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Turbulent priests and millenarian protest : outside voices of religious nationalism in interwar Japan Freeland, Benjamin John


This thesis examines the role played by two popular religious movements - Nichirenism (Nichirenshugi) and Ōmotokyō - in the promulgation of nationalism in Japan during the years between the two World Wars. While it has long been accepted that religion played a central role in the formation and promulgation of nationalism in twentieth-century Japan, the nature of that role has been much less well understood. Specifically, Western thinking has long assumed that Shinto, in its role as state religion and ideological anchor, was unchallenged as a nationalist vehicle in Japan. This view overlooks the crucial role played by other popular religious organizations outside the framework of Shinto in the inculcation of modern Japanese nationalism. While most religious sects resigned themselves to toeing the official line, two were abnormally active in promoting themselves as champions of Japanese nationalism. These were the so-called "Nichirenists" - a firebrand group of nationalistic Buddhists of the Nichiren denomination that emerged in early-twentieth century Japan - and the enormously popular grassroots millenarian religion of Ōmotokyō. Both incorporated the pillars of State Shinto into the heart of their doctrines and championed themselves as the truest advocates of the emperor and his polity: Ōmotokyō in the form of a tightly-organized grassroots movement and Nichirenism as a powerful spiritual fountainhead for militarists and political extremists. In both cases, their adoption of nationalism as a central pillar of their doctrines was a tactical move intended to cultivate more harmonious relations with the state. This was especially true in the case of Ōmotokyō, an organization that had since its genesis been regarded by the authorities as a pariah. This strategy paradoxically drew Nichirenism and Ōmotokyō to the extremist fringe of the nationalist wing, with both movements figuring prominently in the Showa Restoration movement in Japan in the early-1930s - a movement dedicated to overthrowing the parliamentary system and creating a bona fide emperor-led dictatorship. Ultimately, their strategy failed, and somewhat ironically both movements were eventually crushed in the mid-to-late thirties by the very authoritarian political culture that they had helped create. Furthermore, in spite of their links to ultranationalist organizations involved in political terrorism, both movements were suppressed purely on ideological grounds. In the end, the suppression of Nichirenism and Ōmotokyō was not brought on by any real contradiction with the official ideology, but rather by the challenge that the mere existence of these independent voices posed to a state aspiring to totalitarianism.

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