Inside “Happy Science”, Japan’s Far-Right Religious Movement

Inside “Happy Science”, Japan’s Far-Right Religious Movement

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Happy Science symbol
In the mid-1980s, a Japanese salaryman declared himself the reincarnation of Buddha and Hermes. Now his religious organization claims millions of adherents.

It was during my four years teaching English in rural Japan that I obtained firsthand experience with the discreet proselytizing of the infamous Japanese “new religion” known as Happy Science.

Anyone who work within the Japanese public education system spends the majority of non-teaching hours with other employees in the shokuinshitsu (職員室, staff room). Teaching, management, and janitorial staff share rows of desks surrounded by file cabinets and the detritus of sports days, school plays, and class art projects. Lunch for non-homeroom teachers is often served in these rooms as well. During lulls in conversation, I’d glance around the staff room, hoping to find something of interest.

In the course of one such lunch, I had been setting my sights upon the rows of non-descript self-help and teaching books that inhabited the communal-use bookshelf next to the lunch table, when a certain book caught my eye.

Below the row that housed the monthly village newsletter, and next to a guidebook for coaching students through feelings of isolation, sat yet another book, its bland cover featuring a middle-aged Japanese man in a light suit and a bit too much make-up. He stood positioned behind a lectern, pontificating to an unseen crowd. Above the man’s exaggeratedly coifed hair floated the title of the book in bold kanji lettering: 「太陽の法。」The Laws of the Sun.

Wondering as to what heliocentric variation of generic self-help these rules could refer, I reached out to take the book. Upon closer inspection of the man on the cover, I noticed the first affectation of his that pointed towards the author being more than a mere public speaker. An elaborately embroidered stole draped his shoulders, like that worn by a Christian priest, made of deep purples and gold fringing, and at the center of both sides of this vestment were the embroidered letters “O.R.”

The image suddenly took on a distinctly religious nature, and tiny alarm bells began ringing in my head. I glanced at the name of the author. It was 大川隆法 – Okawa Ryuho. A quick google search of his name confirmed my burgeoning suspicions.

Okawa Ryuho is the assumed name of the founder and all-encompassing leader of 幸福の科学 (kofuku no kagaku), or as it’s known in English, Happy Science. This silly name belies a rather serious organization: a happiness-focused yet bellicosely far-right “new religion” that boasts of millions of members worldwide, and which has its own Japanese political party.


Okawa, or “Master Okawa,” as his followers refer to him, stands firmly at the bow of his multinational religious organization, where he serves not only as president but also as messianic figure: Okawa claims to be the re-incarnation of Buddha, various mythical kings, and the Greek god Hermes, among many others. The world “cult” has often been associated with Happy Science, and with religious branch offices operating in dozens of countries around the world, it has at times been compared to Scientology. [if a somewhat less-insidious analogue of that perhaps justifiably maligned organization.]

But how had one of Okawa’s books–the one, I would later learn, that most serves as a basic primer to the entire religious world view of Happy Science–ended up on a communal staff room bookshelf at a public elementary school?

As I puzzled over this, my eye caught Okawa’s face staring out from yet another book, this one a few shelves lower. This second tome was 黄金の法 – The Laws of Gold, which I would later learn to be the second in the trilogy that forms what is essentially Happy Science’s bible. So not just one, but two books from a controversial religious organization had been set aside for my fellow teachers to peruse.

Perhaps it was just my American educational background making the idea of fringe religious texts being surreptitiously stored in public school spaces feel scandalous, but I felt the need to find out why these books had been sitting in my staff room.

I turned to the vice-principal, who was slowly finishing up his meal.

“K-sensei, do you know what this book is?”

He looked up at me, a bored, if somewhat bemused, look on his face. “Hmm, I don’t know much about it. Hasn’t it been there for a while?”

“I see. Well, it’s a religious book, so I’m a bit surprised to see it here. You don’t happen to know who placed it on this bookshelf?”

“Who knows? We probably got it delivered and just put it up there, or someone asked us if we’d like to display it. I’m really not sure.” He returned to his noodles.

