Historical general election looms in the east

If you want Japan to become a theocracy, launch a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, and rearm for war with China, then... Vote Happiness

As an historical general election looms on 31 August, Japan's long-suffering electorate face a clear choice: vote for the conservative party that has virtually monopolised power since 1955, or opt for its more liberal but untested rival which promises reform.

For those with a taste for the apocalyptic, however, there is always the Happiness Realisation Party.

Offering what it calls a "third choice", the HRP has an eye-catching manifesto: multiply Japan's population by two-and-a-half to 300 million, overtake America to become the planet's leading power, pre-emptively strike North Korea and rearm for war with China. If elected, the party's MPs will inject religion into all areas of life and fight to overcome Japan's "colonial" mentality, which has "fettered" the nation's true claim to global leadership.

A Happiness commercial posted on YouTube this week lays out the stakes: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is preparing to nuke Tokyo's Imperial Palace, bring Japan to its knees and enslave its people. "Japan will be unable to do anything about this because of its constitution," Mr Kim sneers in the clip, referring to the so-called "pacifist" clause – Article 9 – of the 1947 document, written under US occupation, which renounces the right to wage war.

Against pictures of a mushroom cloud exploding over Tokyo and red ink slowly drowning the nation, the narrator warns that China ultimately lurks behind this plot. "With a population of 1.3 billion, China will rule the world," intones the voice of Mr Kim. "And North Korea will be number two." Neither the ruling Liberal Democrats (LDP) nor their likely successors, the Democrats (DPJ), have an answer to this threat, says the party. "The very existence of the nation hangs in the balance."

For those wondering how the narrator is privy to the thoughts of probably the world's most reclusive leader, the answer is simple: the Happies apparently have a hotline directly to his subconscious.

A book released this week, The Guardian Spirit of Kim Jong-il Speaks by Happiness founder Ryuho Okawa, explains that the voice of Mr Kim's guardian angel warned him of the North's plans. Master Okawa also tunes in to the thoughts of Japan's wartime monarch, Emperor Hirohito and his deceased predecessors.

Being able to communicate with the dead is but one string to Master Okawa's bow. A reincarnation of Buddha, the party's website records how he achieved Great Enlightenment in 1981, "and awakened to the hidden part of his consciousness, El Cantare, whose mission is to bring happiness to all humanity". Before he founded the Happy Science religion in 1986 Master Okawa wrote books in which he channelled the spirits of Mohamed, Christ, Buddha, Confucius and Mozart. Conveniently, if improbably speaking in Japanese, the prophets had much the same message: Japan is the world's greatest power and should ditch its constitution, re-arm and take over Asia.

Master Okawa, 53, a finance graduate of New York's City University, has reportedly written 500 books. His wife, Kyoko, officially the leader of the Happiness Realisation Party – Happy Science's political wing – is also a Buddhist saint: the reborn Aphrodite and the Bodhisattva of wisdom and intellect. So far at least, the Japanese press has largely ignored this exotic third choice. For many here, the Happies smell suspiciously like a cult, but the party itself is certainly taking the election seriously. In a rare interview with the respected magazine Bungei Shunju this month, Master Okawa explained that the party has fielded candidates in every electoral district in the country – more than the ruling LDP. "Organisationally, we are stronger than either the LDP or DPJ," he boasted, citing Happy Science's network of believers.

Asked if it was true that he decided to enter politics after being contacted by the spirits, he replies: "Yes, it's true. But it's up to people to decide whether to believe it or not."

The Happies claim to have sold 11 million copies of their bible, Shoshin Hogo (The Dharma of the Right Mind) in Japan since 1986, and opened 200 local temples. Master Okawa's books, mixing new age philosophy with extreme neo-liberal views, have sold millions more, reportedly providing the funding for their campaign. Startlingly, Master Okawa claims that 100 MPs in the Japanese parliament also support their beliefs.

Followers say they are attracted to Master Okawa's support for a strong, resolute nation after enduring nearly two decades of economic and social problems that have sapped Japan's confidence. "Japan is pitiful today," says Hirok Hirota, 52, a Happy Science member who works as a nurse in Tokyo. "We can't keep depending on the US and the rest of the world. We have to stand up for ourselves."

Those views, and the Happies' programme of tough love and self-help, echo the Christian fundamentalist movement in the US, points out Tomohiro Machiyama, a journalist who was once sued by Happy Science for criticising them in print. "It's the idea that you're the elite, the ones chosen by God. It's an attempt to bring Social Darwinism to Japanese politics."

Translating those beliefs into political power has proved easier said than done. Tokyo voters shunned the Happies' candidates in this month's municipal election, which ended LDP rule in the city and set the DPJ up for a historic national win next month.

"Parties that are too openly backed by a religious organisation have a really hard time getting broader support in Japan," explains Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Tokyo's Sophia University. New Komeito, the LDP's coalition partner, which has Buddhist roots, is a rare exception.

Tokyoites had their fill of apocalyptic cults in the 1990s when Aum Shinrikyo – also led by a guru who could communicate with the spirits – gassed the Tokyo subway in 1995 in a bizarre plot to take over the government. Twelve people died and 5,000 were injured in what remains Japan's worst terrorist attack.

Mr Machiyama sees obvious parallels with the Happies. "They both attract people who consider themselves elites," he said. "Aum followers were highly educated but they were social losers. They wondered 'Why can't I get ahead?'"

Shoko Egawa, an investigative journalist who was almost murdered by Aum followers after she sounded early alarm bells, has also noted the similarities – Aum famously turned deadly after its unappealing stew of religion, doomsday science and politics was rejected by voters in 1990. Its attack came as Japan struggled with the fallout from a profound economic transition that has only deepened since. "The worry is what will happen to Happy Science after they fail in this election," says Ms Egawa.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit