Update 11/17/2023: Soka Gakkai just announced that Ikeda Daisaku has passed away. There are no details yet on how or when. We will get an update out as soon as more information is available.
Where in the world is Ikeda Daisaku?
As the supreme leader of Soka Gakkai, he is one of the most powerful religious and political leaders in Japan. A power broker said to have been chummy with Nelson Mandela who hobnobbed with Gorbachev and helped select the next Prime Minister of Japan. He was a globe-trotting ambassador for peace.
But since May of 2010, he doesn’t seem to have even left his home. No one outside his inner circle knows where he is, or if he’s even capable of making a cogent statement on his own. He is in many ways reminiscent of L. Ron Hubbard, the charismatic leader of Scientology who wasn’t seen in public for over a decade before the organization officially announced his death.
Even asking, “Where is Ikeda Daisaku?” is taboo. The Japanese mass media avoids the subject as deftly as they avoided covering Emperor of J-Pop Johnny Kitagawa’s long history of sexually assaulting young boys in his talent agency.
But why, why doesn’t the organization clear the air? A current photo of Ikeda or an audio recording might be enough.
Or say, even, a five-minute interview with Unseen Japan.
Original reporting by Jake Adelstein and Himari Semans. Cover art by Illumiknobi.
Ikeda Daisaku: Once and Future President of Soka Gakkai?
Ikeda Daisaku was born in Tokyo, Japan on January 2, 1928 to a family of seaweed farmers. He was one of eight children.
Ikeda would be 95 this year – if he’s still alive. He is the grand leader of the powerful Soka Gakkai Buddhist organization in Japan and the de facto founder of New Komeito, an important political party. Ikeda is revered by many the world over as a leader and spiritual guru.
Some have also called him a ruthless megalomaniac.
In 2013, former members of Soka Gakkai published the book「サヨナラ 私の池田大作」(Goodbye My Ikeda Daisku). In it, they characterized Ikeda as narcissistic and hungry for power. The book points out that:
In 1960, Ikeda Daisaku assumed the role of Soka Gakkai’s 3rd president at the young age of 32. In 1965, during an interview with critic Takase Hiroi, Ikeda pronounced, “I am Japan’s king. Its president. The ruler of the spiritual world. Leader and ultimate authority of every philosophical culture there is in Japan.One could say he was full of extreme bravado.
The Disappearance of Ikeda Daisaku
Although some Soka Gakkai leaders claim to have seen Ikeda as recently as the summer of 2016, Ikeda was last seen in public in May 2010. But he had been ducking any potential hard-hitting interviews for many years before vanishing.
In 1994, an expose was published by a former special counsel and lawyer to Soka Gakkai, Yamazaki Masatomo. The document accused Ikeda and his organization of bribing politicians to achieve their aims, and even using yakuza to silence their enemies. Ikeda never fully responded to the accusations.
Decades later, in the same month, that Ikeda vanished from the public eye– May of 2010–former yakuza boss, Goto Tadamasa, published his controversial and best-selling autobiography, Habakarinagara (I’m sorry but….). In the book, Goto makes startling accusations and openly brags of doing dirty work for Soka Gakkai and Komeito, including threatening enemies of the group.
He has some particularly harsh words for Ikeda. The accusation made in the book were very much in line with what Yamazaki had written in 1994. Nobody knows if the yakuza boss’s tell-all-book drove Ikeda into hiding, but it is an interesting coincidence.
Is Ikeda alive, dead, “in great health and writing books,” mentally incapacitated, or perhaps on a life-support system unable to communicate with anyone? The truth of the matter is one of the most closely guarded secrets in Japan.
We asked to interview him for this article. Unsurprisingly, this request was not granted.
It’s now been more than 13 years since Ikeda last made a public appearance. Meanwhile, his organization, and the political party he founded, have been slowly coming apart at the seams. Disagreements abound over key issues which Ikeda espoused: pacifism, social welfare, nuclear disarmament.
During such controversies, a single sentence from the great teacher could have resolved the infighting — but he remained silent. As former Soka Gakkai members have said, “The only conclusion that is reasonable is that he doesn’t speak out because he can’t. He’s dead, incapacitated, or unable to say a coherent sentence.”
Soka Gakkai: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
If you want to understand why Ikeda was (is?) so powerful, some background on Soka Gakkai and their political arm, New Komeito, is helpful.