Further inquiries with more gregarious staff brought me no closer to unraveling this small mystery. When I brought up the idea of a religious book being displayed in a public-school space to my supervisor in the Board of Education, he expressed mild concern and bewilderment, but offered no real insight. “Maybe a teacher put it there,” he ventured.

I wondered about that myself. It was certainly possible a co-worker was a member of the religion, and that this had been some small act of evangelism; hoping some bored teacher would pick up the book and find themselves mysteriously swayed by the words of Master Okawa. Proselytizing, after all, was not unknown in my rural village– members of both Buddhist sects and Jehovah’s Witnesses had knocked on my apartment door. (When I told one Jehovah’s Witness that I was already a Jew (ユダヤ人) and thus unlikely to convert, she beamed a big, surprised smile, and replied “Ah, so you believe in Islam?”).

Alas, the mystery remains unsolved, and as far as I know, those books remain – almost certainly largely unread – in that bookshelf in the shokuinshitsu. Little did I know, however, that I had in some tangential way stumbled upon the very tool which had managed to swell Happy Science’s membership and notoriety so high amongst the various controversial “new religions” of Japan. For it has been through the written word, and the hundreds of books Master Okawa has published over the years, that Japan and the world have been introduced to his colorful religious teachings.

Are they true revelations, or simple, cynical, syncretic bunk? To discover the answer to that question, let’s step inside the world of Happy Science, and do some scientific investigation of our own.

A Wave of “New Religions”

Happy Science first arrived on the spiritual scene in the mid-1980s, just one among a crowded field of “new religions” jockeying for the souls of Japan’s faithful in those years. The phenomena of these shinshukyo (新宗教) had first appeared nearly a hundred years earlier, when the chaos of the final years of the feudal samurai system had caused so much unrest to traditional societal structures. The Meiji Restoration which had ended said system also led to the end of state-sponsored Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. This also meant the loss of security and authority for many formerly powerful Buddhist institutions, which had to find new ways to maintain relevance in a society which had suddenly legalized foreign religions, like the previously-forbidden Christianity. The result was the flourishing of new, somewhat populist takes on Buddhism or Japan’s ancient indigenous religion, Shinto, such as the new religions Tenrikyo (天理教) and Oomoto (大本).

However, as Japan moved into the 20th century and subsequently entered a period of intensive militarization and emperor-centered State Shinto worship, these growing sects found themselves under increasing scrutiny and pressure.

Japan’s utter defeat in World War II and the subsequent 7-year American occupation brought an end to the rigors of state-sponsored Shintoism, as well as an influx of Western religions and philosophies. (Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the occupation forces, famously called for 10,000 Christian missionaries to come to Japan, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses began their surprisingly successful bid for the souls of the Japanese, capturing the second most prominent population of Christians in Japan, following only Catholicism.) The complete devastation of WWII and dissipation of strict emperor-worship left many in Japan struggling to find meaning, leading to another boom in “new religions” – most notable among them being a flourishing of Soka Gakkai (創価学会), a Buddhist sect based on the teaching of 13th century monk Nichiren, which remains the largest by far.

However, a more recent influx of these myriad movements began around the 1970’s, when ideas from the Western-originating New Age movement regarding channeling, personal renewal and cleansing, former lives, and the prophecies of Nostradamus came in contact with a newly economically powerful Japan. Many in Japan saw their nation as in the process re-taking its seat at the forefront of the nations of the world after a period of weakness and shame, and many “new, new religions” – often referred to in Japanese as Shin-Shinshukyo (新新宗教) – arose to satiate interest in New Age ideas while providing a spiritual and “historical” viewpoint in which Japan was a sacred center in an internationalized world.

In other words, these “new, new religions” provided recently empowered Japanese people with a meaningful, yet often nationalistic, global mission.

This just so happened to be the era in which Okawa Ryuho was heading on his rocky road to adulthood – and his followers would argue, towards godhood.

The Master

Okawa Ryuho
“Master” Okawa Ryuho. (Picture: Wikipedia)

Okawa Ryuho was born Nakagawa Takashi (中川隆) in 1954 in the small Tokushima Prefecture town of Kawashima, on rural Shikoku island. His father, Tadayoshi, was greatly interested in philosophy and religion, and would lecture Takashi and his older brother Tsutomo on a number of diverse themes, including the Christian Bible, Marxism, and Zen koans. Despite the broad interests in world affairs these lectures helped engender in Takashi, his teachers and family considered him to be lacking in natural academic talents (his brother, however, excelled in school).

