Japanese new religions

Japanese new religions are new religious movements established in Japan. In Japanese, they are called shinshūkyō (新宗教) or shinkō shūkyō (新興宗教). Japanese scholars classify all religious organizations founded since the middle of the 19th century as "new religions"; thus, the term refers to a great diversity and number of organizations. Most came into being in the mid-to-late twentieth century and are influenced by much older traditional religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto. Western influences include Christianity, the Bible and the writings of Nostradamus.[1][2]

Before World War II

In the 1860s Japan began to experience great social turmoil and rapid modernization. As social conflicts emerged in this last decade of the Edo period, known as the Bakumatsu period, some new religious movements appeared. Among them were Tenrikyo, Kurozumikyo and Oomoto, sometimes called Nihon Sandai Shinkōshūkyō ("Japan's three large new religions"), which were directly influenced by Shinto (the state religion) and shamanism.

The social tension continued to grow during the Meiji period, affecting religious practices and institutions. Conversion from traditional faith was no longer legally forbidden, officials lifted the 250-year ban on Christianity, and missionaries of established Christian churches reentered Japan. The traditional syncreticism between Shinto and Buddhism ended and Shinto became the national religion. Losing the protection of the Japanese government which Buddhism had enjoyed for centuries, Buddhist monks faced radical difficulties in sustaining their institutions, but their activities also became less restrained by governmental policies and restrictions.

The Japanese government was very suspicious towards these religious movements and periodically made attempts to suppress them. Government suppression was especially severe during the early 20th century, particularly from the 1930s until the early 1940s, when the growth of Japanese nationalism and State Shinto were closely linked. Under the Meiji regime lèse majesté prohibited insults against the Emperor and his Imperial House, and also against some major Shinto shrines which were believed to be tied strongly to the Emperor. The government strengthened its control over religious institutions that were considered to undermine State Shinto or nationalism, arresting some members and leaders of Shinshukyo, including Onisaburo Deguchi of Oomoto and Tsunesaburō Makiguchi of Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (now Soka Gakkai), who typically were charged with violation of lèse majesté and the Peace Preservation Law.

After World War II


After Japan lost World War II, its government and policy changed radically during occupation by Allied troops. The official status of State Shinto was abolished, and Shinto shrines became religious organizations, losing government protection and financial support. Although the Occupation Army (GHQ) practiced censorship of all types of organizations, specific suppression of Shinshūkyō ended.

GHQ invited many Christian missionaries from the United States to Japan, through Douglas MacArthur's famous call for 1,000 missionaries. Missionaries arrived not only from traditional churches, but also from some modern denominations, such as Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jehovah's Witnesses missionaries were so successful that they have become the second largest Christian denomination in Japan, with over 210,000 members (the largest is Catholicism with about 500,000 members). In Japan, Jehovah's Witnesses tend to be considered a Christianity-based Shinshūkyō, not only because they were founded in the 19th century (as were other major Shinshūkyō), but also because of their missionary practices, which involve door-to-door visiting and frequent meetings.

Despite the influx of Christian missionaries, the majority of Shinshūkyō are Buddhist- or Shinto-related sects. Major sects include Risshō Kōsei Kai and Shinnyo-en. Major goals of Shinshūkyō include spiritual healing, individual prosperity, and social harmony. Many also hold a belief in Apocalypticism, that is in the imminent end of the world or at least its radical transformation.[1] Most of those who joined Shinshūkyō in this period were women from lower-middle-class backgrounds.[2]

Soka Gakkai has a particular influence to politics since 1964, thanks to their affiliated party Komeito, later New Komeito. In 1999, it was estimated that 10 to 20 per cent of the Japanese population were members of a Shinshūkyō.[2]


After World War II, the structure of the state was changed radically. Prior to WWII, the National Diet was restricted and the real power lay with the executive branch, in which the prime minister was appointed by the emperor. Under the new Constitution of Japan, the Diet had the supreme authority for decision making in state affairs and all its members were elected by the people. Especially in the House of Councillors, one third of whose members were elected through nationwide vote, nationwide organizations found they could influence national policy by supporting certain candidates. Major Shinshūkyō became one of the so-called "vote-gathering machines" in Japan, especially for the conservative parties which merged into the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955.

