New religious movements arising out of a person’s spiritual possession aren’t uncommon in Japan. Many of those that emerged pre- and postwar traced their beginnings to a single, awe-inspiring visitation from God. The True Light Supra-Religious Organization, or Sukyo Mahikari (崇教真光), is no exception.
Divinity Through Exorcism
Much like the new religious movement Happy Science, Sukyo Mahikari purports to seek true happiness through the practice of universal principles (崇教; sukyo), as well as the salvation of both this world and the astral world. To do this, it’s necessary to drive out moral and physical impurities through exorcism.
These “miracles” are performed using the Mahikari treatment, in which a person is purified by the healing energy radiating from the palm. Only those ordained with a special amulet or omitama can perform this treatment.
Their headquarters are in Takayama City in Gifu Prefecture, but Sukyo Mahikari boasts centers all over the globe (the closest one to me is in San Francisco). They dabble in organic agriculture and boast numerous charity causes, and in 2013 claimed to have over one million adherents worldwide. New religion movements have a penchant for obfuscating actual numbers, however, so the real number of believers is likely less than reported. The organization also encourages monetary offerings — cash preferred — and the bigger your spiritual problem, the larger the donation needed to purify yourself.
It’s not all true light and harmony, however.
The movement harbors anti-Semitic and doomsday beliefs, similar to those of the infamous Aum Shinrikyo cult. The founder of Sukyo Mahikari himself was supposedly instrumental in planning the horrific Nanjing Massacre. Former members say far-right politicians like Ishihara Shintaro (石原 慎太郎) have appeared numerous times in Sukyo Mahikari propaganda. And one source claims a Sukyo Mahikari member was instrumental in purchasing a property in Australia for Aum Shinrikyo, on which a strange, unexplained explosion occurred in 1993.
Needless to say, there’s more to Sukyo Mahikari than meets the eye.
The Divine Journey of Okada KotamaThis personal confrontation with the limits of Western medicine planted the seed for Sukyo Mahikari's antipathy for modern medicine. Click To Tweet
Okada Yoshikazu (岡田 良一) was born in 1901 in Tokyo. He hailed from a prominent samurai family and followed accordingly in his father’s footsteps, attending military school and serving in the imperial army. While serving overseas, he fell from his horse and injured his spine. A medical examination revealed he had Pott disease (tuberculosis of the spine). Doctors told him he had at most three years to live. This personal confrontation with the limits of Western medicine planted the seed for Sukyo Mahikari’s antipathy for modern medicine.
Okada had no intention of wasting those three years. He invested all his savings in military aircraft construction — an unwise move, as those factories were destroyed in the 1945 Tokyo firebombing. Financially destitute and riddled with debt, Okada sought relief in the new religious movement Church of World Messianity (世界救世教; Sekai Kyūsei Kyō) founded in 1935 by Okada Mokichi (岡田茂吉). Okada Mokichi believed impurities in the body and soul could be banished with an amulet and by channeling healing energy through someone’s raised palm, known as tekazashi (手かざし). He claimed he received the ability to heal people from God following a divine possession, or kamigakari (神懸かり).
Okada’s Lifechanging Divine Possession
Okada quickly rose up the ranks and became the head of a Messianity center. In 1959, finally free from debt, Okada experienced his kamigakari. As he tossed and turned in a fever dream, Okada found himself in the astral world, and before him, a white-haired elderly man washed clothes in a golden tub. Okada interpreted this as an ordained mission from the Great Parent, Original Lord, God of True Light (御親元主真光大御神; Mioya Motosu Mahikari Ōmikami) to “cleanse” the world. Five days later on his birthday, Okada woke up to a divine voice speaking to him. This kamigakari granted him the ability to perform tekazashi.
There’s been some debate over what exactly this heavenly voice told Okada. According to the official Sukyo Mahikari website, this voice said, 起て、光玉と名のれ。手をかざせ。厳しき世となるべし (“Get up. Change your name to Kotama [“Jewel of Light”]. Raise your hand. The world will encounter severe times.”) However, another source claims the command to “Raise your hand” was inserted after Okada’s death, implying Okada did not gain the miraculous ability to perform tekazashi during his divine possession.The Pope was reportedly so impressed by the Mahikari treatment that he instructed his priests to study the healing technique. Click To Tweet
Scholarly research posits many aspects of Okada’s new religion could have been cherry-picked from other new religious movements gaining traction at the time, like Sekai Kyusei Kyo, Chidorikai, Makoto no Michi Kyokai, and the overarching Omoto religion. But outside of academia, Okada’s previous religious affiliations don’t appear to be widely publicized. After all, it wouldn’t look good if Okada’s first divine revelation wasn’t actually as spontaneous as is generally believed.
