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Part 10. Reckless Ignorance

The Property Upon Which the Sho-Hondo Was Built Had Been Obtained in an Illegal Manner

An astonishing incident occurred on June 21, 1973. A criminal complaint was filed at the Shizuoka Prefecture Fujinomiya Police against Soka Gakkai President Ikeda and Nichiren Shoshu High Priest Nittatsu for illegal use of the land upon which the Sho-Hondo (Grand Main Temple) was built. The complaint was that the huge property, which Taiseki-ji had used for the construction of the Sho-Hondo, inherently contained a number of public roads in it.

As a matter of fact, most of the land upon which the Sho-Hondo was built was once farmland or groves, and twenty-one farm roads were running through them. The complaint alleged that Taiseki-ji violated traffic laws and made an illegal use of public property. Complainants were Saburo Uesugi, a Fujinomiya City Councilman, Hiroashi Naito, former chairperson of the Fujinomiya City Council, and Haruo Watanabe, a Hokkeko member in the Han’no district of Fujinomiya City.

As usual, Masatomo Yamazaki hurriedly dispatched Seiji Takeoka and me as his staff to Fujinomiya City. He told us, “Go right away to Fujinomiya. Use your business card from Shukyo Hoso (Religious Broadcasting) and find out who is manipulating this whole thing behind the scenes.”

Takeoka and I did as we were asked, trying to get background information so we could extinguish the fire.

Fortunately, several Soka Gakkai lawyers negotiated with the complainants and successfully persuaded them to agree to give up their case. On July 6, Watanabe first withdrew his complaint, and on July 27, Uesugi and Naito withdrew their complaints too. The case thus seemed to have ended, at least on the surface.

High Priest Nittatsu took this incident very seriously. He spoke at the 22nd Teaching Priests’ Seminar held at the Grand Lecture Hall of Taiseki-ji on August 30, a few days after the case closed, confessing the priesthood’s ignorance of secular matters:

“We as priests must not be arrogant toward lay believers. You as chief priests may be versed in temple matters and doctrinal issues, but are very ignorant of secular matters in society. There may be times when believers, whether they are Gakkai members or Hokkeko members, come and see you for guidance on issues of their lives, as they don’t want to follow the guidance given to them by their lay leaders in faith. Mind you, however, we as priests are not capable enough to give them proper guidance on worldly matters.” (Dai-Nichiren, October 1973 issue)

High Priest Nittatsu then asserted:

“Because we as priests are not aware, in a true sense, of believers’ sufferings in their secular lives, I don’t think we are capable of giving them adequate guidance. Remember not to give lay believers the kind of guidance that is no different from mere lip service. Please stop giving shallow guidance to lay believers from now on.” (Dai-Nichiren, October 1973 issue)

Praising the Soka Gakkai’s efforts to apply Buddhism to a wide range of matters in society, Chief Administrator Hosoi further stated:

“The Gakkai fully digests what is written in the Gosho, and effectively applies it to their activities in society. The Gakkai is indeed great in this respect.” (Dai-Nichiren, October 1973 issue)

“Therefore, read Gakkai publications well. It’s no good if you just pile them up on your bookshelf after they are given to you. The president of the Soka Gakkai has been working for kosen-rufu without sparing his life. He’s really been trying his best. We should truly appreciate him for his dedication.” (Dai-Nichiren, October 1973 issue)

At the closing ceremony of the same seminar held the next day, August 31, High Priest Nittatsu gave the following guidance to the teachers:

“Compared to other sects’ priests, we are very blessed in a materialistic sense. It’s awful if we get arrogant while being fulfilled so much in materialistic aspects of our lives. I hope you’ll humbly protect the temples and cherish Gakkai believers, as they’ve been unsparingly working for kosen-rufu and Nichiren Shoshu. So, please cherish lay believers.

