New Religions in Japan

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Even though there have been achievements and constant efforts, traditional sects in Japan are now only confined to the scholarly and academic field. They still do not answer to the religious needs of the population at large. Even though they are popular internationally, within their native land, there is now an emergence of new religions. The former influence on the Japanese national ife has diminished with time, the position becoming worse since the surrender in World War II. That is when a national tendency to reject the traditional was adopted. The appeal of the traditional sects was hence lost due to their oldness. It is a hope now to revitalize these traditional teachings in a way that it can cope with the modern trends and once again join the temporal and spiritual.

With Japan’s defeat in the World War II in 1945, the Emperor gave up his divine status and Shinto was disestablished as the religion of the state. With new found religious freedom and in the presence of mental crisis, numerous sects and subsects emerged soon. In 1945, there were 43 of these which rose to 720 by 1951 again dropping to 170 by 1961. Of the 720 sects in 1951, there were 260 Buddhist sects and subsects. Out of all of them, there were only 5 main sects observed by more than a million and these were Shin, Shingon, Jodo, Zen and Nichiren.

New religions were developed to fill in for traditional systems. Most of these stem from the Nichiren sect and have attracted observants quickly. It is interesting to note that it is due to the practice of certain new religions that Buddhism remains active in Japan and not due to any intellectual roles or academic achievements.

These new religions center on the personality of the organizer or the founder. These founders are believed to possess divine powers, powers of healing, fortune telling and sorcery working miracles. Their teachings are simple that are appealing to the lower middle class and the rural population that is naturally inclined to superstitions. The new religions are lay organizations that to not distinct believers from priests. The followers get a sense of belonging promoting public welfare and mutual aid that promises mundane but immediate benefits. There is a lot emphasis on services and meetings with new religions that are taken quite seriously.

The most prominent new religion is the Soka Gakkai and also the Rissho-Kosei-Kai. Both of these stem from the Nichiren sect. The Society for social justice and neighborly relations or the Rissho-Kosei-Kai was founded by a poorly girl from a family of factory workers. The membership of this new religion is at three million. The Soka Gakkai is the value creating society begun in 1931 that had gained 500 followers by 1940 and surpassed all old and new religions by 1960 both in power and influence. Shin Buddhism, the traditional sect had 14 million followers but the new religion of Soka Gakkai in 1965 had 13 million followers. The religion has a political party, the Komeio which is the 3rd largest party in Japan.

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