Microsoft word - v jonathan watts which way to peace.doc
Which Way to Peace?
The Role of Japanese Buddhism in Anti-Nuclear Civil Protest
Published in This Precious Life: Buddhist Tsunami Relief and Anti-Nuclear Activism in Post 3/11
. Edited by Jonathan Watts (Yokohama: International Buddhist Exchange Center, 2012)
September 11th, 2011:
the six-month anniversary of Japan’s “triple disaster” and the ten-year anniversary of the “terror attacks” on the United States—the karmic connection or “inter-being”
of the events seems clear. The largest anti-nuclear rally in Japan of 60,000 in downtown Tokyo is starting to march after an hour of speeches by some of Japan’s leading cultural figures, like Nobel Prize winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe. I have been standing with a lone Buddhist priest carrying a
flag proclaiming that followers of the nenbutsu
(the mantra of Pure Land Buddhists’ devotion to Amitabha Buddha) are against nuclear power and militarism. His name is Rev. Hidehito Okochi, a Jodo Pure Land denomination priest and long time environmental-political-social activist. His
group, the Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy, has been helping families from Fukushima to evacuate the nuclear radiation and find temporary shelter in temples and churches. Next to me is also Nobuhito Kudo, chief editor of the non-sectarian Bukkyo (Buddhist)
, which ran over the summer a series of editorials by anti-nuclear Buddhist activists that included Rev. Okochi. We wonder aloud why amidst this vast array of citizens groups—from labor unions to political parties to small non-profits on every kind of issue—there are no
self-identified Buddhist groups … except for one, the Nipponzan Myohoji.
Nipponzan Myohoji is a tiny denomination of itinerant Japanese Buddhist monks and
laypeople devoted to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra
as presented by Nichiren (1222-82) and the
recitation of its mantra called the daimoku
(“namu-myoho-renge-kyo”). What differentiates them from many similar such groups in Japan is the expression of this faith through continual civil protest for peace, non-violence, and social justice. As I march with them, they chant the daimoku
in rhythmic tandem with the deafening sounds of handheld drums.
Soon, we come upon a mass of young people who have already begun their own form of
street party protest. Dressed in all sorts of costumes befitting Japan’s unique otaku
bang drums, play instruments, and dance while leading boisterous chants of “We don’t need nuclear energy! Let’s end it soon!” No, these youth are not the next generation of Japanese political or business leaders. As with the Buddhist groups, I again ponder the conspicuous
absence of Japanese university student groups.
The combined energy of chanting-drumming monks and the dancing-drumming youth
create a real liveliness and even a sense of connection amongst us. What an unusual thing to do in
urban Japan; rub flesh with fellow citizens over shared concerns for society. In a culture where materialism and consumerism have come to dominate the minds of many who at the same time suffer from lost community, alienation, and suicide, this feeling of connecting with strangers over
something of actual importance and relevance to our lives gives me a sense of hope for the future here.
The Popular Politicization of Nuclear Energy
While the people of northeast Japan struggled just to secure shelter and basic needs in the
aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11, another crisis was unfolding at the
Fukushima #1 nuclear reactors that has brought to a head a social crisis building for over a decade. While this crisis is manifold—economic, environmental, social, psychological, and even spiritual—the political crisis over the past year has been perhaps foremost. There has been the
inability of the Japanese government to respond to the critical needs of the people in Tohoku, principally in the areas most directly affected by high levels of radiation. There have also been the nationwide political battles over nuclear power and energy policy, symbolized in the fall of the
This political crisis has not just been one with the nation’s central leadership, ongoing
since the fall of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2007, the revolving door of prime ministers (six
in the last six years), and the continuing uncertainty of the balance of power between elected politicians and entrenched bureaucrats. This crisis has had very strong ramifications on local politics and the sphere of urban civil society. The former issue revolves around the very difficult
choice rural communities must make regarding their economic reliance on hosting massive nuclear facilities and the obvious dangers these facilities bring their citizens. The latter issue revolves around how urban citizens—the vast majority of the Japanese population who benefit
from the electricity provided by the remotely located nuclear plants—must face the corrupt manner that politicians, bureaucrats, and energy company executives have managed Japanese energy policy, specifically nuclear energy.
Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan attempted to politicize the nuclear issue as much as
possible and make it the basis for a popular election on the mandate of his administration. While local elections in rural areas in this period have become battlegrounds for the nuclear issue, there
have not been significant national elections yet to serve as a wider popular mandate on the future of Japan’s energy policy. Public opinion appears to be in favor of the elimination, either quickly or gradually, of nuclear power, and nuclear activists are seeking to make it an issue for national
elections as Italy did in June, striking down plans to build new reactors. In a poll from September 21 conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun
newspaper, almost two-thirds of respondents indicated
they wanted a vote on whether the country should continue to rely so heavily on nuclear power.1
Outside of such elections, what other mechanisms do Japanese citizens have to confront this crisis, which serves as a linchpin for deciding on the greater overall direction of the nation suffering from economic and social decline for the past decade?
Popular protest would seem to be one very viable option to the Japanese. 2011 was the
year of the Arab Spring in the Middle East with popular street protests and people’s movements toppling years of entrenched dictatorship. Yet after the years of very active and sometimes violent
labor and student unrest in the 1960s, Japan’s citizens have settled into a period of political apathy. This is especially true amongst the youth who have low voter turnout rates2 and do not share an interest for popular civil protest with their brethren in other parts of the world—such as in the
people’s political reform movements in other parts of Asia and the Middle East and the anti-globalization street movement culture in the U.S. and Europe. Keio University professor Yoshiaki Kobayashi has said his studies indicate people in their teens and 20s doubt their
involvement in society will change it for the better.3 Indeed, during a June 11 anti-nuclear protest in Tokyo, a young 21-year-old shopper and passerby said, “What can they really do? It looks fun, but if you think anything will change, it’s naive.”4
Meanwhile, spurred on by the unfolding nuclear disaster in Fukushima, 100,000
Germans took to the streets on March 14th to express their concerns over nuclear energy and the energy policy of their country. This was followed by another massive round of nuclear protests all
over the country numbering around 200,000 people on March 27, which precipitated Germany’s plan to abandon all nuclear power by 2022. While Japan was certainly preoccupied with simply dealing with the extreme emergency of the tsunami and the unfolding nuclear disaster, one of the
first nuclear demonstrations held on March 20 in the downtown Tokyo center of Shibuya drew only 1,500 people.
In terms of Japan, however, a significant moment did occur three weeks later on April 10th
in a nearby area of Tokyo called Koenji. It started as another small demonstration but through internet social networking—the motor for so many popular protests around the world today—it caught the imagination of thousands of young people, and the numbers eventually swelled to a
startling 17,000 people who created a kind of street festival cum protest. One of the organizers of
1 Birmingham, Lucy. “Can Japan's Anti-Nuclear Protesters Keep Its Reactors Shut Down?” Time Magazine
September 28, 2011. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2095296,00.html
2 Turnout among people under 30 was 66.7% in the 1967 election. It fell below 50% in the 1993 House of Representatives election and has hovered at around 30% to 40% since then. Turnout among those in their 60s has essentially stayed at around 70% to 80% over the past three decades. “Groups hope to halt young voters' apathy: System, rules, fixed candidates all blamed for demographic gap.” Kyodo News
, June 20, 2009.
4 Tabuchi, Hiroko. “Protests Challenge Japan’s Use of Nuclear Power” New York Times
June 11, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/world/asia/12japan.html?_r=1
the rally, Hajime Matsumoto, was quoted as saying, "It's epoch-making that so many people
gathered without being mobilized by a large organization. It's become powerful because we joined hands over the Internet."5
From this point, the anti-nuclear rallies and movement began to grow with regular protest
marches in front of the headquarters of the Tokyo Electrical Power Company (TEPCO), owner of the Fukushima reactors. On June 11, the three-month anniversary of the tsunami, there was a nationwide Anti-Nuclear One Million Person Action of demonstrations and other anti-nuclear
events held at about 140 sites across Japan, including Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, and also Fukui Prefecture, where a slew of nuclear power plants are located. The largest of these was a rally of 20,000 people in another major hub of Tokyo called Shinjuku. On the sixth month anniversary of
the disaster, these numbers swelled even further to the largest rally against nuclear power to date of 60,000 people at Meiji Park in Tokyo. While the movement appears to be continuing to grow, it is ironic that these numbers still do not come close to the number of Germans who took to the
streets in the initial days after March 11th. Nuclear Power, Buddhism, and the Nipponzan Myohoji
What is Buddhism’s attitude towards nuclear energy? Buddhism has no central authority to offer a policy, nor does its ethical system—which stays away from absolute commandments while emphasizing the intentional mind of the actor—offer a clear-cut answer. Perhaps the clearest
standpoint is that Buddhism’s entire ethical system is based on its first precept: to do no harm, or in positive terms, to help sustain life. In this way, nuclear energy with its potential for highly dangerous accidents, the high toxicity of its waste, and the potential to do harm for years into the
future would appear to go against Buddhist ethical norms. Joanna Macy, a Buddhist anti-nuclear activist leader since the 1970s in the United States, has stated in her Nuclear Guardianship Ethic, first developed in 1990, that:
Each generation shall endeavor to preserve the foundations of life and well-being for those who come after. To produce and abandon substances that damage following
generations is morally unacceptable. Given the extreme toxicity and longevity of radioactive materials, their production must cease. The development of safe, renewable energy sources and non-violent means of conflict resolution is essential to
the health and survival of life on Earth. Radioactive materials are not to be regarded as an economic or military resource.6
5 “17,500 Rally Against Nuke Plants”. Kyodo News
. April 10, 2011. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20110411a4.html
Japanese Buddhist anti-nuclear activists have echoed this sentiment over the past year frequently speaking of the incompatibility of life and nuclear energy.