Takashi became obsessed with overcoming the intellectual dullness others saw in him, and became a voracious reader while still in elementary school. Echoing many prototypical Japanese stories of aspiring academics, such was his zeal for learning that during winters he would stay up late reading in an unheated outbuilding.

Takashi’s goal was to become a man of the world, and he bent all his academic efforts towards becoming a diplomat. Meanwhile, he failed to nurture any athletic tendencies, and put on enough weight that he would dread gym classes or sports days. He would pray for the rain that would allow him to get out of swimming class, lest his peers laugh at his unathletic frame. Indeed, he seems to have gained an awkwardness – especially around women – that would haunt him for some time. This remained even into his first year at university, when he wrote a continuous stream of love letters to a girl who had caught his fancy; he received but a single, terse letter of rejection in response.

In 1975 and at the age of 18, Takashi set forth from Tokushima, taking the long train journey to Tokyo. His goal: to sit the entrance exams for Tokyo University, Japan’s foremost institution of higher learning. Arriving at the famous brick-gabled Tokyo Station, the young man from the countryside found he had no idea how to navigate his way through the immense city to the university itself. While he finally managed to find his way there, he ended up failing the entrance exam anyway – a major setback to his life plans.

After a year spend as a “ronin” – the word for “masterless samurai,” but used nowadays to refer to those who fail university entrance exams and spend the next year in a nebulous state preparing for a second chance – Takashi finally managed to “slip in” to the famed university’s liberal arts school.

His first year at university was an awkward one, but his second year marked the first step on what he considered his path towards spiritual revelation. He created a daily schedule for himself based upon that of German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, with each hour of the day set aside for various forms of learning, poetry, philosophizing, self-reflection, and reading. He called this his “first stage in the ‘awakening of wisdom.’”

Deciding to major in politics, Takashi took a year off from school to prepare for both the judicial examination and the examination for higher level civil servants. His dreams of becoming a diplomat were shattered when his year of study proved fruitless: he failed his exams. His dream delayed, and now in his last year of school (and with grades poor enough to prevent his entrance to graduate school), he did what many people do: he cast about for a generic company to hire him for something completely unrelated to his personal passions. Tomen Corporation, a trading firm that would later be acquired by Toyota, fit the bill.

But Takashi, standing on a precipice separating the sort of life he dreamed of and that of a petty businessman, was to have had fortune smile upon him: The world of the gods seemed to have other plans for him.

The “Buddha Enlightenment”

In March of 1981, just a month before starting work at Tomen, Takashi reports to have felt an ethereal presence wishing to speak with him. He hurried for a pencil and notecard, seemingly knowing what would next occur: that his hand would then move of its own accord, writing forth a message of great importance to him.

“My hand, which held the pencil, started to move as if it had its own life, and wrote “ii shirase, ii shirase” (良い知らせ、良い知らせ, “good tidings”) on one card after another.”

When he asked the spirit moving his hand who it was, it wrote out 日興 (Nikko), the name of the saintly disciple of Nichiren, the 13th century Buddhist monk who is the central figure in many of the new religions created long before Happy Science. According to Happy Science, Nichiren himself then communicated personally with Takashi some days later.

A few months following the commencement of Takashi’s work life, he was visited by another spirit, this one being the founder of another new religion, the GLA (God Light Association). This spirit told Takashi that he was fated to create another, greater religious movement.

Takashi confided in a friend from his hometown in Tokushima, Yoshikawa Saburo, regarding his spiritual visitations. Saburo immediately set forth to join Takashi in Tokyo, where the spirits turned garrulous, switching from writing in Takashi’s hands to speaking directly through him to Saburo. To Nichiren and the GLA founder were added a true bevy of spiritual who’s-who’s, all clambering to speak through Takashi. Confucius, the great 7th-century and 11th century monks Kukai and Shinran, as well as such “western” luminaries as Moses, Jesus Christ, and Nostradamus, all took turns being interviewed by Saburo and another friend who had joined them, Tomiyama Makoto.