Sunlight Children Friends Association
However Okada came by his revelation, he was now full of divine purpose under the new name Okada Kotama. One text has Okada healing a wounded dog. Another posits a wary Okada attributing his new power to a fox or badger spirit:
“[H]e did not take these revelations seriously at first. However, when he held up his hand [performed tekazashi] as directed by God, a blind person’s eyes opened and a crippled person was able to stand up…. Thus he was unable to deny the validity of the Revelations granted him by God.”
He named his new organization Sunlight Children Friends Association (陽光子友乃会; Yōkōshi Tomo no Kai). In 1963 he registered his religion as the World True-Light Civilization (世界真光文明教団; Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan). Aside from his constant harping about evil spirits, his religion didn’t differ much from the Church of Messianity. He attracted more followers after he performed his purification treatment on the television program “Afternoon Show” in 1968. Some reports posit the number of Mahikari followers to be between 300,00 and 400,000 in 1970.
Okada also collected various additional titles — Savior, Messiah Number One, Sacred Phoenix, and so on. As Mahikari attracted more converts, Okada helpfully continued to have divine revelations. Disciples later compiled these revelations in a single volume, treated as the scriptures of Mahikari, or Goseigen (御聖言; Holy Words). In 1973 Okada had the privilege of a private audience with Pope Paul VI. The Pope was reportedly so impressed by the Mahikari treatment that he instructed his priests to study the healing technique.
The Mahikari Treatment and Mu
After completing a three-day introductory course on the miraculous Mahikari treatment, members are given an amulet and the ability to perform tekazashi. Only through the Mahikari treatment can the body be purified of illness and misfortune. Most of these impurities lingering in the human body are blamed on evil spirits.
Some of these evil spirits are more stubborn than others, and members often claim to have “spirit seizures” which range from slight twitching of the fingers to full-blown body convulsions. Scholar Winston Davis spent some time with the Sukyo Mahikari branch in Nakayama City, interviewing members on the types of spirits behind their possessions. Ancestral and human spirits were the most common, but animal spirits also plagued the members, including foxes, badgers, cats, and even a bear from the Nakayama zoo. Conveniently, most of these seizures tend to occur at a Sukyo Mahikari dojo (道場) in the presence of other members.
Aside from purifying the body and soul, the Mahikari treatment also supposedly prepares the person for the end times. Okada Kotama believed a “baptism of fire” (火の洗礼; hi no senrei) would destroy the world. Only those who joined Sukyo Mahikari would be saved.
Japan is the Center of Everything
In intermediate and advanced courses, members learn more about Mahikari’s cosmological foundation. According to Goseigen, Japan was part of an ancient gigantic landmass called Mu. While drawing up the blueprints of humanity, Su-god created the Five Colored Races — yellow, white, red, purple, and blue-green. The yellow race was the most supreme, and within that race, the Japanese were dominant over the Korean and Chinese.
Su-god sent his descendant Sumera Mikoto to act as his proxy and ruler on Mu. Sumera Mikoto sent Japanese regents all over Mu to help rule over his empire. (Tutankhamen was one of these regents and ordered the pyramids built to honor the Japanese imperial family.) Thanks to these regents, humans learned to hunt, read, write, and build ships. Ancient “records” indicate that various religious figures — Moses, Jesus Christ, Buddha, to name a few — visited Japan to seek enlightenment and wisdom from Su-god. Under the benevolent rule of Japan and her regents, Mu flourished, achieving cultural and technological advances unparalleled in today’s world.
A Borrowed Myth
Alas, Mu found itself enslaved to materialism and grew haughty with pride. A disastrous intermarriage between the Sun and Moon tribes lead to fierce nuclear warfare between Mu and Atlantis. As a result, the last king of Mu warned that Su-god would destroy Mu if the people did not correct their ways. (Mu also supposedly fought with Venus and other planets.)
Unsurprisingly, his warnings went unheeded. The last king of Mu predicted that a new civilization would arise out of Mu’s remains. Then, he vanished under the waves.
Okada didn’t create the myth of Mu. He borrowed the concept of the sunken continent from the British writer James Churchward. Churchward penned such tomes as The Lost Continent of Mu and The Children of Mu. However, Japan wasn’t at the forefront in Churchward’s writings. That likely didn’t sit well with Japanese imperialist Okada, who positioned the Emperor, and therefore Japan, as the center of civilization. And really, what’s a new religion without a dash of ethnocentric imperialism?