However, nuclear energy is a particularly personal and sensitive issue for Japanese
Buddhists. As victims of the first nuclear bombings at the end of World War II, Japanese Buddhists developed a strong position against nuclear weapons
, exemplified by the work of not only Nipponzan Myohoji but also the new lay Buddhist denominations of Soka Gakkai and
Rissho Koseikai. However, it appears that nuclear energy
is considered a different issue for Japanese Buddhists. Since Japan has never possessed nuclear weapons, activism to ban them has allowed Japanese Buddhists to focus over the years more on the larger, global political issues
between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Anti-nuclear energy activism, however, has required a more critical stance towards the
existence of nuclear energy development within Japan and its use as a foundation for industrial
growth. Such activism veers into a web of much more complicated issues involving criticism of the government, big business, and national development policies—a place that only a few Buddhists will go, like Rev. Tetsuen Nakajima, along with Rev. Okochi, one of the founders of
the Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy. In an editiorial published on the front page of the Bukkyo Times
in June, Rev. Nakajima wrote:
The Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy in Japan has investigated the history of nuclear development and developed an argument concerning the process of modernization. Japan’s modernization began with the
shock of Commodore Perry’s “black ships” from the United States in 1854. Japan then proceeded to develop national slogans such as, “Quit Asia, Enter Europe”, “Cultural Progress”, “Rich Nation, Strong Military”, and then sacrificed many
precious lives in World War II. However, after the war, we continued on this path. I have spoken of the new tacit slogans “Quit Asia, Enter America”, “Faith in Scientific Technique”, and “Great Economic Nation”. Large-scale production, large-scale
consumption, and large-scale disposal, as personified in the giant nuclear power crowd, became an extension of the modernization process since the coming of the black ships. At all times, there has been the demand for quantification, speed and
pleasure, and economism. This kind of awareness has supported “The Myth of Need” [for nuclear energy] at its roots. Now, we have to undergo a deep process of self-reflection.7
7 Nakajima, Tetsuen. “Religious Activities which also Issuing Warnings: The 3 Structures of Discrimination: Rural
Developing a critical position towards central political and economic power is not
something that institutionalized religion anywhere in the world is apt to engage in. It is even more so in terms of Japanese Buddhism. Since the end of its 250-year patronage under the feudal
Tokugawa government and a period of persecution by the new Shinto oriented Meiji government in the mid 1800s, Japanese Buddhism has been in a continual cycle of accommodation towards political power and social opinion. In the seventy years leading up to World War II, Japanese
Buddhism developed itself in accord with nationalist development agendas and ultimately became a pro-active supporter of the war effort.8
Since the end of the war and the deep disillusionment of Japanese with religion and politics,
a strong secular social ethic has created a deeper threat to Japanese Buddhism. This position of weakness in the public sphere has meant that Buddhist denominations have not felt the courage or strength to speak out on important social issues, much less criticize national development agendas
like nuclear energy.9 The newer Buddhist denominations, like Soka Gakkai and Rissho Koseikai, grew rapidly after the war due to their more modern appeal. However, their growth into massive organizations made them a target for electoral power, and they have to a certain extent become
politicized while losing their independent moral voice to speak on political and economic issues.
