New party claims to offer 'third choice' to Japanese


AS A historic general election looms on August 31st, Japan’s long-suffering electorate face a clear choice: vote for the conservative party that has virtually monopolised power since 1955, or for its more liberal but untested rival which promises long-awaited reform, writes DAVID McNEILLin Tokyo

For those with a taste for the exotic, however, there is always the Happiness Realisation Party (HRP).

Founded earlier this year to offer voters a “third choice”, the HRP has an eye-catching manifesto: multiply Japan’s population by 2.5 to 300 million, overtake the US to become the world’s premier power, and rapidly rearm for conflict with North Korea and China.

If elected, its lawmakers will inject religion into all areas of life and fight to overcome Japan’s “colonial” mentality, which has “fettered” the nation’s true claim to global leadership.

An apocalyptic Happiness advertisement posted on YouTube this week lays out the stakes. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is preparing to carbonise Tokyo’s imperial palace – home of Emperor Akihito – with a nuclear missile, bring Japan to its knees, and enslave the population.

“Japan will be unable to do anything about this because of its constitution,” Kim sneers in the clip, referring to the so-called “pacifist” clause – article nine – of the 1947 document, written under US occupation, which renounces the right to wage war.

Over footage of a mushroom cloud exploding over Tokyo and red ink drowning the nation, the narrator warns that China ultimately lurks behind the plot. “With a population of 1.3 billion, China will rule the world,” intones the voice of Kim. “And North Korea will be number two.”

For those wondering how the narrator is privy to the thoughts of probably the world’s most reclusive leader, the answer is simple: the Happies have a direct hotline to his subconscious.

A new book, The Guardian Spirit of Kim Jong-Il Speaks, by party founder Ryuho Okawa explains that earlier this month at a session in the party’s Tokyo headquarters, the voice of Kim’s guardian angel warned of his plans. But at least Kim is alive – Okawa also claims to be able to receive the thoughts of Japan’s notorious wartime monarch, emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), and his deceased predecessors.

Being able to commune with the dead is but one string to Okawa’s bow. A reincarnation of Buddha, he achieved great enlightenment in 1981, according to the party’s website, “and awakened to the hidden part of his consciousness, El Cantare, whose mission is to bring happiness to all humanity”.

Before he founded the Happy Science religion in 1986, Okawa wrote books under the names of Muhammad, Christ, Buddha and Confucius. Conveniently, if improbably, speaking in Japanese, some of the prophets had much the same message: Japan is the world’s greatest power and should ditch its constitution, rearm and take over Asia.

Okawa (53), who claims to be a finance graduate of New York’s City University, has written 500 books, according to his followers.

His wife Kyoko, officially the leader of the HRP – Happy Science’s political wing – is the reborn Aphrodite of Greek myths and the bodhisattva of wisdom and intellect, a Buddhist saint.

So far at least, the Japanese press has largely ignored the electorate’s “third choice”. For many here, the Happies smell suspiciously like a cult, but they are certainly taking the election seriously. In a rare interview with the respected magazine Bungei Shunju this month, Okawa explained that they had fielded candidates in every electoral district in the country – more than the ruling LDP.

“Organisationally, we are stronger than either the LDP or DPJ,” he said, citing Happy Science’s network of believers, who can be found most days in Tokyo shouting slogans from vans and passing out glossy pamphlets.

The Happies boast that they have sold 11 million copies of their bible, Shoshin Hogo(The Dharma of the Right Mind), in Japan since 1986, and opened 200 temples.

Okawa’s books, mixing new-age philosophy with self-improvement tips and political views, have sold millions more, apparently providing the funding for the campaign. Translating those beliefs into political power, however, has proved easier said than done. Tokyo voters shunned the Happies’ candidates in this month’s municipal election, which ended LDP rule in the city and set the DPJ up for a historic national win next month.

“Parties that are too openly backed by a religious organisation have a really hard time getting broader support in Japan,” says Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University.

New Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, which is controversially backed by the lay Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai, has “real mobilisation power”, acknowledges Nakano. But he believes it is unlikely that the Happies can rival them.

Citizens of the capital had their fill of apocalyptic cults in the 1990s when Aum Shinrikyo – also led by a guru who could commune with the spirits – gassed the Tokyo subway in 1995 in a bizarre plot to take over the government.

Twelve people died and 5,000 were injured in what remains Japan’s worst terrorist attack.

Shoko Egawa, an investigative journalist who was targeted for assassination by Aum after she sounded early alarm bells, has noted the similarities: Aum turned deadly after its unappealing stew of religion, doomsday science and politics was rejected by voters in 1990. “The worry is what will happen to Happy Science after they fail in this election,” says Egawa. “That’s the unknown that we must think about.”