Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of the Japanese Presence in Asia, Europe, and America

By Harumi Befu; Sylvie Guichard-Anguis | Go to book overview

6

Soka Gakkai in Germany

The story of a qualified success

Sanda Ionescu

The overseas development of Japanese religions has, until recently, been tightly linked to Japanese emigration policies (Shimazono 1992, 1993; Shimpo 1995). 1 Not surprisingly, it is in regions such as Hawaii, the West Coast of the United States, and South America, where there are well-established Japanese communities, that Japanese movements have been most successful, although different movements appear to have succeeded in different countries and for a variety of reasons. What are we to make, though, of Japanese religions that seek to expand in regions where there is little Japanese immigration and little shared history or cultural background, such as the European countries?

Studying the history and the present-day development of a religion such as Soka Gakkai in Germany raises many questions about the globalization of ideologies and cultures. 2 To what extent can a religion, which has arisen under specific historical and cultural circumstances, 3 become relevant to people belonging to entirely different social, cultural, and temporal contexts? Is it chance or strategy that determines the successful transplantation of a religion beyond its national borders? How much does the religion seeking to enter a foreign culture with proselytizing intentions have to take into account certain core elements of the host culture, and can it do that without losing its specificity and authenticity? Although religion has traditionally been linked with particular cultures, it has always had claims to universality as well. In other words, religious communication has been structured around the immanent/transcendent polarity (Beyer 1994:101). Religion has been and - in many instances, particularly among the new religions - claims to be still relevant and applicable to almost any situation; yet how are we to reconcile that with the modern world of specialized systems that offer alternatives to the religious solution, thereby displacing, marginalizing, or privatizing these religious approaches (Beyer 1994)?

It is clear that Soka Gakkai acts as a sort of cultural broker, managing a flow of meaning between two very different socioreligious contexts and seeking to articulate its identity as a third culture in both local and global terms. But how does it do that? And to what extent are there tensions, or even downright contradictions, between the globalizing aims of a transnational religious organization and the political and legal systems of

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