Soka Gakkai - Mystery with a Reason?
Sunny Sunday morning at the beginning of June. I
am sitting on a wooden bench, birch trees around me, no car anywhere
in sight. It is true what they say: the birds exist out there
and they really sing. It is as close to Heaven as one can get,
including the feeling that I am not welcome here.
The building behind my back is Caledon Centre for Culture and
Education, an estate worth tens of millions, that belongs to
Soka Gakkai International (SGI). It is the final day of the Conference
on Evolution of World Order (WOC), organized-according to the
official documents of the event-by Science for Peace, a renown
and well respected organization among NGOs all over the world,
Ryerson Polytechnic University, SGI, UN Association of Toronto
and others. Out of 140 participants, only around 40 decided to
come here today, for the plenary session, which is strange.
I am alone outside, going through some of
the papers submitted here, trying to see if there is something
that would explain this odd feeling of secrecy that I got.
Michael Greenspoon, one of the associate chairs of this conference,
appears from the building with an unknown man and approaches
me. After few formal words, Greenspoon goes down to business: “I
wonder if it would be possible for you to send me a draft of
your article before it’s published...”
| "Imagine that someone says about your
father how he raped some woman long ago!"
I respond by question: “Any special concerns
regarding Soka Gakkai?”
“Well, yes,” says Greenspoon, “they are trying
to build a positive image...”
He gives me his E-mail address and leaves with another man.
They take a walk through a small strip of woods that surrounds
the building, occasionally looking at me from the distance. You
know: the thing you do when you want to talk so nobody hears.
But you do that only if someone with the electronic equipment
is around you. Is this such a case? Not at all, if you exclude
a dozen of well mannered guys in black pants and white shirts
with the walkie-talkies in their hands, but they need it to organize
the scientific crowd, which is rather known as wild. And yes,
every now and then somebody comes out of the building and just
passes by me, checking if the freshly planted trees are growing
properly. Since the trees are neatly tied and fixed in a vertical
position (Soka Gakkai hates weakness), guys return to the building,
not even looking at me. Except for one, up there, on the second
floor. But I really am suspicious: I smoke in Heaven.
Everything in Caledon that day functions perfectly well, thanks
to almost military precision of Dr. Walter Dorn, chairman of
this conference, and Helen Izumi of SGI-who, as we learn later,
is the main organizer. We are greeted by Elizabeth Izumi, president
of SGI Canada, and Ian StClair, from the local City Council,
which only adds to the written messages from the Secretary General
of the UN Kofi Annan and Mayor Barbara Hall. A high-level summit.
Topics include reorganization of UN, international law, role
of military in the next century, new energies...
On the way back to Toronto, I am even interviewed by Lynne Hussey,
a member of SGI who says that the President of SGI, Mr. Daisaku
Ikeda, wants to know the personal feelings of the participants.
I do not see anyone else being interviewed on this occasion,
but I already understand that the SGI is highly sensitive to
a journalist presence.
So I decide to start my little investigation, which, a month
later, results in four books, several magazines, three tapes,
and over 200 pages of faxes, E-mail messages and other documents,
sitting now on my desk.
I started the easy way: doing research on the Internet. Home
page of the Conference, tidy and well done, gave no credit to
Soka Gakkai International. Then I typed the name of this organization
into the AltaVista search engine and ten seconds later a full
screen of accusations stared right into my face: alleged rapes
(a case against the president of SGI, Daisaku Ikeda), unresolved
deaths, Victims of Soka Gakkai Association, all mixed with the
reports on cooperation with the United Nations, promotion of
culture, science and research, foundation of a University in
Tokyo, two art museums, one political party and many other praise
worthy undertakings. Even the Church of Scientology does not
have this kind of controversy around it.
SGI is the most powerful lay group in Japan.
It owns Japan’s third largest newspaper, Seikyo Shimbun, as
well as Soka University. Its political arm, the now defunct
Komeito (The Clean Government Party), has formed the core of
the New Frontier Party, which promotes itself as a left-oriented
party (fights against new taxes, for welfare, etc.), but was
rocked by scandals few months ago, when its two high-ranking
members (Toshio Yamaguchi and Keisuke Nakanishi) got in troubles
with the law. Ikeda is a charismatic figure famous for jetting
around the world to hold “dialogues” with
such luminaries as John Kenneth Galbraith, Arnold Toynbee, Johan
Galtung, Mikhail Gorbachev or Anatol Rapoport here.
But why, I kept asking myself, such secrecy about the role of
SGI in a promotion of such event as this conference in Toronto?
| Even the Church of Scientology does not have this kind
of controversy around it.
Exchanging E-mail messages with Michael Greenspoon, trying to
learn more about the sponsorship of WOC by Soka Gakkai, I noticed
that the copies of our correspondence were sent to Walter Dorn
and Helen Izumi. Walter Dorn was obviously the next person I
would have liked to meet.
E-mail messages I got from other people around
this conference became really controversial. It seemed that
the SGI gave anywhere between sixty and a hundred percent of
the money needed for this conference (total cost was around
$24,000), and it seemed also that SGI was either registered
as a member of Science for Peace, or an organization with which
Science for Peace did not have any ongoing relationship, depending
on whom did I ask. Some of the messages, according to the “envelopes”,
were copied for Walter Dorn.
I met him two days later in his office at
University of Toronto. He kindly gave me his sixteen-pages-long
Curriculum Vitae and offered that we go together through some
of the sites on the Internet. We didn’t have much time to talk,
though, partially because of me being late, partially due to
(un)expected calls coming all the time, from Michael Greenspoon,
Helen Izumi and others, whom I could not identify. Dr. Dorn
repeated that SGI gave sixty percent of the money for the conference,
that his position was paid (170 hours of work, he said, price
unknown) and that he believed in “the essential integrity of
He said that he offered to SGI to have its promotion during the
conference, but they refused, although having some 5,000 members
in Canada. Asked for his personal opinion about the case against
Ikeda, he responded that if only I saw Mrs. Ikeda, I wouldn’t
believe in something like that either, and besides, Daisaku Ikeda
is a man of great integrity. “So you met Ikeda when you visited
SGI in Japan?” I asked. “No,” he replied. I told him that I spoke
to Kazue Akita, lawyer of the woman who accused Ikeda, and we
By this stage of my investigation the rumors were already spread.
Some members of Science for Peace I asked for opinion on the
whole case were reluctant to comment in public. Some of them
did not respond at all. Two of them (names withheld by request)
told me that they were really surprised to learn of so tight
connection between the two organizations. To their knowledge,
first contacts happened regarding the WOC, and now that they
had a chance to do their own research on SGI, they didn’t like
The rumors also got to Japan. Three days after I spoke to Walter
Dorn, I got E-mail from Rie Tsumura, SGI Director of Communications,
based in Tokyo. Although I never contacted her, she found it
important to inform me further on two cases that are obviously
bothering SGI: one is the rape case and the other is the Asaki
case. Akiyo Asaki was a Higashi-Murayama-area city councilwoman
who was a vocal critic of SGI. She jumped into her death in September
1995, under unresolved circumstances.
The same day I received this letter (Tuesday), I
got a call from Andrew Gebert, director of public information
at SGI. He was in New York and expressed a wish to see me during
the coming weekend. When I responded that it would be too late,
since my deadline was Thursday, he explained that, in fact, he
wanted to come to Toronto sooner, and proposed to meet me the
And so we meet the next day, at high noon,
on Charles Street , but not alone-as the time would suggest.
Tony Meers, vice-chair of SGI Canada, joins Gebert. I take
out my recorder and we start talking, but every now and then
Gebert and Meers ask me to turn it off, since they want to
say something off the record. I give up, shut my recorder off
and offer them a plain, simple conversation. It works better
Since that interview was not recorded, I cannot
quote, but I can tell you that SGI certainly looks like a happy
family according to my new friends (“I have never seen such compact group
of white, black, oriental people, West Indians, and everybody
else!”-Gebert) . They had a hard time explaining how it
happened that SGI in USA had more than 300,000 members few years
ago and it went to only 50,000 today. They say that president
Ikeda is just an equal between equals, but talking about the
rape case, they say that their feelings are extremely hurt by
these allegations: “Imagine that someone says about your
father how he raped some woman long ago!”
They said that Komeito was founded to protect
the rights of SGI members in Japan . Asked if they would want
to do the same in Canada or USA , they denied. “So, the rights of, say,
West Indians are well protected in USA ?” I ask. “We
don’t think we need a party here,” responded Gebert, “but
we lobby with other groups to protect the religious rights of
our members. We lobbied, for example, against prayer in schools.”
“If, instead of an obligatory prayer, it would have been
a chant, a meditation, what would be your stand?” I ask. “We
would be against it,” they say, “because we don’t think
that religion and politics should be mixed.”
| He was in New York and expressed a wish to see me during
the coming weekend. When I responded that it would be too
late, since my deadline was Thursday, he explained that,
in fact, he wanted to come to Toronto sooner, and proposed
to meet me the next day.
I wanted to
ask again about the political party founded by SGI, but I gave
up. Instead, we turned to the literature. I was supplied by
articles, books and other promotional material.
Interestingly, in one of the books SGI members
like to quote, since it comes from two Oxford professors, I
found a detail which explains much of the media attention given
to SGI in Japan: “The
growth of the movement was largely the result of the theory of
conversion which Toda endorsed- shakubuku (often translated
as ’break and subdue’). [...] Otherwise, shoju , a more
moderate and conciliatory approach through dialogue and example,
would be appropriate, in particular in non-Buddhist countries.” (A
Time to Chant, Wilson & Dobbelaere, Oxford University Press.
Yoichi Shimatsu, co-editor of the Archipelago magazine and former
editor of The Japan Times Weekly, sent me several major files
describing the political situation in Japan . Officially, he
said, Komeito does not exist anymore, but its voters are supporting
The New Frontier Party (Shinshinto), formed with the splinters
of Japan ’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Komeito was frequently
accused of conspiracy to install the religious dictatorship,
but Shinshinto is more sensitive and cautious to these issues,
presenting itself as a centrist party.
Masaru Kohno, professor of Political Science
at University of British Columbia , says: “Many believe
that, although there is no official connection between Komeito
and SGI, Ikeda shook his hands with Ichiro Ozawa, founder of
Shinshinto, before the deal was done. This could be the rise
of the right wing in Japan , but there is still a gap between
that and a religious dictatorship. I believe that Japan is
fundamentally democratic country.”
However, in Japanese House of Representatives Shinshinto currently
holds 173 out of 511 seats, second after LDP’s 207 representatives.
And, finally, here we are. Why such a secrecy
in all this? Why does everything in regards to Soka Gakkai
International stir so much emotions? Why SGI refused to publicly
announce its funding-and
the organization-of the World Order Conference? Why did it need
Science for Peace and why this left-oriented organization with
high reputation agreed to give its credibility to the event funded
by a religious organization, so much different from itself, except
for the declaratory support of peace?
Are we facing an organization with two faces, one
of shakubuku for
Japan , and one of shoju for the rest of the world? Once shoju is
not enough, will we see shakubuku, too?
Similar set of questions remains for the members
of Science for Peace. The most important one is: How far can
you go and still retain your independence?
[Published in NOW
magazine, July 1997]
Dragan Todorovic, All rights reserved.