“President Ikeda is in the center of the Gakkai’s movement. Vital for Nichiren Shoshu is the unity of the laity and the priesthood. We should forge along with the understanding that we all serve the Buddha and that we all practice Buddhism to polish ourselves. No matter what slander or criticism we may get from those who don’t embrace Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, that’ll be OK. However, it’s not OK if we speak ill behind the backs of fellow believers, who are engaged in propagating the Law.” (Renge, September 1973 issue)

Regardless of these statements, I wonder how deeply High Priest Nittatsu reflected upon himself about the illegal situation in which his sect was involved. It seems to me that without reflecting deeply on his own behavior, he remained irresponsible by choosing to leave the head temple’s legal work to the Soka Gakkai.

The situation surrounding the head temple was still tough even after the complainants withdrew their complaints. The roots of Taiseki-ji’s problems were very deep. Watanabe, one of the three who had brought suit, stated, “Since the Gakkai built the Sho-Hondo, I put my seal upon the document of complaints with the belief that we are filing our complaints only against President Ikeda, not against our high priest.” (from a recorded document)

An atmosphere hostile to Taiseki-ji was still prevalent in Fujinomiya City. The fact that Taiseki-ji had been treating Kamiueno Village (where it is located) in a special manner was another reason why other Fujinomiya citizens had developed animosity against the head temple.

Confidential Information Sent to Fujinomiya City Councilman

Takeoka and I went to Fujinomiya City repeatedly for investigation, even after the complaints were withdrawn. Especially memorable was the investigation we conducted on February 3, 1974 (Sunday). We called at the residence of Hiroshi Hihara, a Fujinomiya City councilman and president of Hihara Landscaping Co. Ltd. We visited from 4:45 PM through 6 PM. Hihara said the following to us:

“Should this issue come to light, no one in the Komei Party will be elected in the next election of the House of Representatives. We’ve got sufficient evidence.” (from a recorded document)

“We’re planning to do something (against Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai) after we get back the position of chairmanship in the city council through the election in June. Something terrible will be revealed at that time in conjunction with Taiseki-ji’s properties in question. We’ll take action after fulfilling our current promise with the Gakkai. We’ve got reliable data. We’ll move on it in June.” (from a recorded document)

Hihara was thinking of doing something to further damage the Gakkai after seeing the Soka Gakkai lend more than 400 million yen to Fujinomiya City for its welfare, to offset this scandalous incident.

We had no idea what Hihara meant by the “reliable data” that he claimed he had. Strangely enough, however, Saburo Uesugi, one of the three complainants with whom we had a talk from 6:30 PM to 8 PM on the same day, presented the very data to us.

Uesugi’s residence was surrounded by a huge garden. Uesugi didn’t hesitate to speak frankly, stating, “We’ve withdrawn our complaints because the Gakkai agreed to pro-actively cooperate for municipal matters through the intermediary of the mayor.” (from a recorded document)

Uesugi also stated:

“Things got remarkably better after the filing of our complaints. People became able to pay a free visit to the head temple. They can enjoy priests’ service to guide them on the grounds of Taiseki-ji. The head temple’s cooperation with the community got better. I give credit to the Gakkai for this. I respect religion. I’ve been impressed by the Gakkai’s attitude. Once you’ve recognized the mistake you committed, you are quick to change yourself.” (from a recorded document)

Uesugu continued, “Since you’ve built the Sho-Hondo at the expense of 50 billion yen, if you donate ten percent of it, no one in the city will complain about Nichiren Shoshu any longer.” (from a recorded document)

Uesugi said that while he had come to harbor good feelings toward the Gakkai on one hand, he thought it only natural that the Gakkai should donate 5 billion yen to Fujinomiya on the other. Uesugi revealed the “reliable data” that Hihara had referred to. According to Uesugi, this information was sent to him anonymously.

Uesugi made this further comment:

“It was a secret document written on Taiseki-ji’s letterhead. Only somebody who is inside Taiseki-ji and assigned to this kind of business can copy such a highly confidential document. I believe somebody inside secretly stole this information. It is just like a record book of all properties of Taiseki-ji. Taiseki-ji has a total of 500 cho-bu lands (1225 acre), and all these properties are obviously recorded under other people’s names.