Other nations

In the 1950s, Japanese wives of American servicemen introduced the Soka Gakkai to the United States, which in the 1970s developed into the Soka Gakkai International (SGI). The SGI has steadily gained members while avoiding much of the controversy encountered by some other new religious movements in the US. Well-known American SGI converts include musician Herbie Hancock and singer Tina Turner.[3]

In Brazil Shinshūkyō, like Honmon Butsuryū-shū, were first introduced in the 1920s among the Japanese immigrant population. In the 1950s and 1960s some started to become popular among the non-Japanese population as well. Seicho-no-Ie now has the largest membership in the country. In the 1960s it adopted Portuguese, rather than Japanese, as its language of instruction and communication. It also began to advertise itself as philosophy rather than religion in order to avoid conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and other socially conservative elements in society. By 1988 it had more than 2.4 million members in Brazil, 85% of them not of Japanese ethnicity.[1]


Tenrikyo emblem
Emblem of Tenri-kyo.
Head office of Oomoto at Kameoka, Japan
Head office of Oomoto at Kameoka, Japan.
Flag of Sōka Gakkai.
Headquarters of Reiyū-kai.
Emblem of Konko-kyō
Rissho Kosei-kai (Great Sacred Hall)
Rissho Kosei-kai’s Great Sacred Hall.
Imm logo
Emblem of Church of World Messianity (Sekai Kyūsei Kyō).
Name Founder Founded 1954 1974 1990 2012
Nyorai-kyō (如来教) Isson-nyorai Kino (1756–1826) 1802 75,480 33,674 27,131 7,477
Kurozumi-kyō (黒住教) Munetada Kurozumi (1780–1850) 1814 715,650 407,558 295,225 297,767
Tenri-kyō (天理教) Nakayama Miki (1798–1887) 1838 1,912,208 2,298,420 1,839,009 1,199,652
Honmon Butsuryū-shū (本門佛立宗) Nagamatsu Nissen (1817–1890) 1857 339,800 515,911 526,337 345,288
Konko-kyō (金光教) Konkō Daijin (1814–1883) 1859 646,206 500,868 442,584 430,021
Maruyama-kyō (丸山教) Rokurōbei Itō (1829–1894) 1870 92,011 3,200 10,725 11,057
Ōmoto (大本) Nao Deguchi (1837–1918)
Onisaburō Deguchi (1871–1948)
1899 73,604 153,397 172,460 169,525
Nakayama-Shingoshō-shū (中山身語正宗) Matsutarō Kihara (1870–1942) 1912 282,650 467,910 382,040 295,275
Honmichi (ほんみち) Ōnishi Aijirō (1881–1958) 1913 225,386 288,700 316,825 318,974
En'ō-kyō (円応教) Chiyoko Fukada (1887–1925 1919 71,654 266,782 419,452 457,346
Reiyū-kai (霊友会) Kakutarō Kubo (1892–1944) 1924 2,284,172 2,477,907 3,202,172 1,412,975
Nenpō-shinkyō (念法眞教) Ogura Reigen (1886–1982) 1925 153,846 751,214 807,486 408,755
Perfect Liberty Kyōdan (パーフェクト リバティー教団) Miki Tokuharu (1871–1938)
Miki Tokuchika (1900–1983)
500,950 2,520,430 1,259,064 942,967
Seichō-no-Ie (生長の家) Masaharu Taniguchi (1893–1985) 1930 1,461,604 2,375,705 838,496 618,629
Sōka Gakkai (創価学会) Tsunesaburō Makiguchi (1871–1944)
Jōsei Toda (1900–1958)
1930 341,146 16,111,375 17,736,757[5] 20,000,000
Sekai Kyūsei-kyō (世界救世教) Mokichi Okada (1882–1955) 1935 373,173 661,263 835,756 835,756
Shinnyo-en (真如苑) Shinjō Itō (1906–1956) 1936 155,500 296,514 679,414 902,254
Kōdō Kyōdan (孝道教団) Shōdō Okano (1900–1978) 1936 172,671 417,638 400,720 184,859
Risshō Kōsei-kai (立正佼成会) Myōkō Naganuma (1889–1957)
Nikkyō Niwano (1906–1999)
1938 1,041,124 4,562,304 6,348,120 3,232,411