Nipponzan Myohoji serves as one exception to this above pattern. It has been called,
“unusual, perhaps even unique among Japanese Buddhist groups, for its commitment to civil
protest.”10 It is their size, as a tiny fringe denomination, that allows them to be politically radical; or rather, perhaps, it is their teachings that have prevented them from becoming a mass organization in the first place. Like other Japanese Buddhist groups, they have an ambiguous
history in terms of Japanese imperialism before and during World War II. Their founder, Rev. Nichidatsu Fujii (1885-1985), initially ventured into Manchuria and China and then onwards to other parts of Asia as a missionary and chaplain to Japanese troops. A brief encounter with
Mahatma Gandhi in 1933 and his experience of the Indian independence movement helped to clarify his views on Buddhism and social change:
Regions, Nuclear Contaminated Work, Children” Bukkyo (Buddhist) Times
June 2, 2011 (translation by author) 8 Watts, Jonathan & Okano, Masazumi. “Reconstructing Priestly Identity and Roles and the Development of Socially Engaged Buddhism in Contemporary Japan” in The Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions
(Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 2012)
9 Rev. Hiroaki Osada, a Pure Land Jodo Shin Otani priest and member of the Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy, has made the connection with pre-War unquestioning acceptance of the Emperor with such acceptance post-War of the nation’s nuclear energy policy. Isa, Kyoko. “Anti-Nukes” Remains Fixed on Life: Declarations from the Religious World Come One after Another." Asahi Shimbun
December 12, 2011 (translated by author).
10 Stone, Jacqueline I. “Nichiren’s Activist Heirs: Sōka Gakkai, Risshō Kōseikai, Nipponzan Myōhōji.” In Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism
, edited by Christopher Queen, Charles Prebish, and Damien Keown, 63-94. (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), p.78
The people [of India] were trying to reform the government without resorting to violence. If they succeeded in their attempt, theirs would be the ideal form of government. For this reason, I was very interested in what was happening in India …
Nevertheless Japan … was indifferent to the Indian independence movement. Not only did she not cooperate with the movement, she even sided with the British rulers … I keenly felt that it was not good for Japan, with its proximity to India and her traditional
ties through Buddhism, to refrain from helping Indians achieve independence or to suppress their movement. I could not straight-forwardly tell the Japanese Government and people, and even if I could, they would not listen. So I decided to cooperate with
the independence movement led by Gandhi and pray for its success.11 Out of the tradition of Hinduism, there emerged Buddhism which embodies the idea of
non-violence in its most complete form. It was indeed an important development. Buddhism is not only necessary for promoting a peaceful revolution in today’s India but also is a tool of spiritual guidance with which to save all the human race who are
involved in acts of violence and wars; it encourages abolition of all means of violence … My wish for the eternity of the Buddha (genrai kike
) and the non-violent revolution which Gandhi advocated came from the same origin, the doctrine of Buddhism … This
concept cannot be fully expressed in the term “revolution”, and in Buddhism it is referred to as “attainment of Buddhahood”. The ultimate revolutionary aim of Buddhism consists in having both man and the world attain Buddhahood. Completely
detached from things like political power, the human race should leap above all such conflicts. This is the true essence of Buddhist revolution.12
Despite these words above, it appears Fujii had not yet fully embraced non-violence as evidenced in Myohoji monks acting as chaplains to the Japanese army13 and presenting top military leaders with Buddha relics in the early days of the war.14 The experience of the devastation at the end of
the war, especially with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, finally pushed Fujii to his decisive stance.
11 Fujii, Nichidatsu. My Non-Violence: An Autobiography of a Japanese Buddhist
Trans. T. Yamaori. (Tokyo: Japan Buddha Sangha Press, 1975), p.67-68.
12 Fujii. My Non-Violence
13 Robert Kisala. Prophets of Peace: Pacifism and Cultural Identity in Japan’s New Religions.
(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999) p. 51
14 Fujii. My Non-Violence
What led me to assert non-resistance, disarmament, and the abolition of war was not
my encounter with Mr. Gandhi. When the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I saw hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children die as though burned at the stake and poisoned, victims of a tragedy unprecedented in
human history; when I saw Japan forced to accept unconditional surrender, then I understood the madness, folly, and barbarousness of modern war.15
In the post-war period, many other Japanese Buddhist groups shifted remarkably quickly to positions advocating world peace, the abolishing of nuclear weapons, and the closing of American military bases in Japan. A number of writers, including D.T. Suzuki, have questioned the sincerity
of these sudden shifts. It took until 1987 for the first major Japanese denomination to issue a public apology over their active support of the war.16 However, one still must be impressed by especially Myohoji and the other new Buddhist denominations for shifting from a stance of tacit
support for violent nationalism17 to one of a non-violent internationalism based largely in an ecumenical interpretation of Buddhism.