“In addition, Taiseki-ji has a serious problem with the tax office. Suppose a particular individual buys part of this Taiseki-ji land or sells it — he would say to the tax office, ‘As a matter of fact, I am buying or selling it for Taiseki-ji.’ If the above fact is revealed to the tax office, Taiseki-ji will immediately get into trouble. Of course, we first need to examine what Taiseki-ji really did to acquire all these properties.

“We have not done any investigation based upon this data. Only the mayor and four other councilmen who were close to me know the existence of this document, and I’ve not shown this document to the mayor in person.

“Also, Taiseki-ji’s collecting of money from those who stay there overnight is a problem. It once happened that one lodging temple deposited more money into the farmers’ cooperative association’s bank than the entire savings of Shiraito-mura Village.” (from a recorded document)

Then, Uesugi showed us the crucial data. It was wrapped in a sheet of furoshiki cloth, placed in a cabinet. Uesugi took it out and unwrapped it on the table. It was a big bundle of documents, about 20 centimeters thick — each document was of the B-4 size.

The secret information in these documents was written on paper with Taiseki-ji’s letterhead and it looked exactly like the record book of the Sho-Hondo.

What was categorically written in these documents was the code number of each parcel of land that Taiseki-ji had acquired: the size, the names of their former owners, the names of their current owners (fictitious names), the dates marking the transition from farmland to current use, and the dates of acquisition. The documents were indeed voluminous. I was astonished at the contents of these documents.

As Uesugi mentioned, it was nothing other than a copy of the record of all the lands that Taiseki-ji once acquired. The entire property covered the space of 500 cho-bu or 1.5 million tsubo (1225 acre). How much of the land did Taiseki-ji acquire illegally? The mere thought of the number of illegal actions taken by Taiseki-ji made me feel dizzy.

Behind Uesugi was Hihara. It was very possible that something terrible would be revealed after June, and if that should happen, there would be no doubt thatHigh Priest Nittatsu, who legally represents the religious corporation of Taiseki-ji, would be questioned and that Taiseki-ji would be searched. Also, it was highly probable that President Ikeda, the chairperson of the Sho-Hondo Construction Committee, would be involved in this investigation. Takeoka was allowed to copy some information that was related to some particular tracts of land.

Taiseki-ji Cheats in the Payment of Property Tax

Based upon our report, the Soka Gakkai Headquarters reported to Nichiren Shoshu about the leaking of confidential information. Nichiji Hayase, General Administrator of Nichiren Shoshu and Chief Priest of Hodo-in temple in Tokyo, visited the Soka Gakkai Headquarters building with the original of the document in question. There was supposed to be no other copy than this original that the head temple possessed. When Takeoka and I saw this original in another room, we could tell that what Uesugi had was an exact copy of this original document. And the part that Takeoka took note of was naturally within this original. According to the head temple, this document was kept in absolute confidentiality and the key to the locker where the document was kept was under strict supervision. But why and how was such a highly confidential document leaked? As Uesugi pointed out, such a crime was not possible without the support of somebody within Nichiren Shoshu.

Today, I feel that there was a plot behind this incident, a scheme to unseat both High Priest Nittatsu, who did not have a strong family lineage in Nichiren Shoshu, and President Ikeda. It seems clear that somebody who was opposed to High Priest Nittatsu’s camp did it to usurp the position of high priest. In those days, however, the whole thing was a mystery. Doubtlessly, the issue could have become a huge scandal if a complaint were filed against Taiseki-ji in violation of the Farmland Law.

Only farmers are in a position to purchase farmland. No religious corporation was entitled to buy farmland or own it. If people other than farmers want to buy farmland, the sellers need to apply for the transformation of farmland into residential land, or something else before the transaction of the property in question could take place. If you want to use a small tract of farmland (less than 300 tsubo or 991.7m2) for a different purpose, all you need to do is get permission from the Fujinomiya City Agricultural Committee. If you want to change the purpose of land that is larger than 300 tsubo, you have to get permission from Shizuoka Prefecture.