Tenshō Kōtai Jingū-kyō (天照皇大神宮教) Sayo Kitamura 1900–1967) 1945 89,374 386,062 439,011 479,707
Zenrin-kyō (善隣教) Tatsusai Rikihisa (1906–1977) 1947 404,157 483,239 513,321 132,286
Ōyama Nezunomikoto Shinji Kyōkai (大山ねずの命神示教会) Sadao Inaii (1906–1988) 1948 59,493 826,022
Bussho Gonenkai Kyōdan (佛所護念会教団) Kaichi Sekiguchi (1897–1961)
Sekiguchi Tomino (1905–1990)
1950 352,170 1,210,227 2,196,813 1,277,424
Myōchikai Kyōdan (妙智会教団) Mitsu Miyamoto (1900–1984) 1950 515,122 673,913 962,611 709,849
Byakkō Shinkō-kai (白光真宏会) Masahisa Goi (1916–1980) 1951 500,000
Agon-shū (阿含宗) Seiyū Kiriyama (1921–) 1954 500 206,606 353,890
Reiha-no-Hikari Kyōkai (霊波之光) Hase Yoshio (1915–1984) 1954 761,175
Jōdoshinshū Shinran-kai (浄土真宗親鸞会) Kentetsu Takamori (1934–) 1958 100,000[6]
Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyōdan (世界真光文明教団) Kōtama Okada(Yoshikazu Okada) (1901–1974) 1959 97,838
Honbushin (ほんぶしん) Ōnishi Tama (1916–1969) 1961 900,000[6]
God Light Association Sōgō Honbu (GLA総合本部) Shinji Takahashi (1927–1976) 1969 12,981
Shinji Shūmei-kai (神慈秀明会) Mihoko Koyama (1910–) 1970 1988: 440,000[6]
Nihon Seidō Kyōdan (日本聖道教団) Shōkō Iwasaki (1934–) 1974 69,450
Extra-Sensory-Perception Kagaku Kenkyūjo (ESP科学研究所) Katao Ishii (1918–) 1975 16,000[6]
Sūkyō Mahikari (崇教真光) Yoshikazu Okada(1901–1974) 1978 501,328
Ho No Hana (法の華三法行) Hōgen Fukunaga (1945–) 1980 70,000[6]
Yamato-no-Miya (大和之宮) Tenkei Ajiki (1952–) 1981 5,000[6]
World Mate (ワールドメイト) Seizan Fukami (1951–) 1984 30,000[6] 72,000
Happy Science (幸福の科学) Ryūhō Ōkawa (1956–) 1986 1989: 13,300
1991: 1,527,278[6]
Aum Shinrikyo (オウム真理教) Shōkō Asahara (1955–2018) 1987 (−2000) 2005: 1,650 2018: 1,950[7]

Data for 2012 is from the Agency for Cultural Affairs.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Peter B. Clarke, 1999, "Japanese New Religious Movements in Brazil: from ethnic to 'universal' religions", New Religious Movements: challenge and response, Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell editors, Routledge ISBN 0415200504
  2. ^ a b c Eileen Barker, 1999, "New Religious Movements: their incidence and significance", New Religious Movements: challenge and response, Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell editors, Routledge ISBN 0415200504
  3. ^ Eugene V. Gallagher, 2004, The New Religious Movement Experience in America, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0313328072, pages 120–124
  4. ^ The (1925) date refers to the Hito-no-Michi Kyōdan, the mother organization of Perfect Liberty Kyōdan
  5. ^ Sōka Gakkai has not released figures for 1989 and 1990, so this figure is the membership number for 1988,
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Most of the statistics in these charts are from the 1991 edition of the Shūkyō Nenkan (Religion Yearbook, Tokyo: Gyōsei). Numbers marked with this footnote are from other sources reporting the organizations‘ own membership statistics around 1990.
  7. ^ "オウム真理教対策(警察庁)". Web.archive.org. 25 July 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  8. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20140827014822/http://www.bunka.go.jp/shukyouhoujin/nenkan/pdf/h24nenkan.pdf


  • Clarke, Peter B. (1999) A Bibliography of Japanese New Religious Movements: With Annotations. Richmond : Curzon. ISBN 9781873410806; OCLC 246578574
  • Clarke, Peter B. (2000). Japanese New Religions: In Global Perspective. Richmond : Curzon. ISBN 9780700711857; OCLC 442441364
  • Clarke, Peter B., Somers, Jeffrey, editors (1994). Japanese New Religions in the West, Japan Library/Curzon Press, Kent, UK. ISBN 1-873410-24-7
  • Dormann, Benjamin (2012). Celebrity Gods: New Religions, Media, and Authority in Occupied Japan, University of Hawaiʻi Press. ISBN 0824836219
  • Dormann, Benjamin (2005). “New Religions through the Eyes of Ōya Sōichi, ’Emperor’ of the Mass Media”, in: Bulletin of the Nanzan Institute for Religion & Culture, 29, pp. 54–67
  • Dormann, Benjamin (2004). “SCAP’s Scapegoat? The Authorities, New Religions, and a Postwar Taboo”, in: Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 31/1: pp. 105–140
  • Hardacre, Helen. (1988). Kurozumikyo and the New Religions of Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02048-5
  • Kisala, Robert (2001). “Images of God in Japanese New Religions”, in: Bulletin of the Nanzan Institute for Religion & Culture, 25, pp. 19–32
  • Wilson, Bryan R. and Karel Dobbelaere. (1994). A Time to Chant. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-827915-9
  • Staemmler, Birgit, Dehn, Ulrich (ed.): Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religions in Japan. LIT, Münster, 2011. ISBN 978-3-643-90152-1
Church of World Messianity

The Church of World Messianity (世界救世教 Sekai Kyūsei Kyō in Japanese), abbreviated COWM, is a Japanese new religion founded in 1935 by Mokichi Okada. There are three pillars of the religion, of which the key concept is johrei, claimed to be a method of channeling divine light into the body of another for the purposes of healing. The Art of Nature which includes nature farming, and the Art of Beauty which includes practices such as Ikebana, a form of Japanese flower arranging, are the other formal practices. In 1926, Okada claimed to have received a divine revelation that empowered him to be a channel of God's Healing Light (johrei) to purify spiritual realm to remove the spiritual causes of illness, poverty, and strife from the world and inaugurate a new Messianic Age. He went on to teach Johrei to his followers allowing them also to achieve Messianity and spread the teachings across the world. Members are given permission to channel Johrei by wearing an O-Hikari pendant which contains a copy of one of Mokichi Okada's calligraphies. He is often referred to as "Meishu-Sama" (enlightened spiritual teacher) by his followers.

Okada's teaching is represented by a number of his works, such as Foundation of Paradise and Johrei: Divine Light of Salvation, which has been edited and translated by the Society of Johrei, an offshoot of COWM.

The movement currently claims 800,000 followers, including many in Brazil. Shinji Shumeikai (神慈秀明会), also known as Shumei, also follows the teachings of Okada and is considered a descendant of the church by CFAR.According to anthropologist of religion Winston Davis, Mahikari groups are comparable to Church of World Messianity and follow basically the same healing ritual.

Happiness Realization Party

The Happiness Realization Party (幸福実現党, Kōfuku Jitsugen-tō), abbreviated as 幸福, is a Japanese political party founded by Ryuho Okawa on 23 May 2009 "in order to offer the Japanese people a third option" for the elections of August 2009. The HRP is the political wing of the conservative and anti-communist Happy Science religious movement.

Okawa is the current president of the party.

Happy Science

Happy Science (幸福の科学, Kōfuku-no-Kagaku), formerly known as The Institute for Research in Human Happiness, is a controversial new religious and spiritual movement, founded in Japan on 6 October 1986 by Ryuho Okawa, that has been characterized as a cult.The Happy Science group includes a publication division called IRH Press, educational establishments such as Happy Science Academy and Happy Science University, a political party called the Happiness Realization Party, and three media entertainment divisions, which are called New Star Production, ARI Production and HS Pictures Studio.

