Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Transplantation of Soka Gakkai to Brazil: Building "The Closest Organization to the Heart of Ikeda-Sensei"

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Transplantation of Soka Gakkai to Brazil: Building "The Closest Organization to the Heart of Ikeda-Sensei"

Article excerpt

Up to the 1980s, Buddhist influence in Brazil was, at best, exiguous and marginal. The Buddhist Society of Brazil, established in 1923 by Theosophists, was short-lived, and was only reestablished in 1955 with little public visibility and activity. In areas with a high concentration of Japanese-Brazilians, temples, and monks of different denominations were the closest contact some Brazilians had with this religious tradition. Still, it was chiefly a "Japanese thing" or an alien practice "for Japanese." Zen's appeal to some intellectuals from the 1960s was a limited phenomenon, somehow related to the counterculture movement in the country. From the 1980s on, the media was instrumental in popularizing Buddhism in Brazil, particularly Zen and the newcomer Tibetan Buddhism. This follows a trend in the United States called "Tibetan chic." Against this background, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is becoming familiar to many Brazilians as it receives more social visibility and legitimacy. This article initially presents the history of SGI expansion from Japanese immigrants to Brazilians. The focus then changes to its organizational structure and activities. Finally, some remarkable aspects of Brazil-SGI are highlighted to show the particular trajectory of the movement.

keywords: Soka Gakkai - SGI - Nichiren Buddhism - Ikeda Daisaku - NSB - ecology - literacy - Ichijoji

Just five months after being inaugurated as the third Soka Gakkai president in 1960, Ikeda Daisaku (born 1928) traveled abroad to launch the world diffusion of Nichiren Buddhism (kosen rufu) and, simultaneously, collect material to built the Grand Reception Hall (Daikyakuden) at Taisekiji. During his first trip, he opened the first overseas branches that later reported to Soka Gakkai International, which was established in 1975. In so doing, Ikeda was imprinting an international orientation to his movement.

SGI started off in Brazil as a loose movement of postwar Japanese immigrants. Its systematic diffusion in the country came later in the context of the global agenda imposed by Ikeda. The movement faced different sources of hindrances and challenges but overall has been successful. Its history in Brazil can be divided into six distinct periods as follows:1

PIONEERING PERIOD (LATE 1950S)

The first SGI members arrived in Brazil in the late 1950s, after the movement was rebuilt in Japan from what survived following the Japanese government's repression. When Ikeda visited the country in 1960, he was informed "that the membership numbered some one hundred households, spread throughout the country, and that the members there had held several discussion meetings" (Ikeda 1998, 232).

These pioneers were newcomers in the country and were thus still settling in on the occasion of Ikeda's visit. They counted on published materials from Japan to keep up their practice and activities, which were basically limited to the family circle and/or a few neighbors and friends.

PERIOD OF STRUCTURING AND LEGALIZATION (1960-1965)

On 2 October 1960, the thirty-two year old Ikeda Daisaku left Japan to visit nine cities in three different countries: the United States (CUSA and Hawai'i), Canada, and Brazil. Ikeda and his entourage arrived in São Paulo in the first hours of 19 October, a date that came to be celebrated as the "Brazil-SGI Foundation Day." Between twenty and thirty people welcomed the group at the airport.

The next day, Ikeda held a discussion meeting with approximately one hundred and forty members in a Japanese restaurant hall in Liberdade, the most important Japanese neighborhood in the city of São Paulo. This meeting is considered to be the first Brazilian "convention" in which the creation of the first chapter outside Japan was announced. The "Brazilian Chapter" was initially composed of three districts and included a Young Men's Division (YMD) and a Young Women's Division (YWD).

In January 1962, the Brazilian Chapter already counted eight districts. …

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