An Introduction to the Japanese New Religions

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An Introduction to the Japanese New Religions

By Trevor Astley, Nanzan University


The study of new religions provides us with the opportunity of viewing a group in what is arguably the most interesting stage in its development. The proximity to the present of the founding of such groups allows for eye-witness accounts of the characters involved and events taking place during the crucial initial stages of a group's history. The appeal of a new religion, often centred on the personal attraction of a charismatic leader, is immediate. New religions are vitalistic; they are dynamic. Essentially, they concern themselves with the here and now, with this very existence. People can relate to them because they are contemporary and deal with the problems facing people in the world as they perceive it. They provide a framework in which to make sense of human experience and social change, as well as the advances in scientific and technological knowledge. They also may provide hope for the future, or direction in people's lives and invariably offer people some form of control over their destiny. And yet they also provide a link to the past. These are indeed powerful forces in the everyday lives of ordinary people.
    Answering the needs of the time in a vital form while retaining a familiarity of mode is indeed a potent formula. It is widely recognised that this formula may be more potent in times when a society is undergoing rapid change or transformation or is in a state of crisis. Equally, one must recognise that new religious movements transform themselves -- quite radically in some cases -- over a relatively short space of time and have a different appeal, carry a different message, and respond to different problems of human existence in different ways at different times. The immense scope, the incredible diversity, and the rapid development of the Japanese "New Religions" in the post-war era are such that it is as well to bear these points in mind.
    The study of Japanese "New Religions" leads to a somewhat broader and indeed more complicated field than one at first might anticipate. The initial major problem involves trying to actually identify and define these New Religions and place them in context. The scale of these New Religions -- in terms of their number, size, and the extent of their penetration -- means that any assessment of contemporary Japanese society would be incomplete without a consideration of this phenomenon. The diversity and complexity of religious life in Japan today derives from the elaborate relationship formed through the ages between the indigenous form of Buddhism, Shinto beliefs, and the folk religious tradition. Combining elements from these, along with those from other religious traditions such as Christianity, to form new modes of religious expression and faith is part of a tradition of religious creativity in Japanese history.
    In the case of the so-called "Japanese New Religions", the problems are many. The sheer number alone of these new religious groups represents a major task in setting out to analyse them. Then there is the difficulty in trying to actually discern precise figures: firstly, as to how many there are of these groups, and then as to the number of adherents within each of these groups or sects. Firstly, though, I would like to consider the question of terminology, and discuss what we mean by "Japanese New Religions".


The terms used in Japanese to describe the "New Religions" are "shin-shûkyô" and "shinkô-shûkyô". In the 1950s and 1960s "shin-shûkyô" (lit. "new religion(s)") was used by some Japanese scholars to refer to those new religious groups which had appeared during the nineteenth century, while "shinkô-shûkyô" (lit. "newly-arisen religion(s)")(1) was used to refer to the groups that had risen to prominence during the inter-war and the post-war periods. The term "shinkô-shûkyô" has, however, somewhat derogatory overtones: although shinkô (newly-arisen) is neutral per se, it is found in such terms as shinkô-narikin and shinkô-kaikyû, meaning "newly-arisen nouveau riche" and "newly-arisen social classes" respectively, with the implication of "arriviste" or "upstart".(2) Needless to say, the leaders and members alike of such new religious groups were not particularly endeared to such a term, and gradually since about 1970 the term "shin-shûkyô" has, in academic circles at least, come to refer to the Japanese New Religions in general. The most recent development since the 1980s is the emergence of a new breed of "shin-shûkyô" which have earned the title of "shin-shin-shûkyô" (lit. "new new religions"), the best-known example of this genre being the now infamous Aum Shinrikyô.
    Similarly in Western academic circles the term "New Religions" is problematic. Inevitably, discussion revolves around the issues of whether a given group is a religion in its own right -- rather than a branch, sub-sect or sub-division of an established religion -- and whether a group's teachings or doctrines are original enough, or a sufficient departure from those of the established religion from which it claims authority, to warrant the appellation "new".(3) The preference among many involved in the study of the subject is for such terms as "new religious sects", "new religious groups" or "new religious movements", with the latter term widely favoured, notably so in the Sociology of Religion where the acronym "NRM" is extensively employed.
    In Western literature within Japanese Studies, "shinkô-shûkyô" has been used somewhat indiscriminately and usually in the generic sense, particularly in literature dating from the 1960s and 1970s. This is also true of more recent work found mainly in non-specialist literature, which presumably has adopted the term from the now rather outdated studies carried out during the 1960s. The norm among students of Japanese Religious Studies is to use "shin-shûkyô",(4) referring to these in English invariably as the (Japanese) New Religions when taken collectively, and as "a new religious group or movement", or "a new sect" when considering an individual group's case, on the grounds that the vast majority do not break with Japanese religious tradition.(5)


