If this was any other country I think you’d assume that a political party named the “Happiness Realization Party” was a hoax (or a bunch of hippies). But this is Japan and if the amount of donations to fight the next election is any gauge, I think it is safe to say that this new party on the Japanese political scene is very serious.
It’s more than likely that you’ve heard their trucks driving around near you because the Happiness Realization Party (幸福実現党) are fielding a candidate in every one of the 300 single-seat electoral districts (小選挙区, shosenkyoku) and if that wasn’t enough they are also providing a list of a whopping 45 candidates for the proportional-representation constituency (比例区, hireiku).*1 While their “uguisujo” (鶯嬢, noisy hired help shouting out politicians names from vans) don’t mention it directly, the Happiness Realization Party are actually a close affiliate of the shinkoshukyu (新興宗教, slightly controversial religion) known as “Happy Science”. The patriarch of the religion is a relatively young fellow called Ryuho Okawa (大川隆法) and until recently his wife, Kyoko (大川きょう子), was the head of the political party.
*1 While I can understand the logic of fielding a candidate in every electorate, surely they party faithful were smoking a little bit much pot when they thought there was any hope of 45 candidates getting through in the hireiku.
The religious group is known for its rich members and huge average donation size. The election seems to be no exception. Happy Science have put their foot on the pedal and demanded that without at least 10 statues of “El Cantare” and 2 “bodhisattvas” per electorate then they won’t be able to field a candidate. That is Happy Science speak for demanding 50 million yen of donations per electorate! (El Cantare is the religious name for Okawa and the group sells his statues (エル・カンターレ像, erukantaarezo) to believers at the bargain basement price of 3 million yen a pop (US$30,000). A ‘super doner’ who donates more than 10 million yen to the religion in a particular year (US$100,000) can automatically gain enlightenment and become a bodhisattva (shokufukubosatsu、植福菩薩).) Simple math shows us that the party is expecting a minimum of 150 oku yen (US$ 150 million) across the 300 electorates plus whatever donations are ‘required’ to assure the victory of their hireiku candidates.
In reality you probably need between 25~35 million yen per candidate to run a basic campaign and cover costs like posters, rent for a campaign office etc. Given that Happy Science are asking for a minimum of 50 million yen per candidate they are clearly budgeting for an aggressive marketing campaign as well. You can get a feel for it on their Youtube channel. Surprisingly for a party with little history, many of their policies are quite creative and some are quite well thought out. (I suppose I should have expected that given that Ohkawa is a graduate of Tokyo University Law (東京大学法学部) and the Grad School of the City University of New York where he studied FX).
Some of their policies include:
- Stimulate spending by scrapping consumption tax, gift tax and also inheritance tax for people who look after their parents in their old age
- Increasing the Japanese population to 300 million (including 100 million immigrants) in order to achieve 4% annualised GDP growth.
- Change the constitution to state clearly Japan’s right to a (slightly offensive) self-defensive force in order to “stop” North Korea. Where necessary Japan should ‘rent’ nuclear weapons from America or Russia and they fund any military expansion by creating a ‘defence fund’ where they offer economic returns to investors.
- Link all of Japan with a linear motor car and encourage North Korea (after achieving peace by assassinating Kim) and China to help build an underwater tunnel so that we can link Japan with the rest of Asia and ultimately the rest of the world with the same train network.
- Remove the ban in the constitution on mixing religion and politics (政教分離原則, seikyobunrigensoku).
I find the final point to be a very interesting topic for debate. Why shouldn’t there be a link between politics and religion? When I asked the question to my local candidate she actually had a pretty good come back. “Look at America. Look at France.” She said, “Can you tell me that Christianity is not a large part of their political power?” I think she is actually right. Why is it “fair” for the Japanese to put up with a constitution and political system forced upon them by General MacArthur (he himself a devout Christian) that denies them of the freedom to vote for a religious politician (especially when Americans have the right to and actively exercise it). When I pushed her a little further (bringing up the ‘problems’ of such a political system that were evident in the second world war), rather than getting defensive she was quick to point out that the problem was within Shinto (神道, the Japanese national religion at the time) and not the concept itself (naruhodo).
I guess the next question is whether or not it makes sense to be comparing Christian political leaders of the Western World with Okawa-san at Happy Science. After all he does claim that he is the incarnation of El Cantare, a 9th degree spirit who was originally sent to the Earth from Venus 600 million years ago. Better yet, he claims that he is a channeller for many religious leaders of the past and so was sent to the Earth to continue the preaching of Jesus, Hermes, Buddha, Confucius and – amongst others – Kim Jong Il.
At it’s peak in the mid 90s, Happy Science was said to have over 10 million members. Perhaps even more interesting is that it is said to have a higher average donation size than other religions and appeal especially to rich people. They fund their extravagant temples around the world (Japan, New York, London, Seoul, etc) they have been known to speculate in volatile shares and also sell numerous religious paraphernalia at egregious prices (up to 1 million yen for pendants, emblems, small statues etc). Their members believe that if they pray hard (and donate) enough that they will be able to achieve personal goals so the sale of kigan (祈願, prayers) (a little like the Ema in shinto. makes a good sign business. Unlike Shinto though, the Happy Science people cut to the chase and offer you kigan for things you really want:
- わが社株高騰祈願 (The shares of my company go up prayer)
- 社長出世祈願 (I become the president of my company prayer)
- 感染症予防祈願 (I don’t catch any diseases prayer)
- 英会話ベラベラ祈願 (Totally fluent in English prayer)
- 天才児養成祈願 (my child turns into a genius prayer)
But they also come at a price (the above cost between USD300 〜 USD30,000). Okawa is said to have written over 500 books but if I was to read only one of them, I’m pretty sure it would be his book on how to run and grow a business (keieinyumon, 経営入門―人材論から事業繁栄まで―). He actually refers to his experience in starting a religion from scratch and building it into the “largest organisation in Japan” in terms of running a business and the power of manipulating people! I guess we should commend him for being honest but gee, isn’t that just a little too transparent?
If nothing else, you’ve got to credit the Happiness Realization Party for the timing of their political run. If there is ever going to be an election where people are willing to vote for someone other than the LDP then this is the year. The voter turnout is likely to be higher this year than it has for decades. That means (for a change) that the pollies elected this year will be closer to a fair representation of what Japanese citizens really want. If there are enough wallys out there to vote in one of their candidates then why shouldn’t that segment of Japanese society (and their kool-aid) be represented in parliament?