Honmon Butsuryū-shū

The Honmon Butsuryū-shū (本門佛立宗) is a branch of Honmon Hokke Shū sect (one of the most ancient sects of Nichiren Buddhism). It was founded by Nagamatsu Nissen (長松 日扇; 1817–1890) and a group of followers the 12th of January 1857 with the name of Honmon Butsuryu Ko. This group was affiliated with Honmon Hokke shu sect until the 15th of March 1947 when it became independent with the name of Honmon Butsuryū-shū. In fact, they shared the same Patriarch until 1947. The last common patriarch was Nichijun Shonin.

HBS is part of the Japan Buddhist Federation and of the World Fellowship of Buddhists as a traditional Nichiren school. Initially it was regarded as one of Japan’s new religious movements, but recent studies show that HBS is not a new religious movement but a traditional Nichiren School.

Honmon Butsuryu Shu members practice in the tradition of Nichiren’s disciple Daikoku Ajari Nichiro (1245-1320) and consider Keirin-bo Nichiryu Daishonin (慶林坊日隆, 1385-1464) to be the second greatest leader of their school. Nichiryu Daishonin played an active role in reviving Nichiren Buddhism by transcribing many of Nichiren Shonin’s manuscripts and concluding that his teaching were fundamentally based in the "Honmon" (8 chapters) of the Lotus Sutra.The head temple of Honmon Butsuryū-shū is the Yūsei-ji located in Kyoto. Even though the majority of its believers are in Japan, there are several congregation and Temples across the world such as in North America, Brazil, Italy, United Kingdom, Taiwan, South Korea etc.


Johrei "purification of the spirit" (浄霊, Jōrei), sometimes spelled jyorei, is a form of alternative medicine similar to Reiki. It was introduced in Japan in the 1930s by Mokichi Okada.Despite presenting itself as a form of alternative medicine, the Johrei Fellowship maintains that it does not prescribe, diagnose, or treat physical illnesses and that their focus is on spiritual health and world peace instead of physical health.


The Kokuchūkai (国柱会, "Pillar of the Nation Society") is a lay-oriented Nichiren Buddhist group. It was founded by Tanaka Chigaku in 1880 as Rengekai (蓮華会, "Lotus Blossom Society") and renamed Risshō Ankokukai (立正安国会) in 1884 before adopting its current name in 1914.


Mahikari is a Japanese new religious movement (shinshūkyō) that was founded in 1959 by Yoshikazu Okada (岡田 良一) (1901–1974). The word "Mahikari" means "True (真, ma) Light (光, hikari)" in Japanese.

Myōdōkai Kyōdan

The Myōdōkai Kyōdan (妙道会教団) is a Japanese Buddhist lay organisation that stems from the Reiyūkai, a branch of Nichiren Buddhism. It was founded in 1951 and has approximately 219,000 adherents, most of whom are in Japan. The current president of Myōdōkai Kyōdan is Keiji Sahara. The organistaion's headquarters are in Tennōji, Ōsaka. One of its core teachings is the belief in the Lotus Sutra.


Nichirenism (日蓮主義, Nichirenshugi) is the nationalistic interpretation of the teachings of Nichiren. The most well known representatives of this form of Nichiren Buddhism are Nissho Inoue and Tanaka Chigaku, who construed Nichiren's teachings according to the notion of Kokutai. It was especially Chigaku who “made innovative use of print media to disseminate his message” and is therefore regarded to have influenced Nichiren based Japanese new religions in terms of methods of propagation.


Oomoto (大本, Ōmoto, Great Source, or Great Origin), also known as Oomoto-kyo (大本教, Ōmoto-kyō), is a religion founded in 1892 by Deguchi Nao (1836–1918), often categorised as a new Japanese religion originated from Shinto. The spiritual leaders of the movement have predominantly been women; however, Deguchi Onisaburō (1871–1948) has been considered an important figure in Omoto as a seishi (spiritual teacher). Since 2001, the movement has been guided by its fifth leader, Kurenai Deguchi.

