later; presumably to send to hesitant Komeito leaders (Berkofsky, 2002).

Behind the Komeito's Capitulation

As the preceding examples show, despite the Komeito's stated pacifist principles, their effectiveness in successfully blocking the LDP's policies in these two specific cases resulted in delay tactics at best and symbolic hints of regret afterwards at worst. Key to understanding the extent of the Komeito's influence in policy making during this period is the extent to which the LDP itself was popular. Thus, as a journalist noted, 'prior to the Koizumi administration [2001-2006], during the Mori [2000-2001] and Obuchi [1998-2000] administrations, the Komeito was more valued. However during Koizumi's administration the LDP was popular and so they did not take care of the Komeito' (Interview with Oba). Thus, during the window of the Komeito-LDP coalition years, there existed an even smaller window of opportunity for the Komeito to mitigate the LDP's hawkish tendencies. And yet ultimately even these 'swing vote' years were seriously hampered by a deluge of external factors that obfuscate the Komeito's efforts, or at best make them negligible.

Eye to the Future

Regarding the future of the Sōka Gakkai-Komeito relationship, it would seem that despite a growing gap between the ideals espoused within the Sōka Gakkai and the Komeito's effectual accomplishments on issues pertaining to pacifism, the gap between the ideals espoused and the realities attained have not seriously threatened the relationship as a whole. While most Sōka Gakkai adherents were hardly thrilled to see their party compromise on issues dear to them, a consensus emerged that some compromise is shiyōganai [can't be helped]. Thus instead of being dismayed that the Komeito approved the dispatch of SDF troops for reconstruction in a controversial war, one Komeito supporter and Sōka Gakkai believer merely noted: 'They are doing their best' (Interview with Maeda). Or as a Sōka Gakkai official noted:

We see no problem with the current changes in the Komeito. We understand the difficulty of reacting to ever changing realities. Thus political compromises are always necessary. However, we must always keep in mind that a compromise is a step taken in both directions. Thus if we feel that Komeito is drifting too far, as their supporters it is our duty to alert them to that fact. But I don't think they have fundamentally changed (Interview with Terasaki).

However, even former Sōka Gakkai President Einosuke Akiya allowed the possibility that if the Komeito deviated too far, 'I would even like to consider the option of not endorsing the Komeito. We have our own stance, and there is no reason or need for us to be tools of politics' (AERA Henshūbu, 2004).

Other Thoughts and Conclusions

In reviewing the role of the Sōka Gakkai as a force for pacifism in Japanese foreign policy, several conclusions may be drawn.

Sōka Gakkai's Commitment to Peace

First, in examining the Sōka Gakkai's commitment to peace, though their understanding of how this vision should be manifested has evolved over time, the core of their vision has remained for the most part unaltered. Drawing primarily from Ikeda Daisaku's writings and speeches, the Sōka Gakkai have continued to emphasize the importance of abolishing war and nuclear weapons, and of fostering a culture which respects the value of life. Although certain aspects of their pacifist message were relaxed (abrogation of US-Japan Security Treaty, legitimacy of PKOs), their fundamental commitment to realizing a world of non-violence has remained consistent. In pursuit of this goal, they have continued to support the Komeito who have represented the vast majority of their interests. Furthermore, despite a dearth of tangible results, they have persevered in their support of the party with the understanding that the Komeito was 'doing their best'. They have also taken encouragement in those rare occasions when the Komeito succeeded in impeding or moderating the policies of the more bellicose LDP. However, for a party with negligible political capital such as the Komeito, this was rarely accomplished without some concessions of their own.

As a caveat, in examining the Sōka Gakkai's commitment to pacifism, it is also important to remember that despite the enormous energy that the Sōka Gakkai has poured into political activism, it remains fundamentally a religious group, and members describe their role as such.

…though we are very concerned with political matters, if you try to understand the Sōka Gakkai through its political efforts you will not be able to see the truth. We are after all a religious organization. Our primary aim is to improve the lives of regular people by empowering them with our message. However, we are a part of society, and we have our own distinct philosophy. Thus we want to contribute to culture, education, etc. Politics is one of the fields. So please understand this overall picture (Interview with Terasaki).

Komeito's Commitment to Peace

Secondly, in examining the Komeito, it can be seen that it remains deeply influenced by the Sōka Gakkai, and with the exception of the slight departures of the last decade, has labored intensively to represent the interests of its religious supporters. For many years after its formation, the Komeito unabashedly echoed Ikeda's call for abolition of nuclear weapons, abrogation of the US-Japan Security Treaty, opposed the dispatch of Japanese troops on PKO missions, and fought to preserve Article 9 at all costs. However, beginning in the 1990s, when the Komeito began to edge into the political decision making process by linking arms with the LDP, its pacifist ideals were occasionally compromised in order to deal with the realities of policy making. Nevertheless, for the most part members seemed to take pride in their role as a hadome [brake] and occasional mitigator of the LDP's right wing tendencies.

Assessing Success: 'Mid-road'

Finally, in assessing the effectual realization of the Sōka Gakkai's pacifist ideals in Japanese foreign policy through the Komeito, it can be concluded that these efforts have produced negligible results. Or as a Sōka Gakkai official put it, 'we are still michi nakaba' [lit. halfway down the road] (Interview with Terasaki). In terms of successes, the Komeito has played a minor role in issues such as delaying progress towards revision of Article 9, holding the LDP accountable for the SDF dispatches, as well as blocking other miscellaneous minor legislation deemed antithetical to their pacifist principles. However, in looking at the larger picture, it is impossible to deny that Japan has become increasingly assertive in bolstering its military strength and emphasizing the need to fulfil a more assertive international role during the last two decades. In light of this fact, it is difficult to make the case that the Sōka Gakkai has succeeded in promoting a pacifist foreign policy.

On the other hand, although lacking in effectual results, the subtext under the Sōka Gakkai's failed endeavors for promoting pacifism, is that by becoming the first religious group to enter post-war politics in a large way, the trail blazed by the Komeito and its supporters have helped define the acceptable parameters of religious involvement in Japanese politics. On the other hand, while this may be one of the Sōka Gakkai's most noteworthy accomplishments as a religious group, it has come at a price. The Sōka Gakkai's confrontation with political realities ultimately effected a change in their commitment to pacifism which arguably 'relaxed' or became 'compromised'. While a religious group being forced to compromise its principles in the political arena is nothing new, for the Sōka Gakkai, whose public face is inevitably conflated with its political endeavors, these compromises may not be so benign over the longer term.

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About the author

Timothy Benedict is currently working in the chaplain's office of Yodogawa Christian Hospital in Osaka, Japan where he is studying the role of spiritual care in Japanese hospitals.

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Copyright: Timothy O. Benedict.
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