"When faced with outside criticism regarding its political activities, Soka Gakkai and the Komeito have resolved the issues in a forthright manner...the Komeito places its emphasis on the implementation of its welfare policies, while Soka Gakkai focuses its efforts on the realization of global peace." --Hiroshi Aruga [1]

Soka Gakkai in Japan started fielding candidates in local elections in 1955 and in national elections in the following year. The motivations for entering the political field were: (1) to protect the constitutional safeguard of freedom of religion and ensure that the state would never again use religion to infringe people's freedoms or justify war; (2) to represent ordinary men and women in a political system dominated by the interests of either big business or huge labor unions; and (3) to tackle government corruption and bring an ethical perspective into the Japanese political domain.

It is the explicit policy of Soka Gakkai International organizations outside Japan that they will not involve themselves in politics.


Then Soka Gakkai President Einosuke Akiya stated at a press conference in 1994: "Soka Gakkai at that time was a group of obscure, common people. Many of them were unorganized laborers who worked for small and medium-size companies. In Japanese society, they were shut out of the world of government, both politically and economically.... We believed that these are the people on whom the light of politics should shine most brightly. We felt that this is the primary role of politics.... It was our thought that politics should serve people, that politics should be conducted for people rather than using them as instruments. In order to realize this idea, it is desirable to have politicians of humanity and of high morality who do not bow to authority. It was with this idea that we sent our representatives into the Upper House. Second President Josei Toda passionately said, 'Young people, you must keep a close eye on politics!' This cry arose out of his concern that indifference of the general public toward politics will lead to political corruption." [2]


Soka Gakkai is concerned to resist the exploitation of religion by those in power. During World War II, the Japanese state used religion and particularly State Shinto ideology to impose a system of thought control on the populace and sanctify its war of aggression. Resistance to this system led to the imprisonment of first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who died in prison in 1944, as a "thought criminal." Soka Gakkai was almost completely crushed at that time. This experience led its members to be intensely aware of the need to maintain a vigilant eye on the course of Japanese politics and protect the freedoms of religion, assembly and expression, in the process of the postwar rebuilding and expansion of Soka Gakkai.


As the number of local and national legislators endorsed by Soka Gakkai rose, they came to wield a certain influence in Japanese politics. Wishing to fulfill their political and social responsibilities, they established the Komeito ("clean government") party in 1964. The Komeito is a centrist party solely responsible for its own fundraising without financial support from the Soka Gakkai organization.

Today, Soka Gakkai in Japan, like many other major Japanese religious organizations, endorses candidates. But Soka Gakkai does not provide any financial backing to the candidates or their political parties. Although most endorsements today are for New Komeito[3] party candidates, Soka Gakkai at times also supports individual candidates from other parties. New Komeito is currently Japan’s third largest political party both in the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors.[4] It aims to bring a humanistic perspective to politics and to act as a counterweight to a perceived resurgence of Japan's tendency towards nationalism. The party has a strong record of promoting social welfare reforms, environmental protection, international peacebuilding, advancing human rights and for tackling political corruption.


It should be noted that Article 20 of the Japanese constitution stipulates the separation of state and religion. Needless to say the underlying spirit of this clause is to guarantee the religious neutrality of the state, not the political neutrality of religious groups. Furthermore, in the course of the party's 40-year history, during which time it has been part of the government and held cabinet posts on several occasions, Komeito has never introduced legislation or exerted political influence to accord Soka Gakkai any form of special privilege or status. For reference, see New Komeito’s views on politics and religion in Japan at: http://www.komei.or.jp/en/about/view.html.

[1] Hiroshi Aruga [University of Tokyo professor emeritus and professor of political science at the College of Law, Nihon University], "Soka Gakkai and Japanese Politics," in Global Citizens: The Soka Gakkai Buddhist Movement in the World, (Oxford: OUP, 2000), 126-127.

[2] Einosuke Akiya [Then Soka Gakkai president], May 23, 1994, speech at Japan National Press Conference in Tokyo, Japan.

[3] The Komeito party was renamed "New Komeito" in November 1998. For an explanation, please refer to the "History" section of the New Komeito's English web site at: http://www.komei.or.jp/en/about/history.html

[4] Komei Shimbun, September 13, 2009.