All of these characters were well known to followers of Japanese new religions and Western New Age movements. You may ask, how did Takashi communicate with non-Japanese speakers like Jesus, Confucius, Moses, and Nostradamus? Well, according to Takashi, they first had difficulty with his language, and thus chose instead to speak to him via a special device that allowed them to share a direct exchange of thoughts. Soon, though, they “got used” to Japanese, thus making the words written and spoken by Takashi the exact words of these spirits.

There’s only one problem: Yoshikawa Saburo and Tomiyama Makoto, the first two acolytes and witnesses to Takashi’s miraculous channelings, never existed. In truth, these two “friends” were Takashi’s own father and brother – something that would only be revealed much later.

The Road to Happy Science

Tomen Co. sent Takashi to New York for training, where he passed a Berlitz English course and started to take classes on International Finance at New York University. However, he was once again struck by feelings of inferiority, as his English skills simply weren’t good enough to get him through his classes, and the presence of a Taiwanese student who exhibited perfect English only furthered his embarrassment. Takashi gave up, and soon returned to Japan.

Despite his various setbacks, Takashi was on the cusp of experiencing his “second ‘awakening of wisdom’”. Happy Science has often touted its Master’s claims to being extremely well read, as well as the prolific nature of his writing, as proof of his incomparable spiritual gifts. Here, it was self-reflection upon the huge amount of knowledge he believed he had amassed from the reading of a claimed 3000 books that lead him to an elevated state of “wisdom” – his feelings of inadequacy faded away as he reflected upon his voluminous knowledge base. In its place, according to Happy Science-scholar Trevor Astely, emerged “a smug sense of superiority.”

Back in Japan, Takashi began to publish his first works, which consisted of collections of spiritual messages from those entities he had channeled: first Nichiren, then Jesus Christ himself, then the Shinto sun goddess Amerterasu-Omikami, followed by Kukai, and lastly Socrates. These first collections were published under the name of his “friend” Yoshikawa Saburo (which we now know to be the assumed name of his father), supposedly to avoid problems at work. Meanwhile, his coworkers were starting to notice his strange behavior, which included claims that he could see spirits possessing business associates. He would occasionally even offer to perform exorcisms. Needless to say, Takashi was not long for the business world.

In June of 1986, Takashi experienced a variety of “high spirits” advising him to leave behind his secular pursuits, and to devote himself instead to the spiritual purification of humanity. Leaving Tomen, Nakagawa Takashi (中川隆) took on a new name: Okawa Ryuho (大川隆法), changing the kanji of his last name from “Middle River” to “Great River”, and adding to his first name the character for “Laws” or “Dharma.” In October, the newly-named Okawa founded his organization, Koufuku-no-Kagaku (幸福の科学), initially known in English as The Institute for Research in Human Happiness. What would eventually come to be known as “Happy Science” had been born.

Birth of a New Religion

Happy Science Church in Yokohama
The front of the Happy Science church building in Yokohama, Japan. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Happy Science began life as something of a messianic study group. At first, Okawa labeled the small organization a “graduate school of life” (人生の大学院) rather than a religious organization, and it functioned via the intensive study of Okawa’s own spiritually inspired writings. Membership grew slowly but steadily, and those who wished to join had to first read various of the Master’s writings, as well as sit an actual essay test focusing on a question related to Happy Science doctrine (and Okawa himself would mark such tests, with those who failed having to wait a multiple month-long period to reapply).

As such, the initial cross-section of devotees to Okawa’s creed were made up of those with the time, money, and talent for memorizing doctrine. Such people were likely to make up a devoted core for the organization. These devotees would often meet in cafes for informal, close-knit discussion of Okawa’s revelations.

Okawa would give such speeches while supposedly channeling the various spirits he was in contact with; the first saw him publicly channel the founder of GLA with whom he had previously spoken, and the second lecture saw him channel Ame-no-Minakanushi (天御中主), the primordial kami and source of universal energy within Shintoism (and more importantly for Okawa’s purposes, the guiding spirit of the founder of the major new religion Seicho-no-Ie).