Battling for Spiritual SupremacyParsing through Sukyo Mahikari's convoluted teachings reveals Okada's belief that the Holocaust was justified – that Su-god punished the Jews for the failure to save King Solomon's Temple. Click To Tweet
Okada’s declining health in 1974 prompted his close disciples to bring up the issue of succession. This led to the creation of different Mahikari factions. Two contenders for the coveted role of oshienushi (教え主; spiritual leader) appeared — Okada’s adopted daughter Sachiko, and the entrepreneurial businessman Sekiguchi Sakae.
Following Okada’s death in July 1974, Sachiko adopted the spiritual name Keiju (恵珠) and gained control of the religion’s assets. Sekiguchi took his case to the courts. In 1978, the Supreme Court concurred with the lower courts’ decision that Sekiguchi was the lawful oshienushi.
Okada Keiju relocated to Kanagawa Prefecture and renamed the movement Sukyo Mahikari. Meanwhile, Sekiguchi kept the religion’s original name. Despite Sekiguchi’s victory, Keiju’s faction retained power over the majority of the country’s dojo and the main shrine.
Not long after, Sukyo Mahikari began construction in Takayama City in Gifu Prefecture of a world shrine named Su-za to house Su-god. Not to be outdone, Sekiguchi’s faction began construction of their own Su-za shrine on the Izu peninsula. Both factions claim their shrine is the true abode of Su-god, built according to Okada’s wishes.
Under the new oshienushi, Sukyo Mahikari began dabbling in farming, promoting a type of organic agriculture called yoko agriculture (陽光農法; youkou nouhou). The practice supposedly cultivates respect for nature and the environment. Practitioners also work to nurture the light within. They believe they can purify the soil through farming and gardening sans pesticides and chemicals. Sukyo Mahikari established the Yoko Civilization Research Institute in 1985. The Institute hosts symposiums and conferences exploring the intersection between science, nature, and religion.
Anti-Semitism, Lost in Translation, and Aum Shinrikyo
Like any new religious movement, Sukyo Mahikari isn’t without criticism. Various European countries have placed Sukyo Mahikari on their cult watchlist.
In 2005, Sukyo Mahikari faced backlash over their substantial donation to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Japanese Cultural Center. Indeed, faculty members versed in Japanese culture were quick to point out Sukyo Mahikari is an anti-Semitic cult. Parsing through Sukyo Mahikari’s convoluted teachings reveals Okada’s belief that the Holocaust was justified, and that Su-god punished the Jews for the failure to save King Solomon’s Temple. Su-god spared one group of Jews — the group in Japan, of course.
The site Mahikari Exposed compiles former members’ testimonies and reveals the darker workings and lies behind the religion. Many point out the discrepancies in English translations of Sukyo Mahikari doctrine. The official website doesn’t mention Okada’s previous religious affiliations or its doomsday beliefs.
On a mixi board for victims of Mahikari, one anonymous user shared the story of her sick aunt. She joined Sukyo Mahikari believing the true light would cure her. She ended up dying in the hospital. Meanwhile, another user shared how they were brainwashed for 13 years.
The connections between Sukyo Mahikari and Aum Shinrikyo also can’t be ignored. Japanese-born Australian citizen Shimada Yasuko helped establish Sukyo Mahikari’s Australian branch, and according to a former leader of the Australian branch, she supposedly helped Aum Shinrikyo operatives purchase Banjawarn, a 500,000-acre sheep farm in Western Australia. Banjawarn was the site of scientific experiments and a mysterious seismic event, often attributed to a nuclear explosion.
Sukyo Mahikari has been labeled a cult by experts and former members alike, although they deny it in their FAQ. As with any self-proclaimed new religious movement, it’s best to approach with caution.
In conclusion, if you’re in Japan and are approached by an amulet-wearing individual promising to heal you with the “true light”, definitely think twice before following them. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
What to Read Next
 Sukyo Mahikari Web site. Link
 Nanjing Massacre. Link
 Shintaro Ishihara. Link
 Darkness – or True Light? Link
 Yoko Civilization Research Institute. Link
 Mahikari Exposed. Link
 真光被害者の会＠mixi. Link
 Mahikari and AUM: In the Grip of the Black Hand. Link
 Seismic Mystery in Australia: Quake, Meteor or Nuclear Blast? Link
 Frequently Asked Questions. Link
Broder, Anne. “Mahikari in Context: Kamigakari, Chinkon kishin, and Psychical Investigation in Ōmoto-lineage Religions.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 35/2: 331–362. 2008.
Davis, Winston. Dojo: Magic and Exorcism in Modern Japan. Stanford University Press, 1980.