Shinshūkyō (新宗教?) is a Japanese term used to describe domestic new religious movements. They are also known as Shinkō shūkyō (新興宗教?) in Japanese, and are most often called simply Japanese new religions in English. Japanese theologians classify all religious organizations founded since the middle of the 19th century as Shinshūkyō. Thus, the term refers to a great diversity and number of organizations. Most came into being in the mid-to-late twentieth century and are influenced by much older traditional religions including Shinto, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Some are syncretic, some share similarities with fundamentalism, and many claim they are not influenced by other religions.

Many regard the Shinshūkyō as cults, and warn against associating with them, as a result of being nervous about their beliefs, their methods and goals, and their methods of persuading others to join them. Modern usage of the terms "cult" or "sect" is usually associated with negative aspects of such groups, so many people have a negative image of organisations labelled as cults or sects. In the West, the best-known Shinshūkyō is probably Aum Shinrikyo, the group which released a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.


Shinshūkyō before World War II

In the 1860s Japan began to experience great social turmoil and rapid modernization. As social conflicts emerged in this last decade of the Tokugawa period, known as the Bakumatsu period, some new religious movements appeared. Among them were Tenrikyo, Kurozumikyo and Oomoto, sometimes called Nihon Sandai Shinkōshūkyō (lit. Japan's three large Shinkōshūkyō), which were directly influenced by Shintō (the state religion) and shamanism.

The social tension continued to grow during the Meiji period, affecting religious practices and institutions. Conversion from traditional faith was no longer legally forbidden, officials lifted the 250-year ban on Christianity, and missionaries of established Christian churches reentered Japan. The traditional syncreticism between Shinto and Buddhism ended and Shinto became the national religion. Losing the protection of the Japanese government which Buddhism had enjoyed for centuries, Buddhist monks faced radical difficulties in sustaining their institutions, but their activities also became less restrained by governmental policies and restrictions. During the Meiji period some Buddhism-influenced Shinshūkyō also appeared, including Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai, an organization based on Nichiren Buddhism, which would later be renamed Sōka Gakkai.

The Japanese government was very suspicious toward these religious movements and periodically made attempts to suppress them. Government suppression was especially severe during the early 20th century, particularly from the 1930s until the early 1940s, when the growth of Japanese nationalism and State Shinto were closely linked. Under the Meiji regime lèse majesté protected not only insults against the Emperor and his Imperial House, but also some major Shinto shrines which were believed to be tied strongly to the Emperor. The government strengthened its control over religious institutions that were considered to undermine State Shinto or nationalism, arresting some members and leaders of Shinshukyo, including Onisaburo Deguchi of Oomoto and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi of Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, who typically were charged with violation of lèse majesté and the Peace Preservation Law.

Shinshūkyō after World War II


After Japan lost World War II, its government and policy changed radically during occupation by Allied troops. The official status of State Shinto was abolished, and Shinto shrines became religious organisations, losing government protection and financial support. Although the Occupation Army (GHQ) practiced censorship of all types of organizations, specific suppression of Shinshūkyō ended.

GHQ invited many Christian missionaries from the United States to Japan, through Douglas MacArthur's famous call for 1,000 missionaries. Missionaries arrived not only from traditional churches, but also from some modern denominations, such as Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jehovah's Witnesses missionaries were so successful that they have become the second largest Christian denomination in Japan, with over 210,000 members (the largest is Catholicism with about 500,000 members). In Japan, Jehovah's Witnesses tend to be considered a Christianity based Shinshūkyō, not only because they were founded in the 19th century (as were other major Shinshūkyō), but also because of their missionary practices, which involve door-to-door visiting and frequent meetings.

Despite the influx of Christian missionaries, the majority of Shinshūkyō are Buddhist- or Shinto-related sects. Major sects include Soka Gakkai, Risshō Kōsei Kai and Shinnyo-en.


After World War II, the structure of the state was changed radically. Prior to WWII, the National Diet was restricted and the real power lay with the executive branch, in which the prime minister was appointed by the emperor. Under the new Constitution of Japan, the Diet had the supreme authority for decision making in state affairs and all its members were elected by the people. Especially in the House of Councillors, one third of whose members were elected through nationwide vote, nationwide organizations found they could influence national policy by supporting certain candidates. Major Shinshūkyō became one of the so-called "vote-gathering machines" in Japan, especially for the conservative parties which merged into the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955.

Soka Gakkai has a particular influence to politics, thanks to their affiliated party Komeito, later New Komeito, since 1964.


Most scholars agree that the post-war success of Shinshūkyō was partly caused by the spiritual void created by Shintoism's loss of official state endorsement that occurred during the occupation period. However, the reason of its success compared to other non-Shinto religions is still not clear. Neil McFarland has attributed the success to widespread use of advertising by various Shinshūkyō, which range from simple flyers to radio and TV advertising.[citation needed] Worth Grant has further speculated on Christianity's failure to yet make a major impact in Japan;[citation needed] the faithful of Christianity reaches only one percent of the national population. Grant believes it was caused by its focus on education and intellectuals, an emphasis that was caused by severe restrictions on missionary activities in the late Edo to early Meiji period. Additionally, some evangelical Christian denominations, which have a greater focus on evangelism compared to other groups, greatly changed when they were introduced to Japan. For example, the Japan Baptist Convention, created by the Southern Baptist Convention, gradually changed into a liberal denomination under the influence of missionaries such as E. Luther Copeland. Other people have pointed to the general apathy of post-war Japan towards religion and the religious ignorance that emerged as a result. However, the true reason why various Shinshūkyō have been successful is still widely debated.

Judeo-Christian Shinshūkyō

Although most Shinshūkyō are based primarily on Shinto, Buddhist or shamanist beliefs and practices, some Shinshūkyō draw upon Judeo-Christian concepts, history, and beliefs. A few consider themselves Jewish or Christian, though they are not recognized as such by the greater communities (or authorities) of these religions. Some Shinshūkyō subscribe to some version of the belief that the Japanese people are connected to the Jewish people, culturally if not ethnically. Some claim that Japan is the Garden of Eden, that Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were Japanese and are buried there, or that the Japanese people are descended from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. There are even some Shinshūkyō which believe in a Jewish conspiracy for world domination as described in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[citation needed]


Some scholars claim that Mahikari, started by Yoshikazu Okada, is a Jewish-inspired group whose members believe themselves to be descended from the Levites, the priests of Israel and that according to their doctrine, the rest of the Jewish people have failed God and have been punished throughout history.[citation needed] One of the Okada-inspired groups, the Sukyo Mahikari organization considers these views to be distorted, however, claiming that its use of the term "levites" does not refer to the Jewish people of the Bible and that it is not anti-Semitic.[1]


The Makuya, though not affiliated with any Jewish or Christian denominations or authorities around the world, consider themselves Christian, worshipping God and Jesus in much the same way they believe the earliest Christians would have, obeying Jewish laws, and ignoring secondary objects of worship, such as the Christian Cross or the Virgin Mary. They are strongly Zionist, and make regular trips to Jerusalem to worship at the Western Wall.

Aum Shinrikyo (Aleph)

Although Aum Shinrikyo does not claim to draw upon Jewish beliefs or principles, nor to have any ethnic connection to Judaism, its doctrine is based largely on the belief that an apocalypse is coming, and that they are the shepherds who will guide humanity into a new age of light and peace. In 2000, they changed the name of the group to Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

See also


External links

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