The 19th and 20th centuries saw an explosion of new religious movements across the world, and in Japan, these movements helped shape the way many Japanese perceived "religiousness." Above is a picture of the Mahikari World Shrine, a major shrine for one of many new religions in Japan.
Shinshūkyō (新宗教) is a term used by Japanese to describe new religious movements. These movements can be also known as shinkō shūkyō (新興宗教). The title is applied to religious organizations founded since the 18th century. Many of these New Religions are heavily influenced by older traditional religions including Shinto, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
Many Japanese associate New Religions with cults and warn others to not associate with them. Actions by groups like Aum Shinrikyo (see below), who released a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, have lead to negative impressions of New Religions - and all organized religions in general. However, most religions in Japan - including New Religions - are not violent or subversive. The rise of New Religions were often stimulated by social factors, such as the transitional period from the Tokugawa to Meiji regimes, economic depression in the 1920’s, and the period after World War II, during which Japan was occupied and struggling to recover.
Below are examples of a few of the many New Religions.
In the 1950's Kiriyama Seiyu had a religious revelation. He believed he had been saved by the Bodhisattva Kannon. Kiriyama became an ascetic for a number of years and then had a further revelation. He believed had become free of karma and should teach others how to follow the same spiritual route.
Aum Shinrikyō (オウム真理教,) derives from the Sanskrit syllable Aum (which represents the universe) followed by Shinrikyo written in kanji, roughly meaning "religion of Truth". In English "Aum Shinrikyo" is translated as "Supreme Truth." However, in January 2000, the organization changed its name to Aleph in reference to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, along with their logo. As of 2008[update], Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph membership is estimated at 1,650 people by the Japanese Government.
Although many people associate this religious group with the sarin gas attack in a Tokyo subway station, the core teachings of this religion are “transcending life and death” (relating to gedatsumõ [emancipation]) and “absolute freedom, absolute happiness” (relating to satori [enlightenment]).
Kurozumikyō (黒住教), (the Teachings of Kurozumi) was founded in 1846. The founder, a Shinto priest, Kurozumi, had a divine union with Amaterasu, and from this ‘Direct Receipt of the Heavenly Mission’ the religion began. Though Kurozumi's divine union occurred in 1814, the sect was not formally organized until 1846, when the priest and senior disciples assembled the Osadamegaki, putting into writing all the beliefs, values, and laws of the religion.
The core beliefs are that Amaterasu is the source of all light and life and creator of all the universe. Mankind is believed to be able to tap into the divine power of Amaterasu in order to heal the sick and perform other miracles. As of 1978, the group claimed 218,000 followers.
Mahikari was named for two Japanese religions. The first being Sekai Mahikari Bunmai Kyodan ("World Religious Organization of True Light"), which was founded by Okada Kotama who was trying to save the people from the end of the world. The second group being Sūkyō Mahikari ("True Light Supra-Religion"), which was founded after Okada's death. The two groups follow many of the same ideas and practices, some of which derive from Shinto.
Above is a picture of the World Shrine
In 1892, a Japanese woman named Deguchi Nao became possessed by the folk deity Ushitora-no-Konjin. As a result, she and her son-in-law Deguchi Onisaburo founded Omoto, which centered on this god.
Sōka Gakkai (創価学会) (literally, "Value-Creation Society") is a new religious group boasting are more than 12 million members of Sōka Gakkai International in 192 countries and territories.
Founded by educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi in 1930, the organization was suppressed during World War II for its opposition to government-supported State Shinto. He, along with Josei Toda and other top Sōka Gakkai leaders, were arrested in 1943 and charged as "thought criminals". In the following years, Toda rebuilt the Sōka Gakkai membership from less than 3,000 families in 1951 to more than 750,000 before his death in 1958.
In 1960 Sōka Gakkai began to develop a program of international outreach. Daisaku Ikeda, the third president of Sōka Gakkai, made a journey that took him from Japan to the United States, Brazil, and Canada. During this trip he met practitioners in each of these countries and began laying the foundation for what would later become Sōka Gakkai International (SGI). In 1975, SGI was formally founded, with Daisaku Ikeda as its president.
SGI now claims a membership of somewhere between 100,000 to 300,000 practitioners in the United States. Sōka Gakkai is possibly the largest organization of Nichiren Buddhist practitioners and today (though, Nichiren has severed official ties to this new religion), and it claims that its membership accounts for nearly 10 percent of Japan's population (though there is little concrete evidence to support that).
Okada Yoshikazu (Kotama), was the founder of Sūkyō Mahikari and was born in 1901 to the wife of an imperial army officer in Tokyo. The core teaching of Sukyo Mahikari is "The origin of the world is one; the origin of all human beings is one; and the origin of all religions is one." Therefore, all human beings are brothers and sisters whose purpose is to co-operate and to live together in harmony. The attitude of helping each other, with love and respect and without judgement, resentment or blame, is their highest obligation. Through an understanding of the universal principles and God's plan for humankind, people can more easily fulfill their responsibilities as members of their families and society.
Although the members of Sukyo Mahikari refuse to submit an exact size of membership to the government, the number of followers is estimated to be around 100-200,000.
Tenrikyō (天理教) originated from revelations to a 19th-century Japanese woman named Nakayama Miki, known as Oyasama by followers. Followers of Tenrikyo believe that God, known by several names including Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, expressed divine will through Nakayama's role as the Shrine of God, and to a lesser extent the roles of other leaders. Tenrikyo's worldly aim is to teach and promote the Joyous Life, which is achieved through acts of charity and mindfulness (hinokishin).
Tenrikyo, today includes 16,833 locally managed churches in Japan. It claims 1.75 million followers in Japan and is estimated to have over 2 million worldwide. Tenrikyo is the largest current religion to have a female foundress.
Written by: Aubrey (Brie) Smith and Katie Parish Edited by: Katie Parish, Tayln Cox, Maxwell Bloodworth, and Dr. Roemer
Bibliography: Davis, Winston. 1980. Dojo. Magic and Exorcism in Modem Japan. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Hardacre, Helen. 1988. Kurozumikyo and the New Religions of Japan. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Noriko, Kawahshi. 2006. Nazan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. Tenrikyo International Website. (30 November 2010). http://www.tenrikyo.or.jp/eng/ Soka Gakkai International. (30 November 2010). www.sgi.org Susumu, Shimazono. 1995. "In the wake of Aum: The formation and transformation of a universe of belief." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies: 381-415.