Daisaku Ikeda Dies: Soka Gakkai Leader Left Mark in Politics, Private Diplomacy

As the leader of one of the largest religious organizations in Japan, Daisaku Ikeda can be said to have left a significant mark in various fields, including politics, culture and education.

Ikeda, who led the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai for many years as its president and honorary president, has died. He was 95.

He became the third president of Soka Gakkai in 1960 at the young age of 32 and expanded the organization. Currently, 8.27 million households are said to be members.

The fact that Ikeda made various policy proposals and continued to advocate for the importance of peace and human rights is believed to have led to the acquisition of many members.

In 1964, he founded the political party Komeito and gained ground in politics, but the relationship between Komeito and Soka Gakkai has always stirred controversy over the issue of politics and religion.

In 1969, Soka Gakkai came under fierce criticism for violating the principle of “separation of state and religion” as stipulated in the Constitution, when it attempted to use political pressure to stop the publication of a book critical of Soka Gakkai.

In response, Ikeda declared a “separation of state and religion,” organizationally separating Soka Gakkai and Komeito.

Komeito formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democratic Party in 1999, and it is said that the aim was to avoid Ikeda being summoned to testify as a sworn witness in the Diet.

After Komeito formed the coalition, many politicians, including former Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe, met with Ikeda unofficially. His influence in political circles as the head of Komeito’s support group was significant.

It will be closely watched to see how Komeito’s support structure will be affected by the loss of the party’s charismatic founder.

In recent national elections, Soka Gakkai, as Komeito’s main support body, has been losing its ability to garner votes. In this environment, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi’s skill will be tested as to how he will maintain the party’s strength.

Ikeda’s own “private diplomacy” can be cited as one of his achievements. He had strong connections with key Chinese figures and played an important role in improving Japan-China relations.

His proposal for the normalization of ties between the two countries in 1968 spurred both governments to enter negotiations to that end. In 2008, when then Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Japan, Ikeda met with him at Hu’s strong request.

Upon Ikeda’s death, the Global Times, an affiliate of the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, in a brief report praised him for his efforts, saying that he had contributed to China-Japan friendship and cultural, educational and youth exchanges. This appears to be an indication of the importance of Ikeda’s presence in Sino-Japanese relations.

Ikeda also held talks with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev immediately after the end of the Cold War. This year, he announced a proposal for an early end to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 19, 2023)