Moreover, as mentioned above, the New Religions found in contemporary Japan are not purely a product of the post-war era, but have their roots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This does of course raise the immediate question of whether one can refer to such as "New Religions": a problem acknowledged in the two main treatments of the subject in the English language, both of these having been published as long ago as 1963. Thomsen refers to the early groups as the "Old" New Religions (e.g., Tenrikyô, Kurozumikyô, Konkôkyô), while Offner and van Straelen sidestep the issue by declaring their interest in "Modern Japanese Religions", yet include all the major New Religions since the nineteenth century in their study.
    While some commentators more concerned with contemporary developments divide the New Religions according to a simplified pre-war/ post-war categorization for analytical purposes, generally speaking we can discern four major phases in their development. Indeed, the Japanese media refer to the more recent developments in terms of a "third religious boom" and a "fourth religious boom". The history of the New Religions may be divided according to the following periods of activity:

  i) the latter part of the nineteenth century

 ii) the 1920s and 1930s
iii) the immediate post-war period, esp. the 1950s & 1960s
 iv) post- "Oil shock" (1973), especially 1980s on


The idea often portrayed in non-specialist accounts and in the media that Japan is teeming with new religious "cults" and that the Japanese must be a deeply religious people is most misleading. Underpinning such a view are the raw statistics on the New Religions: this applies not only to the matter of how many such groups there are, but also to the numerical strength of the individual groups. The official number of recognised religious organisations in Japan is somewhere in the region of 200,000 while the number of adherents declared in official statistics -- that is to say, government statistics, for it is the Ministry of Education which is responsible for the collation of these -- consistently outstrips the actual population figures.
    These are indeed startling statistics, but really need to be treated with utmost care. Firstly, the vast majority of the large number of religious organisations can be accounted for by groups representing traditional Buddhism and traditional Shinto, to the numerous sects and sub-sects of which we must also add the many individual temples and shrines throughout the country that see fit to register as independent bodies. Secondly, although there has been a recent revision of the Religious Corporations Law in April 1996, the repercussions of which remain to be seen, the conditions for being granted official recognition as a religious organisation have hitherto been relatively easy. So, not only do we have local temples or shrines gaining legal status, but also individual priests with their own following, devotional or cultic associations, and numerous lay groups, many of which are somewhat artificial and have undoubtedly been inspired more by the tax breaks afforded legally-recognised religious organisations than by ostensibly religious considerations.
    Having taken these matters into account, however, one is still left with a remarkable array of religious groups that have come into being in the postwar era and that stand outside the authority of the established traditions. Such "New Religions" number in the hundreds, and even if we discount the many smaller and localised groups that have little or no significance or influence beyond their very minimal membership, there are still a considerable number of groups which have sizeable followings and considerable influence in people's lives.
    The numerical size of the groups also ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand to several million adherents. Here again, the statistics are highly speculative as the Agency for Cultural Affairs, which gathers such information, has relied since the Occupation solely on the voluntary cooperation of religious organizations.(6) Offner and van Straelen point out that:

Denominations and their constituent bodies prepare their statistics according to their own standards, which are usually quite different from those of other denominations, especially those of other religions.(7)

    With regard to the figures referred to above concerning the total number of adherents of religious groups in Japan, this can be accounted for partly by the interesting phenomenon of multiple affiliation, whereby one can be both Shinto and Buddhist (local shrines and temples often include members of the local population or "parish" in their figures), and partly by the often rather arbitrary means of collating statistics by both the authorities and the groups themselves.


