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Asia Unbound Political Realignment Among Japan's Religions


CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.
This blog post is part of a series entitled Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?, in which leading experts discuss the prospects for revising Japan’s postwar constitution. Helen Hardacre is Reischauer Institute professor of Japanese religions and society in the department of East Asian languages and civilizations at Harvard university.
New religious movements have been a part of Japanese society since the early nineteenth century. Some of them, much like the American new religions, Christian Science or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have become accepted institutions with one or even two centuries of history. The more established, such as Kurozumikyō (founded in 1814) , have university-educated leaders who serve on the boards of respected museums and corporations, sit on government bodies, and are pillars of their communities. Unlike Sōka Gakkai and its political party Kōmeitō, or Happy Science and its Happiness Realization Party, they do not preach politics from the pulpit, because they believe in the separation of religion from state.
Many new religious movements joined the Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan (Shin Nihon Shūkyō Rengō Kai, generally called Shinshūren) , founded in 1951. Shinshūren lobbies for a variety of progressive causes, including opposition to constitutional revision, and supports liberal politicians. Although the Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja Honchō) previously belonged to Shinshūren, both it and numerous other religious organizations have recently dropped their affiliation and joined Nippon Kaigi, which is widely recognized as a highly effective, ultra-conservative political lobby. Nippon Kaigi is also beginning to function as an alternative federation for religious organizations and now includes a number of prefectural shrine associations, leaders of such important shrines as the Ise, Atsuta, Meiji, and Yasukuni Shrines, such Buddhist groups as Bussho Gonenkai, Gedatsukai, and Shinsei Bukkyō Kyōdan. Doctrinally eclectic groups like Moralogy, Sūkyō Mahikari, and Taiwa Kyōdan also belong, as well as established Buddhist organizations such as the Tendai sect and its head temple, Enryakuji. When leaders of religious groups like these join Nippon Kaigi, it probably signals leaders’ personal convictions and their belief that their followers should be open to constitutional revision and Nippon Kaigi’s other causes.
Nippon Kaigi gained nationwide influence through mass meetings and petition campaigns, passing resolutions in municipal and prefectural assemblies calling for constitutional revision. As of January 2015, Nippon Kaigi had 35,000 members, including between 1,700 and 1,800 local assembly members, branch offices in every prefecture, and a total of 237 local branches across Japan.

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