Yet what is it that separates Myohoji from other Buddhist groups in their unique activism
of civil protest? Perhaps the answer lies Fujii’s ascetic, missionary ethic. While sharing a missionary ethic with the many other Lotus Sutra
based new Buddhist denominations, Myohoji is unique among them for being centered around monastics and not householder, lay leaders who
have tended to espouse conservative, middle class social values. Further, unlike the majority of traditional Japanese Buddhist priests who have come to marry, have families, and engage in lay lifestyles since the Meiji Period social reforms, Fujii and his disciples have maintained unmarried
monastic lifestyles supported by the donations of followers and not the income gained by doing funerals and memorial services. Yet unlike traditional monastics who remain cloistered in famous temples like Eihei-ji or on holy mountains like Mt. Hiei or Mt. Koya, Fujii was a missionary
dedicated to encountering people in the world to spread the “good news” of the Lotus Sutra
in the way the Buddha walked through India. His endurance of austerities to spread the teachings in the cold of Manchuria from 1917-23 created a culture in Myohoji of ascetic sacrifice for religious
goals, which later expressed themselves as socio-political goals for peace and social justice.
Nipponzan Myohoji has developed a complete dedication to fulfilling the larger aims of
15 Stone, Jacqueline I. “Nichiren’s Activist Heirs: Sōka Gakkai, Risshō Kōseikai, Nipponzan Myōhōji.”, p.79.
16 Five denominations have made any such substantive declarations: both the Higashi (1987) and Nishi (1992) branches of the Jodo Shin denomination, the Soto Zen (1992) denomination, and the Myoshinji and Tenryuji branches of the Rinzai Zen denomination (2001) (Victoria, Brian. 2006. Zen at War.
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) as well as the Jodo denomination in 2008.
17 Myohoji, Rissho Koseikai, and Soka Gakkai all come out of the Nichiren tradition, some of whose leaders developed particularly virulent forms of militaristic nationalism in the Meiji Period under the banner of Nichiren-ism, Stone, Jacqueline I. “Nichiren’s Activist Heirs: Sōka Gakkai, Risshō Kōseikai, Nipponzan Myōhōji.” 83-84.
the Lotus Sutra
through civil protest, specifically on issues surrounding militarism such as U.S.
military bases in Japan and nuclear weapons. Myohoji first began to participate in civil protest during the anti-nuclear movement touched off by the exposure of Japanese fishermen to American nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll in 1954.18 They also began participating in protests against
American military bases in Japan—one of the most memorable being their solidarity with farmers and local citizens in facing police brutality at sit-ins opposing the Sunagawa Airforce Base in 1957.19
Myohoji has complemented this domestic activism with international activism: joining
anti-nuclear protests in the United States in the 1980s, leading a peace walk through Central and North America in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New
World and the subsequent oppression of indigenous peoples; leading another peace walk from Auschwitz to Hiroshima in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II; participating in numerous peace walks with Maha Ghosananda in Cambodia in the 1990s; and attempting to be
a peace witness during the civil war in Sri Lanka that led to the murder of one of its monks in 1984. While having long participated in marches against nuclear arms, on April 24, 2010, they participated in a march to protest nuclear energy and its perception as an alternative green energy
to CO2 generating fossil fuels in Limerik, Pennsylvania (USA) at the site of the Exelon’s Limerick Nuclear Generating Station.
In the wake of the unfolding nuclear crisis at the Fukushima #1 facility, Nipponzan
Myohoji was the first Japanese Buddhist denomination to issue a declaration against nuclear power on March 20 stating in part:
We must understand how “the use of nuclear power” and “the sustainability of life” are incompatible … We cannot allow Japan to become a country that spreads radioactivity. In order to take a step in showing our self-critical reflection
and revival, we must show to the world first that we can stop the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant.
One of the first successes of this new anti-nuclear movement was then Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s unilateral decision on May 6th to close the Hamaoka Plant, an outdated complex located on the Pacific Ocean on a major geological fault line only 200 kms from Tokyo.
On the other hand, it took over six months for any of the traditional Buddhist
denominations to issue such statements. The Japan Buddhist Federation, which serves as the
18 Stone, Jacqueline I. “Nichiren’s Activist Heirs: Sōka Gakkai, Risshō Kōseikai, Nipponzan Myōhōji.” p. 77.
19 Fujii. My Non-Violence
representative organization of all the traditional Buddhist denominations of Japan, issued a
statement on December 1st, almost nine months after the disaster began, saying, “We will strive to reduce our dependence on such nuclear power that threatens life and to realize a society based on sustainable energy.”
As we reach the one-year anniversary of the disaster, Rissho Koseikai and Soka Gakkai,
leaders of the anti-nuclear arms movement in the Japanese Buddhist world, have remained stunningly silent on the issue thus far. While both groups have integrated renewable energy
positions and some basic initiatives into their activities, they have made no public declarations on nuclear energy even as the notoriously conservative traditional Buddhist world has started to move forward on the issue. Unofficial sources have said that the high number of followers in
these denominations who work in management positions in the nuclear facilities in rural areas make it a difficult issue for them to speak out against openly.
Yet Rev. Takao Takeda, head of Myohoji’s main temple in Tokyo, points out that
following the Pope’s own critical comments on nuclear energy in June20, Japanese Catholics have made critical statements on Japan’s nuclear energy policy while also having members in senior positions in the nuclear energy business. On November 8th, the Japan Catholic Pontifical Council
released a statement calling on the immediate discontinuation of all nuclear power within Japan.21 Even a large number of local government officials and members of RENGO—the 6.8-million member federation of labor unions which normally never goes against nuclear power because
many members are nuclear industry employees—participated in the September 11 rally at Meiji Park.22 Further, there are numerous traditional Buddhist priests, like Rev. Nakajima, who live in communities sustained by nuclear power plants yet have engaged in activism against them for
many years. The disconnect between Rissho Koseikai and Soka Gakkai’s forthrightness on nuclear arms and silence on nuclear energy is puzzling and naturally raises questions about the sincerity of their previous work.23
21 Isa, Kyoko. “Anti-Nukes” Remains Fixed on Life: Declarations from the Religious World Come One after Another." Asahi Shimbun
December 12, 2011 (translated by author).
22 Birmingham, “Can Japan's Anti-Nuclear Protesters Keep Its Reactors Shut Down?” Time Magazine
September 28, 2011.
23 As this volume was going to press, Daisaku Ikeda, the President of Soka Gakkai International, issued the most far reaching comments by the head of a Japanese Buddhist denomination on the nuclear energy issue in his annual January 26 peace proposal, stating: “I therefore urge a rapid transition to an energy policy that is not reliant on nuclear power. Japan should collaborate with other countries that are at the forefront of efforts to introduce renewable energy sources and undertake joint development projects to achieve substantial cost reductions in these technologies. Japan should also take on, as its mission, efforts to promote the kind of technological innovation that will facilitate the introduction of new energy sources in developing countries that currently struggle with this issue. In effecting this transition, it is necessary that adequate measures be taken to foster alternative industrial bases in communities that have been economically dependent on nuclear power generating facilities and have contributed to the national power supply. … In point of fact, the damage to both human health and the natural environment from exposure to radioactivity is exactly the same for an equivalent dose whatever the source—the actual use of nuclear weapons, the release of radioactivity accompanying the development, production and testing of these weapons, or an accident at a
Myohoji, on the other hand, has always taken a critical position on insider corruption
between Japanese business and government and Japan’s continued alliance with the United States and its political and economic policies. With the experience of the atomic bombings, Fujii developed a philosophy espousing the power of Buddhism as a civilizational force for peace and
non-violence over the scientific materialism of the West, and especially the United States, that would only lead to war and the destruction of the environment.24 While Fujii was also critical of the violent means used in socialist and communist movements25, his views on technology and
colonialism naturally led Myohoji to an anti-capitalist and anti-American stance that connected to the Japanese labor and student movements of the 1950s and 60s.
However, their insistence on non-violence and the power of religious civilization also
made them attractive for certain radical youth who identified with the student movement but saw a missing spiritual component to it. Ultimately, Myohoji’s leftist political ideology and long association itself with the Communist Party of Japan has surely kept it as a marginal group within
Japan over the years, even as it has grown to some level of fame internationally for its overseas activism. Overall, this image of confrontational, social activism and its political associations have been an important reason why the average Japanese has avoided participating in the recent
anti-nuclear protests. Indeed, Rev. Takeda estimates that out of the 60,000 people taking part in the demonstration at Meiji Park on September 11, at least 20,000 of them were connected with the Communist Party.
