Religion in Modern Asia Newsletter

Revised Religious Corporations Law


On December 8, 1995, the Japanese Diet passed the proposed revision to the Religious Corporations Law. This represented the first revision of the law in forty-four years, since its initial promulgation in 1951. The revision provides for slightly enhanced supervisory powers by the Ministry of Education, and allows for more thorough checks of the activities of religious bodies.

This revision was prompted by events relating to a series of crimes allegedly committed by the new religious group Aum Shinrikyo, but in fact, it also has a strong sense of representing a measure against the older group Soka Gakkai. Namely, in the 1995 election for Japan's House of Representatives, the New Frontier Party (Shinshinto) extended its vote-getting by joining with the Komeito, representing Soka Gakkai. This alliance presented a threat to the entrenched Liberal Democratic Party.

While the initially stated purpose of the law's revision was to prevent the emergence of dangerous groups like Aum Shinrikyo, that purpose was diluted in the actual revision, and instead, more emphasis was placed on restricting religious groups' participation in politics, and checking their flow of funds. Further, the parliamentary debate leading to the revision was undertaken in a passionless, perfunctory manner.

On the other hand, lawyers involved in the problem of "miracle sales" (reikan shoho: usually involving high-pressure sales of amulets or other religious articles at highly inflated prices, based on the claim that they have some miraculous benefit) have long argued for enhanced oversight of religious juridical persons, and they have given their support to the proposed revision. In contrast, most persons active in religions themselves are strongly negative toward the new revisions, based on their fears that it represents a reversion to conditions approaching those in prewar Japan, namely the management of religion by the state. This claim is voiced with special conviction by groups which personally experienced persecution in the prewar period.

Aum Shinrikyo itself has already been served with a disbandment order, based on the current Religious Corporations Law; it is currently disputing that order, although the activities of its members have been strictly limited since the group has been subjected to a provisional freezing of its assets.

In addition, attempts are also being made to apply the Subversive Activities Prevention Act--originally designed to deal with non-religious subversive and violent crimes--to Aum Shinrikyo. If this law is applied, the group Aum Shinrikyo itself will be abolished (not just its legal status rescinded), making it impossible for members to assemble and perform rituals, or engage in discussions regarding their religion. Accordingly, voices of protest are likewise rising from religious groups against application of this law.

-- Jan 1, 1996, INOUE Nobutaka

Last updated: 2001/11/28 14:33:41

Copyright © 2001 Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University. All Rights Reserved.