Soka Gakkai (創価学会; souka gakkai) is a Japanese religious movement originating in the early 20th century. The name means “Value Creation Society”. It was founded in 1930 as a lay organization within Nichiren Buddhism, which emphasizes the Lotus Sutra as the holiest of all Buddhist texts. Educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and his disciple Josei Toda started the movement.
Under Makiguchi and Toda, Soka Gakkai promoted Nichiren Buddhism as a means of personal happiness and societal change. During World War II, the Japanese government persecuted the organization for refusing to embrace State Shinto, the state-sponsored religion. In 1944, Makiguchi died in prison after being imprisoned along with Toda.
Following the war, Toda rebuilt the organization and expanded its membership. He focused on propagating the message of “human revolution,” emphasizing the transformative power of faith and the pursuit of individual happiness. Toda’s efforts to revitalize Soka Gakkai gained significant momentum, and the movement experienced remarkable growth.
In general, the practices of the religion include reciting the mantra “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō (南無妙法蓮華経) honoring the Lotus Sutra, engaging in daily chanting and meditation, studying Buddhist teachings, and participating in activities that promote personal and societal well-being. However, its long history has been far from controversy-free.
Plaudits and Controversies
Soka Gakkai has been accused of pressuring believers to donate lavishly to the organization, engaging in pressure tactics to convert others to the cause, and being ruthless in combating “enemies” of the group. Former members also have insisted that the “deification” of Ikeda has warped Soka Gakkai’s core message and the original teachings of Nichiren Buddhism. For these reasons, there are some who consider it more of a Buddhist cult than a branch of Japanese Buddhism.
Ikeda Daisaku, a young disciple of Toda, assumed leadership of Soka Gakkai in May of 1960. Ikeda played a crucial role in expanding the organization’s global outreach and establishing its international presence. He emphasized the values of peace, culture, and education, and worked towards creating a worldwide network of practitioners dedicated to fostering peace, promoting dialogue, and advancing humanitarian initiatives.
No one can deny that the organization has done and continues to do meaningful charity work.
The Birth of New Komeito
However, Ikeda was also intent on making the organization and himself a political power. In November 1964, he and a group of prominent members of Soka Gakkai established the political party Komeito. (The party initially called itself the “Clean Government Party” in English translation.)
The founding members of Komeito aimed to create a political party that would champion so-called clean government, transparency, and social welfare in Japan. These values initially allowed Komeito to canvas alongside the likes of the Japanese Communist Party. In 1971, they even played an important role in re-electing Marxist Tokyo governor Minobe Ryokichi.
Officially, Soka Gakkai and Komeito are different entities. But as Professor Michael Cucek, an expert in Japanese politics, explains in the video Japanese Politics 101: Soka Gakkai, they are essentially the same.
Cucek thoughtfully explains the power of Soka Gakkai and the existential crisis they’re facing with their missing leader (transcript edited for clarity):
[The number of members belonging to Soka Gakkai] are assumed to be about 8 million Japanese, which makes it by far the largest religious congregation and one that votes religiously. [If you add children]… they probably have around 10 million [members], which is 1/12 of the Japanese population. When you think about it, that mass of individuals has a mysterious, unseen mortal leader who has to be succeeded. And there’s one of the issues that is always, again, drumbeat in the background: what happens when he’s gone? What happens when he’s gone? And he may indeed even be gone, but they just haven’t made it public.
The Political Power of Soka Gakkai
Komeito made a political alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 1999. By being part of that coalition, Komeito has played an important role in Japan’s one-party democracy. They have been a check on the militaristic, nationalistic goals of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (when he was alive) and the extreme right of the LDP — which wants to remove “pacifism,” “popular sovereignty,” and “basic human rights” from Japan’s post-war constitution.
Komeito and Soka Gakkai may not hold a majority. But in a country where election turnout can be lower than 50%, a group of people who vote religiously can make or break a candidacy. (Pardon the pun.)
The LDP understands the power of this partner constituency. Komeito and Soka Gakkai have become indispensable to their political machine over the years. The LDP has learned religious devotees bring home the vote. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination, further information has come to light regarding the LDP’s cozy relationship with another fanatical religious group, the Unification Church.
However, there’s a big difference between Ikeda and Reverend Sun Myung Moon. At least it can be said that Ikeda has contributed positively to Japanese society.