Finally, there are further problems to be encountered in the definition of the groups themselves, not that these are as such insurmountable, but merely that they demand a great deal of care on the part of the researcher. Sects may change their names, and may appear to change their "affiliation", if that is the right expression. It was such in the pre-war era in Japan that religious groups had to subscribe to one of the established religions by way of protocol in order to gain official recognition, thereby avoiding persecution by the authorities. Tenrikyô, for example, has been through various stages of affiliation by way of convenience, connecting itself at one stage with Buddhism and later with Shinto in order to gain official recognition. Tenrikyô now asserts that it is entirely different from Shinto.(8) PL (Perfect Liberty) Kyôdan, meanwhile, started off in 1912 as a group within Mitake-kyô -- one of the 13 sects of Sect Shinto -- and was originally known as Tokumitsukyô. Later it was registered under another of the Sect Shinto sects, Fusôkyô, when it was known first as Jindô Tokumitsukyô, and later as Hito-no-michi. During the war the group was suppressed and then disbanded and after the war it was re-formed as PL Kyôdan. Similarly, Ômoto history in the inter-war years is also fraught with conflict with the authorities. Further, in common with a few other significant groups, Ômoto provided the breeding ground for a number of other new groups. One of these splinter groups, founded by Okada Mokichi, provides us with an apt illustration of the fortunes of the new religious groups. Originally formed around 1936 as the Dainihon Kannonkai and subsequently abandonded the following year (under charges of fraud), it was resurrected after the war as Nihon Kannon Kyôdan in 1947. The following year Okada formed the Nihon Miroku Kyôkai and in 1950 disbanded them both to establish Sekai Kyûseikyô, one of the main post-war New Religions.

Background to the Development of the New Religions in Contemporary Japan

Some treatments of the Japanese New Religions portray them as a remarkable phenomenon exclusive to the post-war era and point to post-war conditions to explain their rise. The impression is often given that hundreds of New Religions suddenly sprang from nowhere in the aftermath of the war. While there was a tremendous growth in the number of officially-recognised groups in that immediate post-war period, such accounts tend to preclude a broader understanding of the context of the growth and this is also misleading for the purposes of analysing this phenomenon. The simple equation of Government-controlled 13 sects of Sect Shinto up to 1945 gives rise to several hundred new sects via granting of religious freedom and the prevailing socio-economic conditions of a devastated people provides a rather neat and virtually self-explanatory account of the rise of the New Religions.
    The religious scene of the last century or so has been extremely complex: involving as it does the interaction of the various religious traditions that go together to make up that which we know as Japanese religion. A consideration of some points from the pre-1945 situation to afford us an overview are in order here.
    The roots of the new religious groups which have arisen to date lie in the religious developments of the Bakumatsu or Late Tokugawa Period (roughly the 1820s to 1868). Of the 30 or so "Major New Religions" for which Murakami Shigeyoshi provides data (Shukyo Nenkan, 1978) 10 had been founded by 1873 and virtually the remainder by 1950.(9) What are considered the oldest of the New Religions have now been established for roughly a century or more, their initial founding or founder's initiatory religious experiences having taken place as long ago as nearly two centuries ago. Tenrikyô, Kurozumikyô and Konkôkyô are the main representatives of this era, though by no means the only ones. To these ought be added the rest of the sects which together made up the 13 sects of Sect Shinto during the Meiji Period, a classification which was to be valid until the end of the Second World War as an administrative measure essentially as part of a means of on the one hand exerting control over religious groups and on the other of substantiating the Government's philosophy of the State in the form of the kokutai (National Polity) cult. It would seem from reports concerning the latter half of the last century that a considerable amount of energy was expended as a means of alleviating the pitiful state of the peasant masses through the expression of religious activity. The o-kage mairi (return of divine favour pilgrimage) pilgrimages to the Ise Shrine, and the rather strange ee ja nai ka and yo-naoshi (world renewal) dances are oft-cited examples of such activity. Kitagawa relates them closely to the peasant uprisings (ikki). Socialist writers ruefully view these activities as a misguided waste of potential revolutionary spirit on the part of the masses.
    The restoration of the Imperial household during the Meiji period wrought tremendous upheaval amidst the religious world, to have percussions which are still felt today. The elevation of Shinto to a state cult (Kokka Shintô), the separation of Shinto and Buddhism and the subsequent suppression of Buddhism (haibutsu kishaku), and the coercive measures taken by the Meiji Government towards conformity of all other religious groups to the State ethos ridicule the nominal assertion of religious freedom for all guaranteed by Article 28 of the Meiji Constitution, which reads as follows:

Japanese subjects shall, within limits not prejudicial to peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, enjoy freedom of religious belief.(10)

    Various laws passed during the period up to 1900 (11) provided the framework for the regulation of religious groups and their activities by subjecting them to official scrutiny prior to their being granted legal status, requiring doctrines to be in line with the State cult regarding the status and worship of the Emperor and the veneration of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Ômikami, and to persistent superveillance by the Police. The Government had accepted the existence of Kyôha Shintô or Sectarian/Sect Shinto, formally separating this from State Shinto early in the Meiji Period and as far as I can understand, although I have no explicit information as such, at some stage forbade the formation of new sects. There were at any rate 13 legally approved sects (hence the 13 Sect Shinto sects), and presumably any new groups forming subsequently and right up to the end of the war had to become a sub-sect of one of the 13 Sects, or alternatively, exist as non-officially recognised organisations, in which case they were treated as semi-religious organisations (shûkyô ruiji dantai) or quasi-religious organisations (giji shûkyô dantai) and as such were treated with even greater suspicion and contempt by the authorities, thus limiting their chances of expanding. Moreover, they came under the inspection and control of the Home Ministry rather than the Bureau of Religion in the Ministry of Education.(12)
    The problems that the authorities encountered with the New Religions escalated after the First World War and throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the numerous cases of police investigations against them bearing testimony to this. The Peace Preservation Law (chian iji hô) of 1925 whose primary intended target was actually socialism, was also implemented with respect to new religious groups on the pretext of countering "dangerous thoughts". Ômoto as early as 1921 and then again in 1935 and Honmichi in 1938 providing us with examples of such groups targeted by the authorities for suppression. The Religious Organisations Law (shûkyô dantai hô) of 1940 was the final nail in the coffin for many New Religions, many of their number being dissolved, their leaders and activist members spending the war years imprisoned on charges of lèse majesté.(13) As an idea of how widespread these movements had become during this later period, some 400 New Religions were accounted for in 1930 and just over 1000 in 1935.(14) In addition to these there were the by comparison relatively few yet very significant sects which hid under the organisational umbrellas of the 13 Sects. For me this is a very important point in that it shows the widespread scale of these groups prior even to the declaration of religious freedom by the Allied Powers at the end of the war.
    This pre-war situation is also simultaneously a source of difficulties for the researcher concerned with the development of such sects in terms of classification and simply tracing them. In the post-war era the sects were allowed complete freedom to assert themselves and espouse their doctrines as they wished, which meant that the pre-war classifications may no longer be valid (in terms of Buddhist, Shinto, or Other), and the classification is in any case almost arbitrary anyway. Moreover, groups were often wont to change their names as well as their affiliations.
    The starting-point for a study of the development of new religious movements in the post-war era is, perhaps, the declaration of religious freedom guaranteed by the 1947 Constitution. The Articles most pertinent to this important land-mark in Japanese religious history are Articles 20 and 89.(15)
    Article 20 states:

Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the state, nor exercise any political authority. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice. The state and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.

    Article 89 states:

No public money or other property shall be expended or appropriated for the use, benefit or maintenance of any religious institution or association, or for any charitable, educational or benevolent enterprises not under the control of public authority.

    Thus, these two articles at once provided for the freedom of religion to be enjoyed by the individual, the separation of state and religion, and significantly, the curtailing of any state sponsoring of religion. Further, two other Articles forbade "discrimination in political, economic, or social relations because of ... creed" (Article 14), and provided that "freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated" (Article 19).(16) In contradistinction to the declaration of religious freedom in the Meiji Constitution, the 1947 Constitution prepared the way for an unconditional approval of religious freedom uninhibited by the state. The guarantee of religious freedom is arguably the greatest factor in the initial development of the new religious movements: many groups and sects which previously had had to exist under the umbrella of one of the 13 Sect Shinto sects in the pre-war era were suddenly allowed to declare their independence from the parent-sect. I do not have precise details as to the exact number of sects which seceded from the Sect Shinto sects, but as of 1959 59 of the 129 Shinto sects recognised by the Government were secessions from the original 13, only 2 of which being true splinter sects.(17) Such sects or groups combined with undoubtedly numerous movements which were suppressed pre-1945 must account for the incredibly large number of new religious movements appearing after the war, and during the 1950s after the enactment of the Religious Juridical Persons Law of 3 April 1951, which enabled religious organizations to acquire legal capacity. The law also, it might be noted, granted tax-exempt status to religious organizations.