It is in part the legacy of the violent and confrontational past of the socialist and student
movements of the 1960s in Japan that has kept many university students away from these protests. In the 1960s, ironically, it was the students at elite schools like Tokyo University and Waseda University who led some of the strongest left-wing movements that would take over campuses for
months.26 Yet, in a discussion session with the aforementioned Rev. Hidehito Okochi and a group of students from the elite Keio University in Tokyo in May, some students remarked that it was not in keeping with Japanese culture to express one’s views in such a confrontational manner
and that participating in candlelight vigils would be more appropriate.
nuclear power plant.” Ikeda, Daisaku. "Human Security and Sustainability: Sharing Reverence for the Dignity of Life (2012 Peace Proposal)". January, 26, 2012, p.14.http://www.sgi.org/assets/pdf/peaceproposal2012.pdf
24 Kisala, Prophets of Peace
, p. 161.
25 “What is wrong about Marxism is that it allowed one to adopt violence and take the lives of others in the pursuit of his rights. Murder, whether committed by a Capitalist nation or a Communist nation, is the same.” Fujii, Nichidatsu. Buddhism for World Peace
. Translated by Yumiko Miyazaki. Tokyo: Japan-Bharat Sarvodaya Mitra Sangha, 1980. p. 21.
26 Leong, Adriene. “Japanese Youth Too Disillusioned to Vote”. Foreign Correspondence Club of Japan Scholarship Ward. April 2008. http://www.fccj.or.jp/node/3374.
Rev. Okochi, himself an alumnus of Keio who participated in the student movement as a
youth, remarked that perhaps it is not so much that young Japanese are politically apathetic but rather politically ignorant. He remarks that in today’s Japan, the young are too self absorbed with their own lives, and political issues are not something they are taught to be involved in or care
about. Rev. Takeda of Myohoji echoes this sentiment, feeling that the responsibility very much lies with the generation of parents who have raised their children to be politically disconnected.
This apathy among university students is in contrast to the youth jamboree portrayed at
the beginning of this article. There indeed seems to be a split, which reflects the well documented growth in class divisions in Japan—a country that prided itself on being predominantly “middle class” throughout the post war period of economic growth. The youth who are university students,
especially those at elite schools, are still invested in the social model that has served Japan since the end of the war: study hard, work hard, enter a good company, build a family, and contribute to the building of the nation. However, the bursting of the economic bubble in the early 1990s and
the advent of liberalization and structural re-adjustment under the Koizumi regime in the 2000s swept away most of the benevolent features of Japanese capitalism, such as life time employment. Even for university graduates, especially at lower level schools, finding a well-paying, rewarding
corporate job is not easy. Regular overtime and temp work is common, and more and more people are slipping through the cracks of an overwhelmed social welfare system.
In this age of suicide—rates in Japan have been over 30,000 since 1998—there is a
growing class of young “drop outs” going by various names: freeta
– for those who prize leisure over career (over 3 million); NEET
– for those “not in education, employment or training”; futoko
– for those who refuse to go to school; and the most extreme, hikikomori
– for those who refuse to
leave their bedrooms or houses, often for years on end (over 2 million).27 It is especially from these freeta
that a group of young Japanese are emerging who are tied with larger global trends in alternative living, organic food, environmentalism, and even political activism,
much of it spread though social networking, the internet, and even hip hop. The seminal rally at Koenji in early April was one of the first expressions of the political potential of this movement. A May 7th rally that drew 5,000 culminated in the heart of Tokyo’s youth culture in Shibuya and
ended up as a wild rave party taking over the streets while Rankin’ Taxi—a reggae hip hop artist who wrote a popular new song called "You Can't See It, And You Can't Smell It Either"28—blasted his anti-nuclear rap from a mobile DJ stand. This is certainly not the culture of
well-dressed and well-mannered elite Japanese university students, yet it is also not the culture of
27 Ibid. 28 Grunebaum, Dan. “Japan’s New Wave of Protest Songs”. New York Times
June 30, 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/01/arts/01iht-JAPANMUSIC01.html?_r=1&ref=japan&pagewanted=al
the violent student confrontations of the 1960s. Political activism has evolved since then, and
while these young Japanese dropouts are angry about many things in their society, they are embracing something positive in the post-modern global environmental and alternative culture movements.
Which Way to Peace? Social Welfare and Social Justice
There is a particular tension in the way religious groups, in this case Buddhist groups, approach
social engagement. The two poles of this tension can be understood as social welfare activities and social justice activities. The former focuses on work that aids and supports those in need in society and takes a conservative stance towards existing and established power structures. The
latter focuses on work that changes or transforms existing power structures to root out the causes that makes people needy and disadvantaged in society.
