And to My Adorable Granddaughter Maddie

I dedicate this book to my beloved son David, my fellow world travel companion, and my amazing daughter-in-law Elizabeth—

and to my adorable granddaughter Maddie


Foreword by Wilton S. Dilloni



1)The Origins and Global Expansion of Soka Gakkai1

2)The Soka Gakkai in Australia and New Zealand23

3)The Soka Gakkai in Southeast Asia43

4)The Soka Gakkai in Cambodia71

5)The Philippines: Buddhism in a Very Catholic Land85

6)The Soka Gakkai in Quebec97

7)The Soka Gakkai’s Unique Relationships with

China and South Korea113

Conclusion: The Soka Gakkai as a Global Community123

Appendix I: Brief Commentary on the Soka Gakkai in the United States129




One of the most meaningful experiences of my life was the three years that I spent in Japan at the start of the Allied Occupation after the end of World War II.Tokyo had been bombed almost into oblivion and the country was in shambles. People were hungry and there was a pervasive feeling of despair. Life was a daily struggle just to survive and prospects for the future of Japan and the Japanese looked very bleak. There was talk of building a new Japan, but nobody was sure how this could be done.

We had no idea at the time that Japan would be well on the way to recovery by the late 1950s and early 1960s. The sense of depression and despair had long since departed and the Japanese began rebuilding their country with a positive sense of hope and confidence. This positive change in the worldview of the Japanese played a critical role in the growth of Japan’s postwar economic miracle. A positive attitude and confidence in the future are critical ingredients when any culture desires to move in a new direction to improve itself.

One of the key factors in this transformation was the growth of various new religions movements that attracted the allegiance of millions of Japanese in the first two decades of the postwar era. These new religions emphasized a pragmatic and positive view of life encouraging practitioners to work hard not only for their own benefit, but for the welfare of others as well. Success and happiness could be found here and now in this life, but in order to succeed practitioners would first have to develop a new very positive attitude towards life.

The most successful of these new religious movements was Japan’s Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist movementderiving its philosophy from a thirteenth century Japanese monk Nichiren. It grew from just a small handful of members right after the war into a mammoth organization with as many as ten million members in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Soka Gakkai succeeded because it provided its members with hope for the future and a sense of self-empowerment which convinced them that they could overcome any obstacle. Just as importantly, the Soka Gakkai provided millions of isolated people moving from rural areas to the major cities with a group network of friends that could help them make the transition to their new urban lives.

Once it had established itself as a major force in Japan in the 1960s, Soka Gakkai leaders decided to transform their organization into a worldwide movement. Now forty years later the Soka Gakkai has well over two million followers in nearly two hundred countries and territories and its international membership continues to grow at a rapid pace. It is clear that this quintessentially Japanese Buddhist movement has constructed a strong foundation among many foreign cultures that have little or no connection to Japan but which have embraced one of its most unique schools of Buddhism.

The goal of this book is to examine those factors that have led to the success of the Soka Gakkai as a worldwide movement. A broader purpose is to suggest what elements are necessary for the transmission of a religion from a host to a recipient culture. The rapid successful spread of the Soka Gakkai reveals those ingredients that are necessary for the spread of a religion from a narrow to a much broader base.

This study invites cross-cultural comparisons, say, with the migration of Hinduism from India to Indonesia; the enlargement and diffusion of the early Pauline Christ story beyond Palestine and Hebrew tribalism; and the medieval and current ingredients for the spread of Islam, up to "missionary work" of the Taliban, Somali sharia advocates and proselytizing in American prisons. It also implicitly raises my curiosity about how Japan's cultural uniqueness could still generate a global movement. Is its appeal the result of Japan's own syncretism that blends Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, Christianity and animism? And in the secular world, is the universal appeal of American pop culture—a la Michael Jackson—a function of our own melting pot experience? Professor Métraux gives us a lot to think about.

Daniel A. Métraux is uniquely qualified to analyze the Soka Gakkai as a global movement. He has spent over four decades studying the Soka Gakkai not only in Japan, but also across the whole of Asia, Oceania, and North America. His many books and articles on the Soka Gakkai are highly regarded throughout the Asian Studies community and are regularly referenced by other scholars writing on Japan’s New Religious Movements. This work brings together Métraux’s research on Soka Gakkai International over the past four decades and is a brilliant synthesis of his research in many of the cultures where the Soka Gakkai has built a foundation.

Wilton S. Dillon

Senior Scholar Emeritus

The Smithsonian Institution



Every religion has a life of its own. Religions have a point and time of origin; some exist within the confines of one culture group while others transcend cultural boundaries. Why some religions expand and make a successful transition in their new environments while others fail and what adaptations the successful religion must make to fit in elsewhere are interesting questions. Because each religion has a separate personality and history, it is difficult to arrive at definitive answers and to pose meaningful hypotheses, but case studies can present some interesting clues.

This work presents the Soka Gakkai, a quintessentially Japanese new religious movement (NRM) with ten million members in Japan which in the space of four decades has successfully built chapters in close to two hundred countries and attracted more than two to three million foreign members. Although its membership numbers are only a tiny fraction of the full population of any country or territory it has entered, the roots it has planted in almost every locale are strong and growing. Thus, a study of Soka Gakkai International, or SGI, can indeed provide some clues as to what is necessary for a religion to successfully adapt itself in another culture.

The Soka Gakkai is a huge modern religious lay movement based on a medieval form of Japanese Buddhism. Based on the teachings of a thirteenth century Japanese Buddhist monk and scholar, Nichiren (1222-1282), it claims to be a global religion with universal applications. Thus far it has built an impressive base in Japan, but has also built substantial chapters abroad, attracting ethnic Chinese members across Southeast Asia, French-speaking Caucasians in Quebec, up to 300,000 Americans from many ethnic backgrounds, former Hindus across India, native tribesmen in Africa, and thousands of Europeans across the continent.

The growth of a global Soka Gakkai raises some interesting questions. How has a Japanese religious movement based on the teachings of a nationalistic and controversial Japanese monk managed to appeal to several million twentieth and twenty-first century lay people living in contrasting cultural environments? Does the fact that the Soka Gakkai is Japanese in origin add to its appeal? What adaptations if any must this or any religion make if it is to be accepted by a foreign culture. Finally, is it correct to call a truly global religion or has it assumed local identities that override its global characteristics?

The Soka Gakkai is by no means the only new religious movement from Japan that has achieved success abroad in recent decades, but it is by far the largest and most successful. It is also not part of the first wave of Japanese Buddhism to find a place in North or South America. Japanese immigrants to these continents before World War II brought their Buddhism with them, but as they became assimilated into their respective new cultures, their Buddhism gradually faded with their distinctive Japanese identities. Soka Gakkai Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai experience abroad, however, is very different from the pre-World War II wave in that it has appealed to tens of thousands of non-ethnic Japanese and has developed meaningful local roots. How is the Soka Gakkai experience different the earlier wave?

There are other forms of Buddhism, of course, that have enjoyed success in the West and elsewhere in recent years. Zen Buddhism has had its adherents in the United States, for example, far longer than the Soka Gakkai has been in existence. Tibetan Buddhism has won its share of non-Tibetan adherents in recent years. None of these other forms of Buddhism, however, have grown as rapidly and as widely as the Soka Gakkai or have won such a diversity of adherents.

The Soka Gakkai claims that its Buddhism is relevant for the modern age because it focuses on the empowerment of the individual. There are no reigning hierarchies of priests or absolute answers to the major questions of life. It is a lay movement that caters to the growing sense of individualism and free choice that permeates modern industrial and urban societies. The adherent is told that one must cultivate one’s own happiness and find one’s own way in life—his or her success or failure will depend entirely on the success of his own hard work and the framework for the life that he has made for himself. Whether there is truth to these claims and whether these benefits are what makes Soka Gakkai Buddhism relevant to millions of people in different cultures is also a question posed here.

Human security is also another important ingredient for any successful religion. People often turn to a specific religion because it provides them with things that are lacking in their lives. Quite often these needs are psychological in nature--a sense of purpose in life, the need for companionship or a support network—or more tangible like a school to send one’s children. The Soka Gakkai sees providing a shield of Human Security for its followers as one of its key tasks. The Soka Gakkai in Japan, however, takes providing Human Security to a higher level. Soka Gakkai leaders see true peace as being an important element of Human Security—and thus it has attempted to use its considerable political power to preserve the peace clause (Article Nine) in Japan’s current constitution.

The first chapter introduces the history and theology of the Soka Gakkai. There follow chapters on the Soka Gakkai organizations in Australia and New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Quebec, China, South Korea and a brief commentary on the Soka Gakkai in the United States.. The work here represents research by this writer on the Soka Gakkai movement outside of Japan between the mid-1990s and 2009.


There are many people to thank for their help in the preparation of this book. Many people at the offices of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) played a critical role in the research, arranging visits to SGI offices in all the countries studied here, answering my many questions, and even hosting my students when they come to Japan. Special thanks to Hirotsugu Terasaki, Joan Anderson, Rie Tsumura, Andy Sumimoto, Yoshiyuki Nagaoka and to Otohiko Endo, Komeito member of the House of Representatives. I also appreciate the fact that while so many people at SGI opened doors for me, there was never any attempt to interfere with my actual research and writing. Thank you also to all the SGI folk I worked with in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Canada, Australiia, New Zealand and Cambodia. Many thanks to my close friend and colleague, Ben Dorman of NanzanUniversity and to Tomoko Dorman.