PL Kyodan

PL Kyodan, or the Church of Perfect Liberty (パーフェクト リバティー教団, Pāfekuto Ribatī Kyōdan), is a Japanese Shinshūkyō (new religious movement) founded in 1924 by Tokuharu Miki (1871–1938), who was a priest in the Ōbaku sect of Zen Buddhism. The stated aim of the Church of Perfect Liberty is to bring about world peace.

Pana Wave

The Pana-Wave Laboratory (Japanese: パナウェーブ研究所) is a Japanese new religious group or "Shinshūkyō". Estimates of membership range from several hundred to 1,200.

Risshō Kōsei Kai

Risshō Kōsei Kai (立正佼成会); until June 1960, 大日本立正交成会 (Dai-Nippon Risshō Kōsei Kai) is a Japanese new religious movement founded in 1938 by Nikkyō Niwano and Myōkō Naganuma. Risshō Kōsei Kai is organized as a lay Buddhist movement, which branched off from the older Reiyūkai, and is primarily focused around the Lotus Sutra and veneration of ancestors.


Seichō no Ie (Japanese: 生長の家, "House of Growth"), is a syncretic, monotheistic, New Thought Japanese new religion that has spread since the end of World War II. It emphasizes gratitude for nature, the family, ancestors and, above all, religious faith in one universal God. Seichō no Ie is the world's largest New Thought group. By the end of 2010 it had over 1.6 million followers and 442 facilities, mostly located in Japan.

Shinji Shumeikai

Shinji Shūmeikai (神慈秀明会) (often abbreviated to Shumei) is a Japanese new religious movement (shinshūkyō). In 1998, the organization had more than 300,000 adherents.


Shinreikyo (神霊教 Shinreikyō) is a Japanese new religion founded in 1947. It claims to have 100,000 members.

Sukyo Mahikari

Sukyo Mahikari ("Sukyo" means universal principles and "Mahikari" means True Light) is an organization with centers in more than 100 countries. The stated aim of the organization is to help people improve the quality of their lives and attain happiness by practicing universal principles and a method of spiritual purification called the art of True Light. It was founded by Kotama Okada in 1959 under the name L. H. Yokoshi no Tomo. Sukyo Mahikari was registered on 23 June 1978 by Keishu Okada as part of an amicable settlement following the passing of Kotama Okada. In 2013, Sukyo Mahikari announced it had a membership of approximately one million practitioners.


Tenrikyo (天理教, Tenrikyō, sometimes rendered as Tenriism) is a Japanese new religion which is neither strictly monotheistic nor pantheistic, originating from the teachings of a 19th-century woman named Nakayama Miki, known to her followers as Oyasama. Followers of Tenrikyo believe that God of Origin, God in Truth, known by several names including "Tsukihi," "Tenri-Ō-no-Mikoto" and "Oyagamisama (God the Parent)" revealed divine intent through Miki Nakayama as the Shrine of God and to a lesser extent the roles of the Honseki Izo Iburi and other leaders. Tenrikyo's worldly aim is to teach and promote the Joyous Life, which is cultivated through acts of charity and mindfulness called hinokishin.

The primary operations of Tenrikyo today are located at Tenrikyo Church Headquarters (Tenri, Nara, Japan), which supports 16,833 locally managed churches in Japan, the construction and maintenance of the oyasato-yakata and various community-focused organisations. It has 1.75 million followers in Japan and is estimated to have over 2 million worldwide.


Zenrinkyō (善隣教) is a Shinto-based Shinshūkyō (Japanese new religion) founded in 1947. It was founded by Rikihisa Tatsusai as Tenchi Kōdō Zenrinkai, and is headquartered in Fukuoka Prefecture. Zenrinkyō was registered as a legal religious corporation under the Shūkyō Hōjinrei ordinance in 1948. In 2005 the group had a claimed nominal membership of 450,000 under leader Rikihisa Ryūseki.

Major groups
Notable figures
Public education

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