However, what Taiseki-ji did was to acquire a number of small parcels of land (each less than 300 tsubo) using farmers. In short, Taiseki-ji illegally obtained a huge tract of farmland without getting any legitimate permission from the prefecture. According to an internal investigation that was conducted at a later date, the total amount of land that Taiseki-ji illegally obtained was more than 500,000 tsubo (408.4 acre). The action that Taiseki-ji took was horribly illegal. Moreover, Taiseki-ji did not have its own lawyer in those days.

The case was so bad that nothing could be done to remedy it. What Taiseki-ji could do in many of the instances of illegal purchase of farmland was just simply to wait for the statute of limitations, which was three years, to run out.

As Uesugi also pointed out, Taiseki-ji had evaded taxation by submitting to the tax office a document claiming that Taiseki-ji actually owned all of these lands that used to be farmlands. In other words, Taiseki-ji not only illegally obtained the farmland but attempted to evade taxation on that land as well.

Yamazaki commented on this incident:

“It doesn’t make sense at all that the Soka Gakkai, after donating billions of yen to the head temple, would get branded as a criminal. Can you believe that the head temple depends on its judicial clerk to handle legal matters concerning their properties? The temple didn’t hire any attorney for these important issues. How can we achieve world kosen-rufu with priests who are so out of touch with society? Taiseki-ji is way behind civilization. It’s just a countryside temple in a village. No matter how great the priests may try to appear, they are not going anywhere. They’re stuck. No matter how much the Gakkai tries to make Taiseki-ji great, the Gakkai won’t gain anything because the temple is so foolish. The Gakkai may be punished for the temple’s stupidity. In short, the level of priests’ intelligence is so low, they aren’t civilized at all.”

So saying, Yamazaki sarcasticallybegan to sing a Japanese folk song ‘An Old Priest in a Mountain Temple,’ expressing his frustration at being a Gakkai lawyer who had to babysit the high priest at the head temple.

Setting aside Yamazaki’s personal emotions, the Soka Gakkai thought that the only way it could solve the problem was to make handsome donations to Fujinomiya City. Put another way, the Soka Gakkai had to volunteer to engage itself in many community services on behalf of the head temple. In fact, Fujinomiya citizens were deeply dissatisfied with Taiseki-ji’s attitude toward them. For instance, Taiseki-ji enjoyed hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every month, but the buses that carried them to the head temple did nothing to benefit the city. Not only that, the citizens had to suffer very much from the traffic jams caused by these pilgrimage buses. The buses’ exhaust fumes tarnished the air quality of the city very badly. Moreover, because Taiseki-ji is a religious corporation, it doesn’t have to pay any property tax to the city, and it didn’t pay any tax on those lands that it had illegally acquired.

A new complaint was ready to be filed against the head temple for its violation of the Farmland Law. During the time from the summer of 1973 to the early part of 1974, Takeoka and I (at Yamazaki’s order) visited Fujinomiya City repeatedly to find out how citizens felt toward Taiseki-ji. The residents were quite ignorant of the efforts that the Gakkai was making to benefit the city on behalf of the head temple. Their individual views of the head temple were unanimously bad. Their usual comments were:

“Taiseki-ji’s priests monopolize the geisha society of Fujinomiya.”

“Senior priests play with geisha girls at ryotei restaurants while junior ones frequent nightclubs or brothels.”

“An executive priest competed with the director of ’F’ hospital over a geisha girl and won. Now he keeps her as his mistress in Numazu City.”

“The information about the property that would be purchased for the Sho-Hondo was given through an executive priest to a real estate company. This executive priest received a rebate for that.”

“Only priests and some of the real estate companies have benefited from the construction of the Sho-Hondo. After the Soka Gakkai came into this city, all we citizens got was problems.”