Ikeda is important for founding Soka Gakkai International, which is the basis of Komeito, the coalition partner of the LDP government. Komeito has had some influence on constraining the security policies of the LDP, forcing Abe to agree to guidelines that limit Japan’s right to exercise collective self-defense based on the 2015 legislation. Komeito has also been an influential advocate opposing revision to article 9 of the Constitution [which renounces war]. The failure to revise article 9 was described by Abe as his greatest regret when he resigned in 2020 following a cascade of crony scandals. Overall, Ikeda’s peace activism and educational initiatives are his greatest legacy.
Looking For Ikeda is a Perilous Task
Yesterday morning on July 13th, Unseen Japan’s Special Projects Team made direct contact with four organizations that we believed could point us in the direction of Ikeda’s current whereabouts. Before setting on their perilous quest, they sent interview requests via registered mail to the four institutions. As a sign of respect, the letter to Ikeda Daisaku sent to Soka Gakkai headquarters was printed on gold-flaked traditional Japanese paper, washi.
Special Correspondent Jake Adelstein and Unseen Japan Journalist Himari Semans approached the headquarters of Soka Gakkai, Komeito, and the party/religious newspapers Komei Shinbun, and Seikyo Shinbun, conveniently but not coincidentally all located in Shinanomachi (信濃町)––––which means “the town of devout believers.” It is sometimes derisively called Soka Gakkai Village.
Our team approached all four organizations with the same line: “We are reporters and would like to schedule an interview with Daisaku Ikeda.” They also had printed interview requests prepared to hand off to each organization.
The responses our team received were… interesting, to say the least.
The Direct Approach
Three out of four organizations refused to even accept their printed interview requests. Adelstein and Semans were only able to hand over their requests only to Komei Shinbun.
Soka Gakkai and Seikyo Shinbun responded in a Kafkaesque fashion. The two organizations told our two reporters that they had to make a phone call to make an appointment. Physically being there and verbally communicating a request to make an appointment was not allowed.
Semans at least wanted to take some photos of the marble and gold Seikyo Shinbun plaque explaining the importance of the newspaper with a statement allegedly written by Ikeda in 2019. She snapped some before the security guard kicked her and Adelstein off the property for taking photos without membership cards.
Komeito was the most unwelcoming. A representative met our reporters outside but clearly wanted them to leave. The male employee accepted their business cards but unapologetically glared at the two from start to finish. He did not introduce himself, share a business card, or state his name, but sent them off with a warning to “make an appointment next time.” Well, he did seem really, really busy.
Ikeda Daisaku is a Hard Man to Reach
The Special Projects Team wouldn’t be the first people to fail at getting an interview with Ikeda. It’s a long, hard road to the master.
In their October 27th, 2011 issue, Shukan Bunshun (週刊文春) published a sensational scoop that alleged Ikeda had been hospitalized after having a stroke (cerebral infarction) and was being taken care of in a special medical facility in Shinjuku Minami Motomachi area. The primary source for the article was the anonymous “Nurse A”. The stroke, combined with his diabetes, had allegedly affected his cognition and he was behaving strangely.
However, roughly two months later in the December 29th, 2011 edition of the magazine, they retracted the article. The magazine explained that Soka Gakkai had issued a complaint stating that such a nurse did not exist. Bunshun was subsequently unable to confirm all the details. The magazine apologized.
There is a question as to whether the article was actually mistaken. A reporter who worked for the magazine told Unseen Japan, “The nurse simply vanished. And with the source gone, we couldn’t prove our case if challenged. Maybe they went into hiding – or were driven into hiding.”
Roads to Nowhere
A few years later in 2013, Bunshun actually published an article by Ikeda’s wife in their monthly magazine. She claimed that doing “radio exercises” (a morning calisthenics routine broadcast on the radio) with the younger members of the organization was part of Ikeda’s daily routine – implying that Ikeda was in good health.
The Asahi Shimbun was granted an interview with Chairman Harada Minoru of Soka Gakkai, published on September 22, 2016. The interviewer timidly asked, “Honorary Chairman Ikeda is now 88 years old. Recently, he’s holding back on public activities. How’s his health?”
Harada answered, “Oh, he’s doing great. These days he’s focusing on his writing.”
Harada added that he had seen Ikeda that summer at a study session.
The interviewer rejoined, “Is he capable of making important decisions?”
Harada snapped back, “Of course. It’s just that several years ago, he basically entrusted running the organization to the executive group and is just watching over things.”
There was no follow-up evident from the text. None of the questions you’d want to ask, like: “Why are there no recent photos of him? No audio messages? No videos?”