In other words, he happened to be in contact with the exact entities who would be most likely to attract the attention of those who were already involved in new religious movements, and were thus likely to already be susceptible to the sort of ideas he was putting out into the world. Some of these among his audiences reported seeing rays of golden light emanating from Okawa, or said that Okawa had possessed ten fingers on a single hand.

Participation and membership began to grow more rapidly. Soon, Okawa’s lectures featured crowds in the thousands, allowed seating at the venue via a system of preferential membership or by receiving a recommendation from members. Live-in study retreats were even held, where would-be devotees would live in close quarters and study Okawa’s words side-by-side for days, followed by an intensive testing period to be graded by the Master himself. Devotees could then be assigned ranks based on learning, eventually graduating to becoming instructors themselves. These first few years, when membership was still (comparatively) small and interaction with Okawa was sometimes direct, lead to a fervent devotion and a strong sense of group comradery.

Things began to change in 1989, following the death of the Showa Emperor. Okawa announced that the spirits had now deemed him worthy of spreading his word to a more encompassing audience. Happy Science would now engage in mass proselytizing around the country and ease entrance to the religion. The number of registered devotees swelled.

Little did his followers know that the very nature of Okawa himself was about to undergo a doctrinal change far beyond their imaginations.

Okawa Ryuho: A Living Buddha?

1991 was the year in which Happy Science morphed from an upstart new religion into a major player in the field. It was also the year in which Okawa Ryuho went from spiritual master to something more akin to Master of the Universe.

The first was achieved via a publicity masterstroke. With the onset of the Gulf War, which featured a high degree of international involvement combined with the first live television broadcast of a major military conflict, many in Japan became increasingly worried about the Middle East, the future, and about what Japan’s role was to be in the modern world. Okawa capitalized on this by releasing two books with titles that directly fed into these fears – The Great Warnings of Allah (アラーの大警告) and The Terrible Divine Revelations of Nostradamus (ノストラダムス戦慄の啓示, which Happy Science would later make into a film).

Both books were released within a month of each other, and featured an enormous advertising campaign with a budget of many millions of dollars worth of yen. Newspaper, television, and billboard ads were just the beginning, as blimps, mobile billboards, free goods like handheld fans, and more made the books (as well as their slogan, 「時代は今、幸福の科学」- “This is Now the Age of Happy Science”) ubiquitous throughout Tokyo.

The effect was incredible. Both books skyrocketed to the best-sellers list, staying in the top-two spots for half of the entire year with many millions of copies sold. Happy Science, and the enigmatic Okawa Ryuho, had made their mark. Bookstores even began to host “Okawa Ryuho corners” exclusively featuring his written works, soon to be joined by audio tapes, CDs, and videos of his messages. The establishment of Happy Science’s own publishing firm, IRH Press Co., LTD, only added to their reach.

Riding a wave of exultation, thanks to his rapidly increased following (as well as the contents of his coffers), Okawa made his next major move. Convening a mass gathering called the Birthday Festival, Okawa stood before a crowd of 40,000. It was here that he announced his true nature.

The one who stands before you is Okawa Ryuho, and yet is not Okawa Ryuho. The one who stands before you and speaks the eternal God’s Truth is El Cantare. It is I who possess the highest authority on earth. It is I who have all authority from the beginning of the earth until the end. For I am not human, but the Law itself.

Okawa, it now seemed, was no mere channeler of greater spirits. Rather, he was El Cantare – the greatest being in the nine terrestrial dimensions – incarnate. It turns out that El Cantare (which means “he will sing” in Spanish), is an all-powerful being who had previously incarnated on this Earth as any number of major mythical and historical figures. He had formerly and most notably appeared under the guise of Gautama Siddhartha (the most famous incarnation of Buddha), as well as Hermes. (In Happy Science cosmology, Hermes was in fact a great warrior and philosopher king of Crete, as opposed to the messenger god passed down through Greek mythology. His wife was Aphrodite, herself turned into a historical figure instead of a god in Okawa’s cosmology.)