“I know a real estate company that gave an executive priest a bar of gold.”

While Fujinomiya citizens were not much informed of the history of Taiseki-ji, they still gave such a comment knowingly:

“In the past, Kitayama Honmon-ji and Nishiyama Honmon-ji were superior to Taiseki-ji in class. Taiseki-ji does not possess many items related to Nichiren Daishonin.”

“Taiseki-ji was a trivial entity before the Soka Gakkai’s appearance.”

“Taiseki-ji’s priests traditionally love to fool around.”

In discussion with the head temple, the Soka Gakkai had taken concrete actions to make big donations to the Fujinomiya City. The Gakkai lent more than 400 million yen to the city so that they could develop an area near Fujinomiya Station. Also, the Gakkai promised to build a public hall for the city.

Despite the Soka Gakkai’s efforts along these lines, no one could promise that those manipulating behind the scenes would end their plotting.

Hihara and his friends were about to attack Taiseki-ji after his election as chairman of the Fujinomiya City Council. They were ready to file a complaint against Taiseki-ji for its violation of the Farmland Law. The Gakkai had to come up with a measure to convince Hihara within a limited span of time. The whole problem stemmed from Taiseki-ji’s mismanagement.

Yamazaki chose to meet with Hihara in person after receiving our report of Uesugi and Hihara’s scheme and the existence of the “definite data” as their ammunitions. At that time, Yamazaki seemed engaged in fulfilling his responsibility as a chief legal counselor of the Soka Gakkai, but deep in his heart he must have sensed that an excellent time had come for him to fulfill his personal ambitions.

Certainly, it was necessary to stop Hihara and his allies to enable Taiseki-ji and the Soka Gakkai to avoid trouble. However, this didn’t justify Yamazaki’s eventual collusion with Hihara for their mutual personal gain.

Yamazaki went on to make a “dummy company” in conspiracy with Hihara — their goal was to make a huge amount of money. Yamazaki deceived the Soka Gakkai, his employer, and it was an unpardonable act. At the crucial moment, Yamazaki insisted to Soka Gakkai executive leaders, “We need to limit the action of some local city councilmen. Toward this end, I will talk to and convince Hihara.” Later, he conspired with Hihara to benefit himself enormously behind the scenes. Hihara was also the type of person who could invest an exorbitant amount of money to get his business going.

Taiseki-ji Had Neither Lawyer Nor Accountant

The Fujinomiya City incident in which Hihara and his cohorts complained about the illegal use of land for Sho-Hondo construction created the opportunity for two like-minded individuals to get to know each other and start working together. These two were Yamazaki and Hihara.

The Soka Gakkai executives were very much disappointed in Taiseki-ji’s ineptitude, which had caused a situation where President Ikeda could become a defendant in a criminal case (due to his responsibility as the chairperson for the construction of the Sho-Hondo). This was all in spite of the fact that the Gakkai had donated 35.1 billion yen (plus its interest of 13.25 billion yen) for the construction. Naturally, the Soka Gakkai feared that similar problems might arise in the future unless some measure was taken to oversee Taiseki-ji’s accounting system and legal accountability.

It was indeed a serious problem. Taiseki-ji had no lawyer. It had no accountant, either. Its salary system was as old as that in the Edo period. The head temple was long a destitute temple. Now, twenty years after the Soka Gakkai stood up to protect it, it had become the most prosperous in Japan with the most majestic religious structure on its grounds. Taiseki-ji itself was far behind the fast-paced growth of the Soka Gakkai.

It was an urgent matter for the Soka Gakkai that the head temple develop its own thorough accounting system. Toward this end, the Soka Gakkai officially proposed to help the head temple in the documentation of all accounting matters of the Sho-Hondo and in the registration issue of all the properties of the head temple. However, High Priest Nittatsu wouldn’t trust the sincerity of the Soka Gakkai. He wrongly presumed that the Soka Gakkai would start controlling Nichiren Shoshu’s accounting matters.