"The Japanese public is constantly exposed to the headlines on the hanging advertisements in trains and subways... Even if you don't read them but just kind of notice the slander and gossip day after day, a negative image begins to develop and grow, and you start to become suspicious..."--Noboru Okaniwa [1]


As The Australian Financial Review stated, "there are widespread negative feelings in the community towards Soka Gakkai engendered by...relentless negative campaigns against the organization by magazines." [2]


The weekly Japanese tabloid press is the main engine producing scandals about Soka Gakkai. This negative press coverage stems partly from the political situation. Soka Gakkai backs Japan's third largest party, the New Komeito, which often holds the balance of power in Japanese politics. It is no coincidence that media attacks on Soka Gakkai appear with greater intensity especially before any election.


Books critical of Japanese tabloid media

Japanese bookstores abound with books critical of the "tabloid" media

Furthermore, the Japanese tabloid press is notorious for its sensationalism and for writing articles without conducting proper investigation of factual grounds. For example, Shinchosha, the publishing house of Shukan Shincho, one of the highest-selling weeklies and a frequent source of anti-Soka Gakkai stories, has lost numerous libel suits was ordered by the courts to pay over 100 million yen (US $1,074,700) in damages over a five-year period from 2004 to 2009.[3] It has in the past accused an innocent man of the sarin gas attack in Matsumoto in 1994 later attributed to Aum Shinrikyo; published the names of 18 innocent people described as “potential criminals” responsible for sabotage at Tokyo’s International Airport; displayed the private history and pictures of a woman who died from AIDS; and ridiculed victims of the Minamata mercury poisoning scandal.

In 2004, Shinchosha’s tabloids Focus (discontinued) and Shukan Shincho published malicious articles alleging a fatal traffic accident was an insurance fraud committed by the victim’s relatives. The Supreme Court pointed out[4] “It is not socially acceptable to publish articles and defame individuals without sufficient investigation into the truthfulness and propriety of their contents,” ordering Focus and Shukan Shincho to pay damages of 19.8 million yen (US $192,654) and 9.9 million yen (US $96,327) respectively The damages in this decision was the highest ever in libel suits against the media in Japan.
In April 2009, Shinchosha admitted its coverage of a particular story had been incorrect and published an apology.[5] The apology, however, generated much criticism for being nothing but a series of insincere justifications. One of their critics, author Shinichi Sano, commented, “Shinchosha’s attitude to treat even their own published apology as a sort of advertisement indicates they have completely lost sight of the purpose of journalism and are rotten to the core.”[6]
Jun Kamei, who worked as the deputy editor of Shukan Shincho for nearly 20 years until he became disillusioned with the industry, said: “[What motivates them is] the profit motive. By deliberately infringing on the rights of ordinary people, their stories sell better. They've learned that every time they appeal to their readers' baser instincts—that sense of sadistic voyeurism latent in all of us which delights in the suffering of others—circulation soars.” [7]

Juichi Saito, former Special Advisor to Shinchosha, the publisher of Shukan Shincho, stated in a 1995 interview: “In the art of writing, there is no such thing as truth or justice.” [8]

Trends in Libel Suits in Japan

With increasing awareness of the social and economic value of the public’s moral rights in Japan, amounts of damages approved by courts in libel suits against tabloid magazines have been rising significantly since around 2001. The Japan Magazine Publishers Association made a strong protest in April 2009, claiming, “The way amounts of damages are calculated is extremely ambiguous and there is no clear standard,” and “[t]he series of extremely arbitrary court rulings can be interpreted as oppression of speech.” [9]

Publishers that are frequently involved in libel cases, like Shinchosha, tend to produce articles of no public interest and weak factual basis, which are often published with malicious intention. Unlike cases of financial loss, it is very difficult to restore a reputation once that reputation has been damaged by media coverage.[10] Thus the courts began to approve a higher level of damages as a means of actively deterring the infringement of human rights by tabloid magazines in recent times.

Yasuhiko Oishi, professor of mass media law at Toyo University comments: “Tabloid magazines often lack the motivation to sincerely examine their faults and apologize to victims when they infringe human rights or make mistakes. This attitude has repelled readers and affected the results of damages suits. Some tabloids respond in a way that disregards human rights and ridicules the vulnerable. They should realize how detrimental this is to the side that claims freedom of expression. As for damages, the traditional amounts were too low to begin with.”[11]


Numerous false stories about Soka Gakkai and its honorary president--such as the trumped-up charge of sexual assault by Nobuko Nobuhira, groundless accusations about Soka Gakkai's complicity in a city councilwoman's suicide, and unfounded charges that Soka Gakkai caused the death of a priest--have been litigated in Japanese courts, and Soka Gakkai has consistently prevailed. Scandalous stories breaking in the Japanese tabloid press often make their way into respected international publications, and Soka Gakkai's eventual legal victories--years later--almost never get reported.

[1] Noboru Okaniwa [Japanese journalist], "Embattled Buddhists: Under the Rising Sun," a PBS television program aired in the US in 2003.

[2] Tony Boyd [IT editor for the Australian Financial Review], "Sacred Spirit Caught Up in the Profane," The Australian Financial Review, 14 October 1996, 11.

[3] Seikyo Shimbun, “Zadankai”, May 11, 2009.

[4] “News on the fatal accident involving individuals related to the Hayashida-kai Medical Corporation. Fukuoka Superior Court rejects Shinchosha’s appeal and upholds libel claims.” Mainichi Shimbun, January 30, 2004.

[5] Wikipedia on Shukan Shincho. “On April 16, Shukan Shincho admitted incorrect coverage in a 10-page feature article in the April 23 issue entitled ‘This is how Shukan Shincho was tricked by the fake perpetrator’ written the Chief Editor Kiyoshi Hayakawa himself.”

[6] Shinichi Sano [nonfiction writer], “Essay: Thoughts on a Big Hoax by Shukan Shincho,” Mainichi Shimbun, 6 May 2009.

[7] "Tabloid Horror: A History of Collusion and Abuse," Mission Statement, The Liaison Committee of Human Rights and Mass Media Conduct (JIMPOREN) [http://www.jca.apc.org/~jimporen/mission07.html] (15 March 2004).

[8] "Tabloid Horror: A Litany of Abuse," Mission Statement, The Liaison Committee of Human Rights and Mass Media Conduct (JIMPOREN) [http://www.jca.apc.org/~jimporen/mission08.html] (15 March 2004).

[9] Japan Magazine Publishers Association [http://www.j-magazine.or.jp/information_004.html] (20 April 2009).

[10] Mitsuaki Matsumura and Shuichi Nakamura [editors] and Morio Miyahara [editorial supervisor], "Libel and Privacy—Relief for victims of false reports—reality and proposal”, which advocates an increase in punitive damages for such reports.

[11] “Where is the tabloid press heading to? (2)”, Yomiuri Shimbun, 22 September 2005.

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