Okawa’s predecessors in reincarnation didn’t just stop there, though. Other notable personages inhabited by El Cantare include Ophaelis of primordial Greece, “Rient Arl Croud” of an ancient Inca Empire (claimed to have lived 7000 years ago, despite the Inca Empire only coming into existence some 600 years ago, and the oldest of its antecedents only some 1700 years ago), King “Thoth” of the sunken continent of Atlantis from 12,000 years ago, and King La Mu of the also-sunken continent of Mu some 17,000 years before our current day.

Needless to say, Okawa had revealed himself to be a being of major cosmological import. Beyond this most portentous of beings, whom Okawa himself inhabits, have been added any number of major gods and spirits with whom he has communicated directly in the various spiritual dimensions in which Happy Science says they reside: Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Allah (whom Happy Science claims is in fact the 9th-dimensional being El Ranty), Isaac Newton, Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, Winston Churchill, Stephen Hawking, John Lennon, and most recently Freddy Mercury (in a book published just in time to catch the popularity of Bohemian Rhapsody in Japan) represent just a tiny selection of those with whom Okawa has engaged with in “spiritual talks” (霊言, Reigen).

Okawa even takes time out of his day to engage in direct spiritual conversation with the souls of those still living, such as Barack Obama, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, and many (seriously, dozens) more. Most of these discussions are then published in full book form by IRH Press; a cursory search on for 大川隆法 brings up dozens of such publications.

Battle of the Cults

Book on Amaterasu by Okawa Ryuho
A book on the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Okami, one of the principle figures of Japan’s native Shinto religion, by Okawa Ryuho – just a tiny portion of the religious leader’s voluminous output. (Picture:

Throughout the early 90s the now-godlike Okawa and Happy Science attracted more and more followers (and book sales), helped in part by major media coverage of their exploits. Additional attention was brought to the group via a noted rivalry between Happy Science and the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, the organization now reviled as the perpetrators of the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack which left over a dozen people dead and thousands injured. Aum’s leader and rival Buddha-incarnate Asahara Shoko lashed out at Okawa, lambasting him for his lack of actual religious training and complete misuse of Buddhist terms and concepts. Okawa and Asahara were invited to have a live TV debate; Okawa, perhaps fearful to face down the imposing Aum leader on stage in a game of Buddhist knowledge, declined. He would later revise many parts of his doctrine and core religious books to reflect more accurate Buddhist teaching and sutras.

Aum did not stop there, though. Okawa was added to the list of public figures whom Asakawa would attempt to have assassinated in the final months leading up to his cult’s fateful final act of terrorism. The assassination was foiled, however, and Happy Science maintains as a point of pride their communications with Tokyo police where they urged the investigation of Aum long before the group succeeded in killing so many.

Growth of the “Happies”

Happy Science experienced various setbacks in the mid-90s: loss of credibility after the doctrinal attacks from Aum and other new religions, a rash of newspaper and magazine-based scandals (with Happy Science’s highly litigious responses inviting more comparisons to Scientology), and an unspoken media-wide pact to stop covering the group. Even so, Happy Science has continued to grow at remarkable rates. Okawa continues to write, speak, and record, now sometimes even doing so in (somewhat halting) English.

As of 2017, the group claimed a total of 11 million adherents worldwide. (A somewhat spurious number, given the complete lack of metrics–it’s said that subscribers to the Happy Science magazine and even book sales numbers are at times used to inflate their statistics). While these numbers seem unrealistic, educated estimations of the group’s real following of religious believers is still nothing to scoff at–consisting of anywhere between 300,000 to a million devotees.

Either way, the Happy Science organization – which is internally constructed more like a commercial corporation than a religion–brings in incredible amounts of money, and owns properties in countries around the world. Happy Science branches proselytize in countries as diverse as the United States, Uganda, India, Australia, Taiwan, Canada, Nepal, South Korea, and Malaysia. Data on exactly how successful these international outreach missions have been remains elusive.

Happiness, the Political Way

In 2009, Master Okawa decided to take his crusade to influence Japanese society to the next level. Following the lead of (the decidedly larger) Soka Gakkai – whose Komeito (公明党) political party holds various seats in both the Japanese House of Representatives and House of Councilors – Happy Science took the plunge into politics. The resulting Happiness Realization Party (幸福実現党), however, differs from Komeito in one important way: while Komeito is not officially associated with Soka Gakkai, and claims to simply have a large constituency of SG believers as some sort of outlier, the Happiness Realization Party is very much an arm of the Happy Science organization.

