Kofuku no Kagaku and the Media:Strategies and Controversies
The use of media has been an important part of Kofuku no Kagaku’s growth from the very beginning. The leader has published more than 400 books, some of which are also available as manga (comic books and graphic novels that are massively popular in Japan), through its own publishing company IRH Shuppan, which was legally separated from the religious group in 1991. These books are sold in large bookshops and often appear in newspaper bookseller rankings. The group also publishessix magazines in Japanese and one in English.
Between 1994 and 2009, the group released six lms, most of them animated movies, or anime, based on the leader’s writings, all of which were shown at mainstream cinemas throughout the country. By 1992, Kofuku no Kagaku-inspired music had become widely available, as had CDs and videos of Okawa’s speeches. Furthermore, Kofuku no Kagaku airs a radio program every Saturday and Sunday morning called the
‘Angel’s Morning Call’ (Tenshi no moningu koru). In the early 1990s, the group broadcast some TV programs, but these have now been discontinued.
Group representatives also took part in a number of televised debates on contemporary religion, debates against academics and media
commentators as well as members of other religious groups (Astley 1995: 371). The group advertises each new publication or film with extensive campaigns, both through the mainstream press and through posters on walls and buildings in the major Japanese cities.
Just to provide an example, between March and July 1991, the group paid Dentsu, one of the best-known advertising companies in Japan, foran expensive advertising campaign. The aim of the campaign was to promote two of the leader’s books published by the IRH press: The TerrifyingRevelations of Nostradamus (Nosutoradamusu senritsu no keiji) (Okawa 1991b) and The Great Warning of Allah (Arano daikeikoku) (Okawa 1991c). In the same period, the group also advertised the book The Eternal Buddha (Eien no Buddha) (Okawa 1991a) and the event for the Commemoration of the Birth of the Founder (Kyoso otanjo kinensai), a birthday commemoration that was celebrated on July 15 at the Tokyo Dome, a massive building that usually hosts sporting events and concerts.
Between July 15 and 19, the campaign extended to include four national and 37 local newspapers, which published full-page advertisements for the books. The campaign also included 30 magazines, various television channels, and 33 radio stations. Fifty thousand stickers appeared on taxis across the country, 40 billboard trucks were rented, and an airship bearing the slogan ‘The time has come, now Science of Happiness’ (jidai wa ima, Kofuku no Kagaku) ew over Tokyo for a week (Asahi Shimbun 1991: 29). The scale of the campaign was compared to those of the presidential candidates in the United States during election season (Iwasa 1993: 33).
The massive advertising campaign for the event at the Tokyo Dome contributed to a sharp, rapid increase in membership, but also attracted attention and criticism from both scholars and the media. In particular, between the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992, a series of critical texts appeared (Yakushi’in 1991; Yonemoto and Shimada 1992) and several newspapers published articles attacking the group or holding it up for ridicule. The attention of the press was due both to the vertiginous growth of the group and to an interest expressed by the media in what they called the ‘return to religion’ (Berthon 1991). According to the Religion Yearbook (shukyonenkan), published by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the group claimed a membership of approximately 13,000 in 1989, which had increased to about 1,500,000 by 1991. Even though the data regarding the audience could have been altered and the figure indicated by the group appears somewhat improbable, it is an undeniable fact that the sudden increase in the number of the members happened within a short space of time.
The first critical articles began appearing in May 1991 and, in tones similar to those used for scandals involving celebrities, focused their attention mainly on the donations members were asked to make to finance the advertising campaign and the event at the Tokyo Dome. Other articles alleged that the group resembled a company rather than a religious organization (Yakushi’in 1991: 60-63).
Then, a number of articles published in the magazines Friday and Genzai, by Kodansha publishing, triggered a violent reaction from some members of the group itself. These members staged demonstrations against the publishing house and blocked the telephone lines of the
Kodansha offices for five days by sending protest faxes (Astley 1995: 370). The group also published a few texts against the publishing house, such as The Hope Revolution (Kibo no kakumei, 1995). The Kodansha affair (Kodansha jiken) ended with a lawsuit that dragged on for a number of years.