Serendipity has given RocketNews24 an inside look at the controversial religion currently making headlines: Happy Science.
Although founded in 1986, the Happy Science religious movement has been frequently mentioned in the news recently after 22-year-old actor Fumika Shimizu (Kamen Rider, Hentai Kamen, Aikatsu!) announced her early retirement from show-business to devote herself to the religious group.
The news reminded our own Japanese-language writer Go Hattori of an encounter he had with Happy Science, and its founder Ryuho Okawa, back in 1994. Since he was only 15 at the time, don’t expect this to be a deeply probing look at the religion, but it is an interesting look at how these burgeoning faiths used to operate in Japan at one time, and how casually people used to view them.
One winter day in 1994, Go walked into the kitchen to find his mother holding an envelope with a troubled expression on her face. As he approached her he could see that she had a “platinum ticket” for some kind of “Happy Science” performance at Tokyo Dome. The value of the ticket was 10,000 yen (US$100 at the time).
Go asked his mother where she got it and she explained that some acquaintance who belonged to the group gave it to her and recommended that she “check it out.”
However, she had absolutely no interest in Happy Science. Their family did not have any specific religious beliefs, but Go and his sister had heard of Aum Shinrikyo and followed their activities through media coverage like many kids did at the time. Aum Shinrikyo had some pretty far-out ideas that appealed the inherent curiosity of youth, like explaining how cell phones were a form of mind control, and outing Japanese celebrities and politicians as Freemasons.
Go’s mom said she wouldn’t go, but he didn’t want to let a 10,000-yen ticket go to waste. Furthermore, if the person who sent it asked how the show was, what would they say?
Taking a trip to Tokyo Dome also sounded much more appealing than studying for his exams, so Go feigned a heavy sigh, snatched up the ticket and told his mom, “Okay, okay! I’ll go then.”
The event took place on 18 December, 1994. It was an unusually cold day as Go walked down the street leading up to Tokyo Dome and Korakuen Hall, where he had seen performances from Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling and Antonio Inoki’s New Japan Pro Wrestling.
It’s worth noting that pro-wrestling shows were 15-year-old Go’s only frames of reference for live events and would shape how he interpreted the scene that was about to unfold.
“Boy, everyone walking in the same direction as I am is a Happy Science believer,” Go thought as he headed to the venue. He didn’t judge these people, however. To him Happy Science was just as valid as any other faith people choose to follow. Also, if they were willing to give him a 10,000 yen show, then heck, they were okay in his book.
Young and alone, Go nervously found his seat in the upper-deck of Tokyo Dome. From there he could see everything and noticed lots of empty patches of seats. However, those filled up gradually as the start time approached. Next thing he knew, he was surrounded on all sides by older people he didn’t know.
Go learned afterwards that this show had been broadcast live all over Japan to a total of nine million people. If that was true then it must have been one of the biggest religious rallies in history…if it was true.
As the stadium filled up some new age music played over the loudspeakers and some dancers performed by carrying around one of those dragons on sticks, like what you might see at a Chinese festival.
After the performance, the music began to swell, the lights slowly dimmed, and clouds of smoke formed on the floor of the stadium. Go grew excited as the main event was surely about to start. He wasn’t sure what was coming, but he was sure it was going to be big.
…and it was.
Go: “HOLY CRAP, WHAT IS THAT?!!”
Riding on the head of a giant dragon was the El Cantare (leader) of Happy Science himself, Ryuho Okawa. Needless to say, Go was impressed by his entrance, but not as much as those around him. Go heard sobbing and looked to his left only to find an older man with tears streaming down his face and an emotion-induced runny-nose.
“Things are about to get full-on,” thought go, but he still had no idea what was going on. Then Okawa, dressed in an extravagant costume, began to speak.
“There are two demons in modern Japan,” he proclaimed, “One is the mass media! The other is…RELIGIONNNnnnn-ah!”
Go wondered what the “demon religion” was that Okawa referred to, but he got excited that it might be Aum. He fantasized that the two sects were like rival gangs who would settle their differences at a royal rumble on pay-per-view.
But before Okawa was going to get to that part, he had to explain the evil in the Japanese mass media which, unbeknownst to Go, was something that would rattle his very core and stay with him to this day.
Okawa: “HAIR NUDES are turning all of Japan into a hell of carnal desire!”
