AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 615

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Session 615: When Religion Enter Politics. Religious Organizations and their Political Parties in Contemporary Japan

Organizer: Axel P. Klein, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

Chair: George C. Ehrhardt, Appalachian State University, USA

Religious organizations and political parties differ in that, understood simply, religions deal with divine transcendence while political organizations address worldly concerns. However, they share many major characteristics. For example, both promise a better life for their supporters, and both rely on social grievances and/or the menace of opponents to validate their existences. One obvious piece of evidence for their propinquity is supplied by those religious organizations that promote themselves as a force for improving society materially through a declared political agenda. In some cases, religious organizations even form their own political parties. This panel examines two under-examined cases in present-day Japan: Koumeitou, Souka Gakkai’s affiliated party and Koufuku no Kagaku’s Happiness Realization Party. The HRP was just founded in May 2009 and has not been examined by political science so far. Also, despite Koumeitou’s status as a relatively long-standing political entity, academic appraisals to date do little to illuminate the party’s inner workings, and information regarding connections between Koumeitou and Souka Gakkai is mostly outdated. This panel is based on extensive and recent research on both religious organizations and their political parties. The presenters are members of an international research group that has been working for two years on religion and politics in contemporary Japan, combining political science, religious studies, and anthropology. In this panel, they present their findings regarding the emergence of Koumeitou and the Happiness Realization Party, the way Koumeitou and Souka Gakkai cooperate during election campaigns, and the costs and benefits accrued by Souka Gakkai in its relationship with Koumeitou.

“In the Beginning”: A Comparison of How Souka Gakkai and Koufuku no Kagaku Formed their Political Parties
Levi McLaughlin, North Carolina State University, USA

The first two presentations compare the objectives of Souka Gakkai and Koufuku no Kagaku in establishing their political parties. Although forty-five years lie between the first party conventions of Koumeitou in 1964 and the Happiness Realization Party (HRP) in 2009, similarities between both cases allow for a comparative analysis of how religions cross over into politics. Leaders of Souka Gakkai and Koufuku no Kagaku played a major role in developing a political mission from doctrinal teachings and millennial worldviews. Both organizations call for a complete renewal of Japan, necessitating innovative approaches to political activism, and both propagated their messages using similar means of communicating with mainstream society. Both groups, however, were also quickly confronted with the reality of a political world that requires religious parties to compromise on many fronts. McLaughlin and Klein will draw on their research on Koumeitou and HRP respectively to describe how the groups’ religious ideals transformed into political programs, how these ideals fare in the political world, and how political agendas transform the devotional lives of Gakkai and Koufuku no Kagaku members. They will also discuss how party personnel are recruited and financial resources secured in light of constitutional restrictions on religious organizations exercising political authority. By outlining the historical development of these religious political parties, the presenters will also provide an opportunity for further comparisons to other Asian cases.

Souka Gakkai and the Costs and Benefits of its Relationship with Koumeitou
Linda Choi Hasunuma, Franklin & Marshall College, USA

The original motivations and objectives for Souka Gakkai to form a political party are discussed in McLaughlin’s contribution to this panel. This presentation will continue the analysis by turning towards the costs and benefits accrued by Souka Gakkai over the ten years Koumeitou was junior partner in a coalition government with the Liberal Democratic Party (1999-2009). As there are very few policy studies of the Koumeitou in political science literature, this investigation also contributes to our understanding of the party in the subfield of Japanese politics. To develop the analysis, Hasanuma and Asano study Koumeitou’s manifestos and the available policy statements, bills, and minutes of Diet deliberations, and trace the evolution of bills from their original proposals to their final outcomes. This presentation will focus on two case studies: subsidies for low-income families and child allowances, and the deployment of Japanese Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. The findings of this presentation help to correct the oversimplified but dominant image of Souka Gakkai as a vote-gathering machine whose members follow orders from above without developing their own political opinions. It also clarifies the way both entities communicate and cooperate on single policy issues. Finally, in comparing the findings with those of McLaughlin’s presentation, the question is addressed as to how the original intentions for having a political party have transformed over Koumeitou’s forty-five-year history. This paper is co-presented with Masahiko Asano

The Logic of Religious Organizations and Electoral Mobilization: The Case of Souka Gakkai and Koumeitou
Jun Saito, Yale University, USA

This paper investigates the organizational features that sustained electoral campaign activities by the Souka Gakkai. The first part of the presentation examines the internal incentive structures that facilitated electoral mobilization and monitoring. Using available qualitative information, the paper delineates devices of electoral monitoring and enforcement. It then compares and contrast them against those often utilized by religious parties outside Japan. The latter part of the paper takes advantage of municipality level party voting data for national and local elections. It investigates under what conditions Koumeitou’s mobilization tactics are most effective. In particular, the paper scrutinizes the vote division among Koumeitou’s co-partisan candidates and explores implications of the organizational logic. Unlike monitoring and mobilization tactics by secular parties in Japan (e.g. Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party), Koumeitou’s electoral success is not affected by municipalities’ demographic characteristics. In contrast to the LDP’s monitoring tactics that relied heavily on formal political institutions of local government, Koumeitou’s activities were heavily dependent upon district-specific strategic environment that included the structure of party competition. Overall, the paper provides evidence that the Koumeitou and Souka Gakkai have behaved in a similar fashion as religious parties of other industrial democracies.