MYOCHIKAI KYODAN (Religious Movement)

Founder: Miyamoto Mitsu

Myochikai is one of a number of Japanese new religions that started as a splinter group from Reiyukai. The founder, Miyamoto Mitsu, was the leader of one of the largest branch churches of Reiyukai and broke away from the larger denomination with about three hundred other followers to form Myochikai in 1950, in the wake of scandals involving tax evasion and other charges. Presently the group claims a membership of about one million.

Mitsu and her husband, Kohei, were both members of Honmon Butsuryuko, an early New Religious Movement in the Nichiren Buddhist tradition, before joining Reiyukai in 1934, when the ailing Mitsu was cured through the practice of ancestor veneration taught by Reiyukai. Two years later Kohei was appointed the head of the Seventh Branch Church in recognition of his success as a missionary for the group, and later became a member of Reiyukai’s board of directors. Following his death in 1945, Mitsu succeeded him as the leader of the Seventh Branch Church.

Like its parent organization Reiyukai, Myochikai teaches a lay form of Nichiren Buddhism, with a strong emphasis on ancestor veneration. In addition to ancestor veneration, the other pillars of its teaching are a calm endurance of all misfortune for the sake of doing good, repentance for sin, and thanksgiving. Although the group maintains its head-quarters in Tokyo, in 1973 new facilities were established in Chiba, outside of Tokyo, the site of both Kohei’s and Mitsu’s birth and Kohei’s grave. Members are encouraged to make pilgrimages to this site, as well as to Mt Minobu, where the monk Nichiren established his temple in the thirteenth century.

Myochikai has been active in peace and interreligious circles practically from its foundation. Within Japan it has been a member of the Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan since 1953, and on the international level it has also been active in the World Conference on Religion and Peace since the foundational meeting in Kyoto in 1970. Since 1960 it has organized an annual memorial service for war victims at Chidorigafuchi in Tokyo, an alternative memorial site to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which is identified with Japanese militarism. Myochikai has participated in international anti-nuclear activities since the 1960s and has cooperated with the Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan in organizing youth trips to Southeast Asia to promote international understanding.

The group has also cooperated in charity and relief activities in Japan and abroad, participating in the annual community chest drive since the 1950s, contributing towards the relief of earthquake victims in Japan, and participating in leprosy relief in India and famine relief in Africa. On the occasion of its fortieth anniversary in 1990, Myochikai established the Arigatou Foundation to organize its relief and interreligious activities, with a special emphasis on activities directed towards the aid of children in need. ‘Arigatou’ is the Japanese for ‘thanks’, and contributions to the foundation are meant to be a concrete expression of the members’ faith in action. In May 2000 the Arigatou Foundation, with the cooperation of the Japan Committee for UNICEF and the World Conference on Religion and Peace Japan Committee, established the Global Network of Religions for Children to encourage interreligious work to aid children.

In 1986, two years after Mitsu’s death, Miyamoto Takeyasu took over as the leader of Myochikai. Takeyasu was adopted into the Miyamoto family on the occasion of his marriage to Kohei and Mitsu’s daughter Aiko in 1945, and he became the chairman of the board of Myochikai in 1957. In this role he was able to reorganize Myochikai’s structure, moving away from branch churches based on personal contacts—one factor that contributed to continuous splits within Reiyukai as particularly successful missionaries would move away from the group with some of their converts to establish independent denominations—towards territorial churches and national organizations such as the Young Adults’ Group, Women’s Group, etc.

In several respects Myochikai is representative of characteristics found broadly in new religious movements in Japan (see New Religion (Japan)): in its promotion of an ethic of common virtues such as endurance, repentance, and thanksgiving; in its participation in local and international charitable activities; in its emphasis on world peace and inter-religious cooperation; and in the succession of leadership within the family of the founder.

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