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The Emergence of the New Religions

In spite of all these efforts and achievements, however, the success of the traditional sects has been confined mostly to the academic and scholarly field. In answering to the religious need of the populace, they are still at a loss. They may be well known internationally but in their native land they fail to recover their former influence on the Japanese national life. Their position was made even more difficult by Japans surrender in World War II when, as a reaction, a tendency was developed to reject whatever was traditional. The oldness of these sects has thus resulted in a natural loss of their appeal. It is the hope of these traditional sects that through their intellectual pursuits they will find a channel through which they can achieve the joining of the spiritual with the temporal and the revitalization of the teaching in a way more fit to cope with the general trend of the age and civilization.

The defeat of Japan in World War II in 2488/1945 was followed by the emperors renunciation of his divine status and the disestablishment of Shinto as the state religion. With the allowance of religious freedom and in the face of mental crisis, the number of religious sects and subsects increased rapidly. The number registered in 2488/1945 was 43. By 2494/1951, this had increased to 720. In 2504/1961 the number dropped to 170. Of the number 720 in 2494/1951, 260 were Buddhist sects and subsects. Again, of these 260, only five were the main sects which had more than one million adherents, namely, Jodo, Shin, Zen, Shingon and Nichiren.

The new movements or the so-called New Religions have been a development to fill the gap left by the traditional teachings. Most of them are offshoots of the Nichiren sect. They have been rapidly attracting enthusiastic adherents. Interestingly enough, it is mainly through the practice of certain popular rituals of these new sects, and not through an intellectual role or scholarly achievements, that Buddhism remains an active religion in Japan.

Most of these new sects or religions began with a revelation and are centred on the personality of the founder or organizer. The founders are usually believed to have unusual spiritual powers in divination, sorcery, fortune-telling and healing, and to be able to work miracles. They usually teach simple doctrines which appeal most to the lower middle class and the rural populace who are inclined to superstitious beliefs and practices. The new sects are essentially lay organizations, avoiding distinctions between lay believers and priests. They give their followers a sense of belonging and promote mutual aid and public welfare, promising actual mundane benefits here and now. Emphasis is placed on group meetings and the performance of services which are to be taken very seriously.

Among the new sects, the most prominent are the Rissho-Kosei-Kai and the Soka Gakkai. These both arose out of the Nichiren sect. The Rissho-Kosei-Kai (Society for Social Justice and Neighbourly Relations) was founded by a sickly girl from a poor and lowly family who earned her living as a factory worker. It claims a membership of approximately 3 million. The Soka Gakkai (Value-Creating Society), which started in 2474/1931 and had about 500 followers in 2483/1940, surpassed in the 1960s all other Japanese religious orders, both old and new, in influence and power. While among the great traditional sects, Shin Buddhism with all its ten subsects claimed the largest following of about 14 million adherents, the Soka Gakkai alone had in 2508/1965 13 million members on its lists. The movement is militantly nationalistic and has political activities. As its political party called the Komeio (Party of Social Justice) has become Japans third largest party, the Soka Gakkai has grown into a movement of great political importance.
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