What does this political party aspire to, you might ask? Well, its initial manifesto was quite intriguing: HRP promised to more than double the Japanese population to a nice round 300 million by means of furthering fertility and inviting in millions of foreign workers, to make Japan’s economy the most powerful in the world via this growth, and then to re-arm Japan for confrontation with North Korea, and perhaps even China, whom Happy Science has inferred is Japan’s true enemy.

Happy Science attempted to net new voters by zeroing in on latent fears regarding Japan’s seemingly-bellicose neighboring states, doing so most famously in an initial YouTube video showcasing Kim Jung-Il launching a nuclear strike on Tokyo. Okawa has now prophesized at length about how North Korea and China are planning to invade Japan, although not before they drop atomic bombs on major cities to ready the country for said invasion.

All this could be considered quite interesting for a group which had previously eschewed outright nationalism, and which supposedly is entirely intent on creating happiness and love throughout the world. Needless to say, this has earned the Happiness Realization Party a reputation of being in the far-right-wing. Indeed, the group has even reached out to American conservative groups, attending the famed conservative conference CPAC in Washington, D.C., and maintains connections with the American Tea Party movement.

However, it’s notable that the Happiness Realization Party, despite receiving more than one million total votes in recent elections, has completely failed to secure even a single nation-wide seat in Japan. As of 2018, the party claimed a total of 21 elected local councilors, so perhaps it remains a bit early to completely discount the political aspirations of a man who started a religion with only his father and brother as adherents, and now claims to have millions of followers around the world.

Will Happiness be Achieved?

The reality of Happy Science is somewhat obscured, and investigations into its doctrine and its founder can feel like entering into a Cretan labyrinth. With hundreds of published books and untold hours of lectures and speeches by Okawa Ryuho to delve into, it can all seem too wide, too esoteric, to want to take the time to understand for anyone other than those who are already Happy Science’s followers.

Even here, I’ve only briefly touched on the beliefs of Happy Science – hardly anything regarding the nine dimensions that encircle the earth, or the higher beings beyond even El Cantare, or Allah guiding aliens to pilot starships to seed the earth, or any of the rest. And I haven’t even begun to discuss the myriad anime movies produced by Happy Science, featuring doctrinally-correct versions of the lives of the likes of Hermes and Buddha, and showcasing sci-fi and apocalyptic themes in some of the strangest films produced in the medium (otherworldly battles with Hitler and Nietzsche are just some of the highlights).

Perhaps this is part of the point. Someone, say one of my former co-workers in my elementary school staffroom, picks up one of Okawa’s books that’s been left lying around. If they find the content even somewhat intriguing, it opens up an endless pathway of winding spiritual, historical, and even political proclamations, into which it could be surprisingly easy to be swallowed up. Listen to some of Okawa’s speeches on YouTube, or go see him in person at one of his constant lecture tours, and before long, you too could be caught up in Master Okawa’s search for happiness.

Or, at least, I imagine that’s what the person who placed those books in my school staffroom envisioned. Perhaps, sometimes, they’re right, and that does occur, and El Cantare shines his light upon yet another wayward soul. Either way, it’s a mostly untaxed book sale for Happy Science. Master Okawa should be quite pleased.


Astley, Trevor. “The Transformation of a Recent Japanese New Religion: Ōkawa Ryūhō and Kōfuku No Kagaku.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 22, no. 3/4, 1995, pp. 343–380.

Hotaka, Tsukada. “Cultural Nationalism in Japanese Neo-New Religions: A Comparative Study of Mahikari and Kōfuku No Kagaku.” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 67, no. 1, 2012, pp. 133–157.,

Winter, Franz. “A ‘Greek God’ in a Japanese New Religion: On Hermes in Kōfuku-No-Kagaku.” Numen, vol. 60, no. 4, 2013, pp. 420–446.

Ball, Molly. “Can the Tea Party Take Japan?” The Atlantic, May 2012.

McNeill, David. “Party offers a third way: happiness.” The Japan Times, August 4th, 2009.

Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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