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.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering