Japan Table of Contents
A number of religious organizations are generally labeled "new religions" (shinko shukyo), although some date back to the early nineteenth century. The largest are Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society), Rissho Koseikai (Society for the Establishment of Justice and Community for the Rise [of Buddhism]), and Tenrikyo (Religion of Divine Wisdom), with more than 17 million, 6 million, and about 2.5 million members, respectively, in the late 1980s. Both Soka Gakkai and Rissho Koseikai are offshoots of the Nichiren Shoshu sect of Buddhism. Tenrikyo was once considered an offshoot of Sect Shinto but is now regarded as independent of other divisions of Shinto. Some of the larger of these new religions are active internationally as well as in Japan.
No one category can be used to describe all of the new religions. What distinguishes them from popular or folk religions is their claim to an organizational status equivalent to Shinto or Buddhism. Their teachings are diverse, but most syncretize elements of Buddhist, Shinto, Christian, and other beliefs. Most emphasize the dependence of the living on kami, the Buddha or Buddhist figures, or ancestors. Some, such as Tenrikyo, are monotheistic and stress individual salvation. For example, Rissho Koseikai adherents gather in small groups to discuss religious issues and problems of daily life. Most of the new religions provide special support to their adherents through small group meetings and encourage solving problems through ritual and proper behavior. Many stress harmonious relations with others, hard work, and sincerity as the way to a better life.
Most of the new religions were founded by charismatic lay people, often women, who had experienced transforming spiritual episodes and felt called upon to convey these experiences to others. They stressed lay participation, involving small, local, face-to-face groups as well as national organizations. They encouraged direct contact with the supernatural, and some groups practiced faith healing and mutual support techniques. People who joined these groups often did so in response to personal problems, but many found continuing fulfillment through their emphasis on returning to traditional values.
Data as of January 1994