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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'