    The reaction of the newly-formed (in early 1951) Union of New Religions (Shinshûren) was very favourable towards this new found freedom. Understandably the reaction from the established religions, Buddhism and Shinto, and Christianity was tempered by concern for their very own future survival. Naturally, Shinto had just lost its whole financial basis -- previously guaranteed through the sponsorship of the pre-war government, and not only that but had lost much of its credibility among a very disillusioned populace. The subsequent breakdown of the power base of the established religions caused by extreme demographic changes beginning in the early 1950s meant that rural depopulation was depriving the tradition-bound rural areas of its financial base and leaving behind the imbalance of an ageing rural society. This mobility was to have far-reaching consequences for the established religions, not only in the rural but also in the urban areas. The static community-based temples and shrines suffered and have continued to do so in view of these changes.

Outline of Work Done on the Japanese New Religions

Study of the Japanese New Religions has been pursued by scholars from across the social sciences as one might expect in a field dealing with any contemporary interaction with society. It is interesting to note, however, the development of research on this area, for it reflects on the one hand the development of such areas as anthropology, sociology and psychology since the war and on the other offers a broad scope of interpretation to the researcher.
    Reports from Japan of the rich pickings to be made in the study of New Religions through journals diverse as American Anthropologist, Numen, Ethnology, History of Religion, Journal of Asian and African Studies, Social Compass, in addition to the specialist journals dealing with Japan itself, as well as through books dealing specifically with this "new" phenomenon, saw a rise in consciousness of these New Religions and a considerable amount of literature produced on the subject during the 1960s and early 1970s. To give an indication of the reported scale of these New Religions: it has been claimed that 171 such groups existed in 1958, with a total membership of over 18 million, and it has also been suggested as many as a fifth, third or even half (!)(18) of the entire population of Japan was involved in the New Religions. The largest group, Sôka Gakkai, was claiming more than 15 million adherents by the mid-60s and according to its own reckoning was the fastest growing religion in the world with a monthly increase of some 100,000 members in the late 1950s/early 1960s. All this from apparently nothing in the wake of the war: New Religions became a new object of study. It is perhaps significant to observe that since Thomsen and Offner and van Straelen published their books on New Religions in Japan and Modern Religions in Japan respectively, nearly 30 years have passed in which no single volume has been published in the English language which deals exhaustively with the wider spectrum of the New Religions in Japan. This reflects more the size of the task facing the researcher than a lack of work done in the area as such. Even now, some 45 years after the declaration of religious freedom new groups are emerging, the older groups are evolving and the even older groups are established within the mainstream of religious tradition.
    Daniel C. Holtom was one of the leading foreign scholars of Japanese religions in the period immediately prior to the war, and his works on the Shinto faith and political implications of State Shinto in the pre-war and immediate post-war period still provide invaluable and reliable sources of information. His knowledge was called upon by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) -- this refers to the whole administrative organ, not only to MacArthur himself -- although due to ill health he was unable to take an active part in the Religions (and Cultural Resources) Division of the CIE (Civil Information and Education Section). William Bunce was the Chief of the Religions (and Cultural Resources) Division and in that capacity acted as editor of a report by the Division on Religions in Japan in March 1948 which was duly published under that title. The report on the New Sects and developments in Sectarian Shinto are interesting if for no other reason than the fact that it shows the immediacy of interest in them in the first years of the Occupation. The statistics of religious sects and denominations for 1946 are also a valuable source. Also, William P. Woodard, who worked under Bunce as expert advisor on Japanese Religions and was later Director of the Institute for the Study of Religions in Tokyo (and was also later editor of Contemporary Religions in Japan from 1964), produced an invaluable source of information on the Occupation and Japanese Religions, drawing on his experience and first-hand contact with the various religious leaders and Japanese scholars of religion. This volume, incidentally, was not in fact published until 1972 some twenty years after the Occupation. In the meantime Christian missionary scholars had been working hard to produce work on the contemporary religious situation, much of which, one might add, was quite sympathetic towards the New Religions. Thomsen, Offner, van Straelen, Spae, and Hammer were all of the Christian clergy. Possibly this was in some part at least due to the optimistic outlook of the Christian church with respect to its prospects of making inroads into Japanese society, not to mention also in part due to the fascination with the moribund activity within the religious sphere. Moreover, the question of religiosity of the Japanese people seems to have preoccupied many such a scholar. Thomsen's The New Religions of Japan (1963)(19) and Offner and van Straelen's Modern Japanese Religions (also 1963) were certainly bold attempts to bring knowledge of this field to a wider audience in spite of their respective shortcomings. A critical review of these works, principally the former, by Ôishi Shûten and others in the March 1964 issue of Contemporary Religions in Japan manages to run to no less than thirty-five pages.
    Ôishi describes the work as follows:

[It is] an unusually attractive, splendidly illustrated, and very interesting presentation of a subject about which there is a great deal of interest but very little factual knowledge. (...) Since this is only the second volume in English to deal with the total situation, the book is certain to be read widely, and it will give the general reader a reasonably satisfactory overall picture of these modern sects. It is extremely unfortunate, however, that it is not as accurate and thoroughly reliable as it should be.

And he continues:

Had the manuscript been submitted to any one of a number of competent scholars in the field before publication, some of the more serious errors at least could have been eliminated.(20)

    Indeed Ôishi's worst fears seem to have been justified to some extent at least by the appearance later in the 1960s and 1970s of articles in non-specialist journals (i.e., outside the area of Japanese religious studies) quoting misinformation on number of sects, membership numbers, etc., and incorporating tenuous classifications of groups and perpetuating an interpretative methodology of characterising which lacked analytical integrity and a tendency to account for the development of the New Religions principally in terms of a spiritual crisis which later crystallised as crisis or anomie theory.
    It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the influence of Sociology made an impact on the study of New Religions in Japan. The New Religions in Japan now attracted a good number of Japanese scholars from this field who were interested in the interaction between religion and society. Social Compass in 1968 and the Journal of Asian and African Studies in 1972 devoted whole issues to monographs on the Sociology of Religion in Japan, the contributors being predominantly Japanese. Edward Norbeck's Religion and Society in Modern Japan (1970) also gave a commendable and reliable account of the relationship between religion and society in terms of tradition and change and is probably one of the best general introductions to the New Religions in post-war Japan.
    Meanwhile a trend towards studies of individual groups was in progress - mainly by American researchers - with articles appearing on the Japanese New Religions in which the data was taken from perhaps only one or two of the new groups. Observation of and participation in these groups during this period has given us the monographic accounts of individual new groups or single locations which have appeared during the 1980s. Winston Davis's Dojo (1980) is a study of Sûkyô Mahikari, and as the title suggests, the book is the result of six months participation at one of the branches. This is perhaps rather typical of the approach to the more recent study of the New Religions in Japan, an admixture of anthropological techniques of observation and the application of analytical techniques from sociology based on the collation of substantative and statistical data through interviews and questionnaires. It also raises for me the problem that many of these studies do tend very much to be highly localised and intensive, which means that the group under study are not treated to an exhaustive accounting and therefore we have the situation whereby a new religious group has been dealt with but perhaps only in a micro sense. As to whether we can apply the information and data to the rest of the group, for instance rural vs urban characteristics of the group or large vs small churches or regional differences, is to my mind somewhat debatable. It is almost as if once a particular group has been "done" then it is struck off the list of things-to-do: the number of groups of diversity is such that it is easier to pick a group as yet untreated by other Western scholars and make it your own than to undertake in-depth research into a group already covered. Especially since the description and conclusions will have sufficient validity on a general basis due to the overall nature of the New Religions in any case. However, it is another matter as to whether or not one might be able to adopt and apply their data universally. Stewart Guthrie's A Japanese New Religion (1988) is an example of one of a few anthropological accounts, his dealing with the Nichiren Buddhist-derived group, Risshôkôseikai, in a remote mountain village.
    Helen Hardacre has produced two works on two different new religious groups, namely, the Nichiren Buddhist-derived Reiyûkai in Lay Buddhism in Contemporary Japan (1984), and Kurozumikyô in Kurozumikyô and the New Religions of Japan (1986). It is perhaps towards Hardacre's work that one might look to define the latest trends in research by non-Japanese on the new religious movements in Japan. Not only does Hardacre criticise and challenge the crisis theory put forward by various writers since the 1960s -- especially by Neil McFarland's The Rush Hour of the Gods (1967) -- but she puts forward a theory to replace it, which seeks to explain the New Religions in terms of a common world view:

This study has identified a vitalist, spiritualist world view as the most fundamental factor unifying the new religions. Whereas prior studies have recognized a rather standardized list of traits as shared by a number of the new religions, this study has tried to show how those traits are unified in originating from a particular conceptualization of self in relation to other levels of existence coupled with regular patterns of thought, action and emotion. The kingpin of the system is the idea that the self-cultivation of the individual determines destiny.(21)

    As far as future research in the field is concerned, one must wonder whether an overview of the New Religions will soon be forthcoming or not. Already there are a number of such works in the Japanese language which have been recently published among whose number there are a few rather interesting encyclopaedic volumes: namely, Shinshûkyô gaidobukku (Guidebook to the New Religions) (1987), which poses the question "Kimi wa dono shukyo to kyoso wo erabu no ka" (Which religion and which founder will you choose?!) on the cover, contains information on 70 new religious movements. Of these, fewer than 20 have actually been dealt with in any detail by Western scholars, roughly half of that number being only in the most cursory fashion. When one considers that this guidebook does not attempt to cover anything more than the most well known and popular groups, the extent of the uncovered ground to date is even more marked. Furthermore, there is Shinshûkyô Jiten (Dictionary of the New Religions) published in 1984 and edited by Matsuno Junkô who had gathered the information for this dictionary through his work at the Religious Affairs Section of the Ministry of Education. He speculates in his foreword as to whether there might not be as many as two or three thousand new religious groups, and restricts his volume to a brief outline of some 200 of the main groups which are registered as religious juridical bodies. The latest of these encyclopaedic reference books is also entitled Shinshukyo Jiten (Dictionary of the New Religions) published this year (1990) as an update of Shinshûkyô Kenkyû Chôsa Handobukku (Handbook of Studies on the New Religions) (1981). This is a comprehensive guide to the subject and it deals not only with details of some 300 groups but also consists of a section on "themes", which are as follows:

1. the appearance and development of new religions, their branches and sub-sects;

2. founders, their associates and successors;
3. organization including leaders and followers;
4. teachings, objects of worship, and symbols;
5. practices such as proselytization, training and ritual;
6. holy places and other facilities;
7. changes in such areas as national law, religious control, friction over religion, and the tone of media commentary are traced;
8. internationalization, overseas proselytization, and import of religious movements originating in the US, Europe, India, South Korea, etc.(22)

    This thematic approach seeks to present a picture of the new religions from a broad perspective, an aspect which has not really been dealt with effectively in the English language works so far and is becoming more and more pressing not only on account of the fact that there is already sufficient information available to produce such studies but also because there is the need to progress beyond the descriptive towards analysis and interpretation.


1.    The term "shinkô-shûkyô" has been rendered variously in Western literature as "newly-arisen religions", "newly-established religions", "newly-born religions", "newly-arisen religious groups or movements", "new religious sects or groups" as well as "new religions".

2.    According to Murakami, p. 83, it was an "in" word in the 1920s or so, attached indiscriminately in such phrases as "newly-arisen" or "newly-developed" housing or literature.

3.    See Werblowsky, "New Wine in New Bottles" for a debate. Also Beckford.

4.    Due to the vagaries of the imprecise art of transliterating Japanese regards capitalisation and hyphenation, you will also encounter "shin shûkyô", "Shin Shûkyô", "Shin-shûkyô".

5.    Oishi Shuten "The New Religious Sects of Japan: A Review Article", Contemporary Religions in Japan, 5, 1:47-49 (March 1964). A highly critical review of Thomsen.

6.    See Part III STATISTICS in Hori et al., Japanese Religion, especially the section on "Problems of Compilation and Interpretation", pp. 233-234.

7.    pp. 18-19.

8.    Offner & van Straelen, p. 58. See also Tenrikyo, prepared by the group themselves, and the review article in Contemporary Religions in Japan by a Tenrikyô official.

9.    Murakami, pp. 170-171. Appendix II. 11 of the 31 groups were founded in the nineteenth century (by 1892), all by 1951.

10.    Bunce, Religions in Japan, pp. 170-171.

11.    See Creemers, p. 31. Also Japanese Religion, pp. 162-163.

12.    Murakami, p. 83.

13.    Murakami, p. 95. The Law had as its objective "the control of religion and mobilization of religion for the war effort".

14.    This was according to a Ministry of Education survey, the exact figures being 414 for 1930 and 1029 for 1935. See Murakami, p. 85. Compare this also with an earlier survey for 1924 which gave 98 organisations, breaking down to 65 Shinto, 29 Buddhist, and 4 Christian. These all being distinct from the officially recognised religions. Murakami, p. 83.

15.    Hardacre, Shinto and the State, pp. 137-139. See Chapter 7 for post-war developments.

16.    Hardacre, Shinto and the State, pp. 137-139.

17.    Norbeck, p. 11.

18.    See Norbeck, p. 3.

19.    Thomsen's "shopping" list:

1. "They centre around a religious mecca"

2. "They are easy to enter, understand, and follow"
3. "They are based on optimism"
4. "They want to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, here and now"
5. "They emphasize that religion and life are one"
6. "They rely upon a strong leader"
7. "They give man a sense of importance and dignity"
8. "They teach the relativity of all religions"

Listed in Oishi, p. 54. Taken from Thomsen, pp. 21-31.

20.    p. 45.

21.    Hardacre, Kurozumikyô, p. 188.

22.    From Tamaru Noriyoshi's review, p. 16.

Further Reading on Japanese New Religions

Bernier, Bernard. Breaking the Cosmic Circle: Religion in a Japanese Village.

Blacker, Carmen. Millenarian aspects of the new religions in Japan. In Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture, ed. Donald H. Shively.

Clarke, Peter B., and Jeffrey Somers, eds. Japanese New Religions in the West.

Davis, Winston B. Dojo: Magic and Exorcism in Modern Japan.

Davis, Winston B. Japanese Religion and Society.

Davis, Winston B. Toward Modernity: A Developmental Typology of Popular Religious Affiliations in Japan.

Earhart, H. Byron. The New Religions of Japan: A Bibliography of Western-Language Materials.

Guthrie, Stewart. A Japanese New Religion: Risshô Kôsei-Kai in a Mountain Hamlet.

Hammer, Raymond. Japan's Religious Ferment.

Hardacre, Helen. Kurozumikyô and the New Religions in Japan.

Morioka, Kiyomi. Religion in Changing Japanese Society.

Morioka, Kiyomi, and William H. Newell, eds. The Sociology of Japanese Religion.

Murata, Kiyoaki. Japan's New Buddhism: An Objective Account of Soka Gakkai.

Nadolski, Thomas P. The Socio-Political Background of the 1921 and 1935 Omoto Suppressions in Japan.

Offner, Clark B., and Henry van Straelen. Modern Japanese Religions: With Special Emphasis Upon Their Doctrines of Healing.

Reader, Ian. Religion in Contemporary Japan.

Foreign Press Center, Japan. Religion in Japan Today.

Shimazono, Susumu. The development of millennialistic thought in Japan's new religions: From Tenrikyô to Honmichi. In New Religious Movements and Rapid Change, ed. James A. Beckford.

Thomsen, Harry. The New Religions of Japan.

Denominational Literature

Nao Deguchi, A Biography of the Foundress of Oomoto.

Niwano, Nikkyo. The Richer Life.

Nobuhara, Taisen. The Brilliant Life of Munetada Kurozumi: A Philosopher and Worshipper of the Sun.

Oomoto. The Basic Teachings of Oomoto.

Oomoto. The Outline of Oomoto.

Reiyukai. Materials Relating to the History of the Reiyukai: Non-Japanese Materials.

Rissho Kosei-kai. Rissho Kosei-kai.

Soka Gakkai. The Soka Gakkai: A Life With Values.

Tenrikyo. Tenrikyo: Its History and Teaching

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