Letters for the week of July 24-30, 2002 

Attempting to place the group Soka Gakkai in its proper historical context.

Reporting about Asia doesn't relieve you of the need to get your facts straight
While I am no longer a member of Soka Gakkai International, I must protest your recent 7 Days piece labeling Daisaku Ikeda a "notorious cultist" (July 10). Your anonymous writer obviously did as little research as possible regarding both Soka Gakkai and Mr. Ikeda, resulting in numerous errors and untruths.

One of the main tenets of Nichiren Buddhism is the eventual creation of a peaceful world based on Buddhist principles. As leader of Soka Gakkai International, Mr. Ikeda has worked continually to this end.

As to the use of the word cult, the 100-million-plus members of SGI worldwide that practice Nichiren Buddhism cannot be considered under such a definition, unless your writer also considers Hinduism or Islam a "cult" as well. Nichiren Buddhism does not preach the isolation of its members from the outside world or the shunning of worldly affairs as is typical in cults.

The writer's linking of the true cult Aum Shin Rikyo to SGI is spurious. A little more research would have revealed that Mr. Ikeda himself was the first human target of Aum, and the group attempted to kill Mr. Ikeda on at least two occasions, months before their attack on the Tokyo subway. The Japanese government's (read LDP) investigations of Soka Gakkai and Mr. Ikeda are based more on Mr. Ikeda's criticism of the government, such as his repeated calls for formal Japanese apologies for Pacific War aggressions and atrocities, and his condemnation of influence peddling and bribery scandals.

The "phony" political party your writer mentions as being formed by Soka Gakkai is not phony at all. Komeito (Clean Party) was originally formed by Mr. Ikeda and Soka Gakkai in 1964, but the party has since severed its official ties with them. The Komeito is also currently the third largest political party in Japan.

A little more journalistic effort would have also uncovered that the "mysterious" death of Mrs. Asaki was the subject of a libel lawsuit by her family in which Soka Gakkai prevailed. Police and investigators have officially ruled that Mrs. Asaki committed suicide prior to being indicted on shoplifting charges which would have ruined her political career. The allegations of Yoshio Yahiro (correct spelling), who is head of the Soka Gakkai Victims' Association, have never been proven and there has never been a police investigation.

Do I think Daisaku Ikeda really belongs in this photo exhibit? No, but I think history will surely be more fair to Mr. Ikeda and SGI than your "mysterious" reporter.
Joe Stevens, San Francisco

All these allegations have been disproved
I wish to make several corrections and respectfully request a retraction to your article which referred to Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Soka Gakkai International Lay Buddhist Association and recipient of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's International Tolerance Award, as a "notorious cultist." This piece is full of inaccuracies and it contains several defamatory statements.

First, Mr. Ikeda's given name is Daisaku, not Daisuke. Second, and of extreme importance, there is absolutely no truth to the claim that either the Soka Gakkai or Mr. Ikeda were "primary targets of the investigation" launched by the Japanese government following the criminal sarin gas attacks by Aum Shinrikyo.

Third, the Soka Gakkai does not "browbeat" members to raise funds. In Japan, members have the option of making donations once a year, and this is an entirely personal matter. Fourth, it is strange to suggest that the organization has formed "phony political parties." The Komeito party, founded by Mr. Ikeda in 1964, is an established centrist party and is currently a partner in Japan's Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition. While many Soka Gakkai members support the party's candidates, Komeito is independent, and has not once in 38 years introduced legislation seeking to benefit the Soka Gakkai or its members. It is well-known in Japan for its social welfare initiatives, and its support of international cooperation and religious tolerance. Fifth, not one Soka Gakkai member has been convicted -- let alone indicted -- of "beating and harassing" members who try to leave. Such a statement is defamatory and untrue. Members are free to come and go.

Sixth, the hospital records of Yoshiro Yahiro indicate that he was hospitalized for three months in 1991 for the treatment of asthma. The death of Ms. Asaki was found by police investigators to be a suicide. Moreover, the Soka Gakkai earlier this year won a libel suit against a Japanese publisher, Shinchosha, for originally reporting that her death was somehow attributable to the Soka Gakkai.

The Time and San Francisco Chronicle articles cited in your article unfortunately recycled allegations originating in the Japanese tabloid press, notorious for scandal-mongering, at a time of an intense political campaign. All these allegations have been conclusively disproved and the coverage shown to be part of a smear campaign against the Soka Gakkai as the main endorsers of the Komeito party.

We expect fair and objective reporting about our organization and have rarely seen an instance of such biased and irresponsible reporting.
Richard Yoshimachi, Director, Northern California Region

Editor's note: Although it is a matter of history that the 1995 sarin gas attack on a Tokyo subway train provoked an investigation of Soka Gakkai, our item may have erroneously left the impression that the group was involved in that attack. We also misspelled the names of Daisaku Ikeda and Yoshio Yahiro. As for Akiyo Asaki, her cause of death remains a matter of dispute.

CLARIFICATION
In our recent item about the false claim that researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory discovered two new elements in 1999 (7 Days, July 17), we erroneously attributed credit for uncovering the truth. The first writer to report that the claim was apparently falsified was George Johnson of The New York Times. After his story appeared on news wires, the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune wrote their own stories. Chronicle reporter Keay Davidson was the first to name Victor Ninov, the scientist now accused of fabricating data.

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