When it comes to the mysterious Asahi interview with the current president, in all likelihood, the questions were provided in advance and the answers were prepared as well. This is done routinely in Japan. No surprise questions, no surprise answers. Everyone reads their lines and goes home.
In Parliament, this practice is so established that “the answer sheet,” known as a tobensho (答弁書), is sometimes leaked to the press before the questions are even asked. And the media reports any information found within as, “according to the prepared answer sheet…”
The Show Must Go On
Former Soka Gakkai members have speculated that Ikeda’s current condition is kept secret because the lack of his leadership would lead to a huge power vacuum. There is brewing discontent within Soka Gakkai about how Komeito has gone too far in cuddling up to the LDP, betraying the pacifist principles Ikeda espoused. Former zealous member Amano Tatsushi criticized the organization for failing to live up to Ikeda’s lofty principles and was banished from the organization. They then slapped Amano with a hefty lawsuit.
Maybe it doesn’t really matter if Ikeda is alive and well. But his organization seems to be making its best efforts to convince the world that he is. And in time-honored fashion, the Japanese media just plays along. Mostly.
Thus when Soka Gakkai announced that Ikeda would be making a special statement timed to the Hiroshima G7 Summit, almost every media outlet, including NHK, reported it without question or reservation.
The average person would assume that he must still be alive. That’s if you believe that Ikeda always writes everything that has his name attached to it.
Former members of Soka Gakkai say that isn’t true.
Ghostwriting the Leader?
「実名告発 創価学会」(Exposing Soka Gakkai Using Real Names) is a book written by former Soka Gakkai employees who were kicked out of the headquarters because they openly condemned Soka Gakkai’s authoritarian executives. They accused the top dogs of changing the pacifist religious organization into something entirely different.
In light of Soka Gakkai’s pledge to peace, the authors call out the hypocrisy of Komeito’s approval of Japan’s military build-up. It detailed how bureaucratic and authoritarian executives removed anyone who dared to voice contrary opinions. The men held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan which you can watch here.
The authors claim that a great deal of Ikeda’s work was written by other people, even when he was at his best. But they insist that even if they were writing on his behalf, at least they were writing it with sincerity and an understanding of his beliefs.
As far as we know, [many columns and articles written by Ikeda] ‘Messages to Meetings’, ‘Message to Our Friends,’ and ‘A Collection of Dialogues’, etc have been entrusted by the Master (Ikeda Daisaku) to his disciples since the time we were staff at headquarters. The scale of Master’s writings, liaison activities, and encouragement to the members of the Society was extraordinary. The Master entrusted these activities to more than 100 HQ staff members, including the Member Service Bureau, the First General Affairs Bureau, the Seikyo Shimbun reporters, and the International Office. Even if he entrusted the work to his disciples, the Master’s will and spirit were clearly present…..
However, the ‘substitute writing (代筆)’, under the current circumstances in which the Master seems unable to judge things and express his own will, not only loses the will and spirit of the Master, but may be an attempt to justify the injustices of the executive committee at headquarters. It is nothing more than taking advantage of the Master.
A Mystery Yet Unsolved
It’s a strange thing to imagine.
It’s not odd to think that Ikeda Daisaku had and still has ghostwriters. What’s odd is that only a few people know whether the ghostwriters are indeed writing for a ghost.
Any rational person or news organization that wasn’t afraid of its shadow should be asking some tough questions to Soka Gakkai and Komeito. They should be asking for proof-of-life. Why do they still seem to pretend that Ikeda is in perfect health, sending out an occasional missive from his self-imposed exile, which they obligingly print?
We asked Ikeda to clarify the situation for us but at the time of this posting we still have not heard back from him.
To Be Continued…
In Part 2 of Where In The World Is Ikeda Daisaku? (already safely in the hands of the editors) we’ll be asking another question:
Why doesn’t the Japanese media do their job when it comes to reporting on Ikeda Daisaku?
The short answer is simple: fear. Fear of losing money, fear of missing a chance to make money, and fear for their own lives. Join us next week for a deeper dive.
Meanwhile, if you spot Ikeda Sensei around anywhere, maybe on an evening stroll through Shinnanomachi, or on the elliptical machine at your local gym, or dining on first-grade fatty tuna (大トロ)–his favorite– at the local sushi shop, please drop us a tip at SpecialProjects@unseenjapan.com
Article by Jake Adelstein, Himari Semans, and The Unseen Japan Special Projects Team (UST). Cover art by Illumiknobi.