Out of nowhere, Okawa decided to open his religious sermon to young Go and 9 million other people with… “hair nudes.”
By the way, “hair nude” is a Japanese term for pornography which reveals the hair of a woman’s nether-regions. Although, it didn’t go much beyond Playboy level nudity, it was still a controversial level of exposure of the human body for Japan at one time.
The speech went something like the following, but bear in mind that this is paraphrased from Go’s own memory of the rally which took place over 20 years ago.
Okawa: “First of all, there are many types of hell, and among them is the hell of carnal desire. If you live a life based on sexual desire, you will fall into this hell. However, the mass media is turning all of Japan into a hell of carnal desire by manipulating our desire of full-length hair nudes.
Humans who lose their sense of shame become animals, and as such the follow the villainous into the hell of carnal desire. This must Stop-pah! If these magazine publishers want to plunge into hell, so be it! But do not take others down with you-ah!!!”
Go: “Hair nudes… hell of carnal desire…”
Upon hearing this Go thought of his farther whom he knew had bought those kinds of magazines. He then thought about himself who would occasionally sneak a look at those magazines. Looking at the pictures made Go happy, but it was a bad kind of happy.
He was going to hell.
As Go dwelled on this Okawa went on about other problems in the media such as honoring kids who commit suicide after being bullied, and promoting organ donorship from brain-dead patients. These topics were not nearly as important to Go though.
Go: “Hair nudes… Hair nudes… Going to hell.”
Then the main event began…
Okawa: “There is a demon in religion itself…”
Go: “Oh man, Is he gonna talk about Aum!”
Okawa: “There are said to be so-called evil cults!”
Go: “He’s going to say Aum, isn’t he?”
Okawa: “The reason that the reputation of religion has fallen since the war is the number of these cults and the various social problems they cause.”
Go: “Social problems?!”
Caption: “This time is before the Sarin Incident.”
Okawa: “For example…”
Go: “Ah? Here it comes….”
Okawa: “AUM SHINRIKYO!”
Go: “Aw snap!”
Okawa: “THE UNITY CHURCH!”
Go: “Wha…oh, he’s got a beef with them too?”
Okawa: “There was a time when we were considered the same as them. But people who can’t tell the difference aren’t around anymore.”
Go: “Is he saying they aren’t enemies anymore?”
Okawa: “The worst cult of all is surviving and still growing!”
Go: “It’s like the final boss!”
Okawa: “You know who I mean…”
Go: “No way!”
Okawa: “SOKA GAKAI!”
Go: “Oh no he did NOT just go after them too! Hot damn!”
Okawa: “How much has the reputation of new religions dropped because of this religion? I will not allow it!”
Go: “Dude is super pissed!”
For those unfamiliar with Soka Gakkai, it’s a relatively new sect of Buddhism that has evolved into a financial and political powerhouse in Japan and maintains a presence internationally as well. Despite its widespread influence and membership in the millions, many in Japan view the religion with suspicion, although not quite as fervently as Okawa had.
The El Cantare continued in his speech by condemning politicians associated with these “demon cults” and shaming their leaders. But for 15-year-old Go, the whole event seemed to have already climaxed.
However, Okawa had one more crowd-pleaser when he said, “You must not register even a single vote for politicians who support Soka Gakai.” Suddenly, as if Giant Baba had just rushed into the ring and delivered a running neckbreaker to Jumbo Tsuruta the crowd raised their fists in unison and exploded with a singular cry of “OOOOoooohhhhh!”
And then with a few closing remarks and reminding the crowd that he “shan’t forgive evil cults” the show was over.
Go returned home thinking that while it lacked the violence of pro-wrestling, overall, the Happy Science rally was pretty intense. Upon entering the house, his mother asked how it went.
“It was pretty cool,” Go replied briefly. “The guy talked about Aum.” Still in his adolescence, Go couldn’t bring himself to talk about the hair nudes with his mother.
From then on, it seemed that Japan has been spared from turning into a hell of carnal desire…I think, but Okawa had been right about one thing.
Only three months and two days after that rally, on 20 March, 1995, the evil of Aum Shinrikyo would reveal itself. Members of the group launched an attack on the Tokyo subway system, releasing sarin gas which killed 12 people and injured many more.
After that, Go would not be allowed to attend another religious event – not that he wanted to anyway. Things were different after that.