Soka Gakkai's greatest achievement lies in unleashing the power of the people, of those at the very lowest strata of society, and in revitalizing their lives... helping people become self-reliant is a challenge, but it is precisely what Soka Gakkai has done.--Minpei Sugiura[1]

History of Soka Gakkai--A Japanese Grassroots Movement

Soka Gakkai (literally "Society for the Creation of Value") began in 1930 as a group of reformist educators. Its founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) was an educator passionately dedicated to making the Japanese education system more child-centered. Makiguchi's emphasis on independent thinking over rote learning and self-motivation over blind obedience directly challenged the Japanese authorities of the time, who saw the role of education as molding docile subjects of the state. Makiguchi found in the self-empowering philosophy of the 13th century Buddhist teacher Nichiren a spiritual underpinning for his theory of value-creating education.


The 1930s saw the rise of militaristic nationalism in Japan, culminating in the country's entry into World War II. The militarist government imposed State Shinto ideology on the population as a means of sanctifying the war of aggression, and cracked down on all forms of dissidence. Makiguchi and his close protégé Josei Toda (1900-1958) refused to compromise their beliefs and lend support to the regime, leading to their arrest and imprisonment in 1943 as "thought criminals." Makiguchi died in prison in 1944.

After the war, Josei Toda rebuilt Soka Gakkai, expanding its mission from the field of education to a movement grounded on the principle of the sanctity of life as expounded in Nichiren Buddhism, seeking to empower people and create a world in which justice and humane values are accorded universal respect. He taught Buddhism as a practice and foundation for personal and social transformation. The message resonated especially among the disenfranchised of Japanese society which led the organization to rapidly expand its membership to 750,000 households by the time Toda died in 1958.


Daisaku Ikeda succeeded Toda as Soka Gakkai president in 1960. Under his leadership, the organization continued to grow and broadened its focus to one of promoting peace, culture and education. He also founded the Soka Gakkai International in 1975, now an international grassroots movement of more than 12 million members in some 190 countries and areas of the world. Ikeda has also founded various cultural and educational institutions including: Soka University in Tokyo, Soka University of America in California, USA, the Soka Schools system, the Min-On Concert Association, Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue (formerly the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century) and the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.

"...the Soka Gakkai played a very important role in developing [an] awareness that common people could have different opinions and aim at something different from what is existing now....

"And that's something which was very exceptional also among the different Buddhist currents. The other Buddhist currents were going away from society, and not proposing to change society. So this is where the Soka Gakkai played a very interesting role in representing the people; not in a conformist way but proposing something different; a kind of alternative Japan."--Kinhide Mushakoji[2]

[1] Minpei Sugiura [Japanese social activist], from quote cited in Minshu undo to shite no Soka Gakkai (Soka Gakkai as a People's Movement), (Daisanbunmei: Tokyo, 2002), 91. [trans.]

[2] Kinhide Mushakoji [professor of international politics and peace studies at Chubu University, Japan, and former vice rector at UN University, Japan], interview for "Embattled Buddhists: Under the Rising Sun," a PBS television program aired in the US in 2003.