From the extreme end of the social welfare pole, the most conservative Buddhist groups in
Japan—from the traditional sects to a number of the larger new denominations—have established a variety of social welfare activities, such as providing kindergartens and day care centers, establishing schools and universities, and supporting the elderly. Many of these groups have
extended such domestic activities into the international sphere, providing significant funding and establishing projects for social welfare in poor countries in Asia and Africa. Their conservative stance towards power structures most often expresses itself in disengagement on difficult political
issues and avoidance in taking strong moral positions in public; for example, the issue of the change of Article 9 in the Japanese constitution to develop a proper military or the corrupt ties between the government and electric companies on the development of nuclear power.
Many Buddhist groups have attempted to temper this domestic conservativism with a kind of
internationalism largely focused on activities for world peace. Both the traditional and new Buddhist denominations, including the most social justice oriented Nipponzan Myohoji, have
engaged in ongoing prayer activities for world peace. These tend to be the most conservative and “safe” forms of expressing political sentiments for peace through the greater religious aspiration for peace. Others groups, most notably Soka Gakkai and Rissho Koseikai, have devoted energy to
more socially engaged forms of peace work by developing campaigns against nuclear arms and creating conferences and even entire organizations, such as the World Conference on Religion and Peace co-founded by Rissho Koseikai.
However, this internationalism has largely masked a continued domestic conservatism on
issues of social justice. This is most keenly seen in Soka Gakkai’s creation of the Komeito political party, which was over the years a key coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party
and its 54-year run in power until 2007. While Komeito appears to have tried to temper the LDP’s conservativism, it never pulled out of the coalition for attempts to change Article 9 or for its
cabinet ministers’ visits to the Japanese war memorial at Yasukuni shrine that also houses Japan’s
war criminals. In terms of both of these groups, their silence on the nuclear energy issue has been striking.
On the furthest end of this spectrum lie groups who actively work on social justice issues
both within and without Japan. The headquarters of traditional Buddhist denominations still lag far behind in engagement on this level. However, their more decentralized power structures have afforded individual priests, as we have seen in this article, to engage in a variety of forms of social
engagement. Further, a number of what are called Buddhist NGOs, informally connected to denominational headquarters, have engaged in certain social justice issues on the international level, such as the rights of children, women, and marginalized groups in areas of war and conflict.
Still these Buddhist NGOs rarely lead campaigns within Japan to raise public awareness of human rights abuses based on political oppression in places such as Burma. Such activities are again only done by highly motivated individual priests, such as Rev. Okochi, who usually joins separate
non-religious NGO groups within Japan working on such issues. Occasionally, these individuals are able to mobilize enough priests to form non-official denominational groups on social justice issues, such as the variety of denominational groupings called Article 9 Groups (kyujo-no-kai
support the preservation of Japan’s constitutional ban on a proper military force.
As we have seen, Nipponzan Myohoji is the only denomination that actively engages in the
most extreme forms of social justice work in civil protest. Many Japanese keep clear of such civil
protest due to the association of such activities with the confrontational and sometimes violent student and socialist movement of the 1960s. This is ironic because Nipponzan Myohoji more than any other Buddhist group espouses a doctrine of strict non-violence. It is in many ways due
to Gandhi’s influence on their work that they have made a clear distinction between a pacifism that avoids a critique of social, political, and economic structures and a pacifism that engages with these structures yet adheres to the practice of active non-violence.
One of Gandhi’s seminal concepts of non-violence is that to not oppose the exploitation and
violence towards another is to actually support it. In this way, Myohoji’s confrontational yet non-violent engagement in civic protest is perhaps more true to the ethic of peace than the other
denominations’ prayers and conferences on peace that fail to confront the structural mechanisms supporting Japan’s use of nuclear energy and complicity in American military policy in the Middle East and Asia. One wonders that if Nipponzan Myohoji had the resources to express this
distinction to more people, a greater number of both Buddhists and common people might discover civil protest and social justice work as an important component of social change. Rev. Takeda in response to the reticence of Buddhists and common Japanese to engage in civil protest
says that they can do other things to work on this issue, such as join petition campaigns to change national energy policy and more actively express their opinions in the media.
Outside of Japan, this Buddhist style of active non-violent social change work (also
developed by other religions) has been not only articulated but practiced by groups in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, India, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, and the United States. Unfortunately, Japanese Buddhism’s internationalism has not developed a deep enough dialogue with these
groups to be sufficiently influenced into mobilizing their own denominations in Japan to engage on such a level. As I have outlined above, Japanese Buddhism is certainly socially engaged, yet if it could develop more mature forms of social justice activity then it could develop a much more
powerful and comprehensive social engagement.
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