Birth of the Soka Gakkai

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi
(1871 - 1944)

by Ryuei
Michael McCormick

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was the founder and first president of the Soka Gakkai, the Value Creation Society. Makiguchi was a grammar school principal in Tokyo who was deeply concerned about the educational system in Japan. In 1928, a fellow principal convinced him to convert to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. From the age of three he had been raised in the household of his uncle which was affiliated with the Nichiren Shu, but religion had never been a significant part in his life until his conversion. However, the years between 1924 and 1932 were especially difficult ones for him. His second son died at the age of 23 in 1924, his fourth son died at the age of 19 in 1928, his first son died at the age of 31 in 1929, and his fourth daughter died at the age of 14 in 1932. (His last son would die in battle in 1944.) At that point in his life, religion became very important to him, but he was still primarily focused on his attempts to reform the Japanese educational system. In 1930 he finally published his first book on pedagogical reform titled The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy. The Soka Gakkai considers the publication of that book the founding date of the Soka Gakkai because Makiguchi named the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, the Value Creating Education Society, as the publisher. It's actual inaugural meeting was not held until 1937. At that first meeting, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai had only 60 members, most of them fellow educators. Around this time, Makiguchi began to integrate the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism with his own ideas for educational reform. The membership peaked at 400 in 1941, though the readership of its magazine was as high as 3,000. In 1943, the Imperialist government insisted that all Japanese citizens enshrine a Shinto talisman of the goddess Amaterasu from the Ise Shrine to show their loyalty to the emperor. Makiguchi, not only refused to compromise his faith by enshrining the talisman but he forbid the members of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai from doing so as well. Furthermore, he admonished the High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu for supporting the worship of the emperor. In the end, Makiguchi and twenty other leaders of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai were arrested for lese majeste and sedition. Of those arrested, only three refused to recant their opposition to State Shinto: Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda, and Shuhei Yajima. Yajima would eventually become a chairman of the Soka Gakkai after the war. He eventually became a Nichiren Shoshu priest. Unfortunately, Makiguchi died of malnutrition in prison in 1944.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2001.

More articles by Ryuei:
Life of Nikko
Life of Nichiren
The Fuji Lineage

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