Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Dessert of Salvation

(This is an article I wrote for the Fukui JET magazine, JETfuel.)

There was no way to ignore it. We both blinked our eyes in disbelief. Could we really be seeing this? We continued to blink our eyes in disbelief. It wasn't going away. And all the blinking was starting to affect my driving. As we drifted lazily toward the central reservation, our eyes streaming with water, we came to accept the truth: we were heading straight toward a giant banana split.

My good lady friend Flick and I were on the outskirts of Takayama in Gifu prefecture, around 3 hours drive from our beloved Fukui-ken. We'd been intrigued by the guidebook descriptions of a picturesque, unspoiled Japanese town nestled in the mountains of Gifu, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and head out there. The picturesque, unspoiled streets certainly weren't disappointing. Unfortunately the several picturesque, unspoiled streets happened to be surrounded by a tangle of ugly, concrete streets much like every other Japanese town, so we found that we'd seen everything there was to see in about an hour.

That is, everything except the giant banana split we'd spotted on our way into the city, which on closer inspection had turned out to be an enormous and hideously tacky banana-shaped golden temple. With a cherry on top. We had some time to kill so we decided to check it out.



The eye-streamingly garish place of worship turned out to be owned by a cult (sorry, "religious sect") called Sukyo Mahikari, who had built the "Main World Shrine" or "Suza" to enshrine "the Creator, Su God", and to serve as "the source of the Light of God for the world". Oh, and apparently it's the "foundation for the salvation of humankind" as well. Which is nice.

It's difficult to describe the feeling of walking up the megalithic steps to the entrance of this banana-shaped summer palace for God. I felt a bit like James Bond infiltrating the inner sanctum of some cat-stroking super-villain. Any second I expected armies of ninjas to vault over the walls and surround us, before some pasty-faced bloke with an East European accent and a limp shuffled out of the main doors laughing maniacally.

"Congratulations Mr. Bond , you have found my secret lair. Most… impressive. However, you will find you are too late to save the world!!! Come my ninjas! Attack!!!"



(Ninjas not pictured)

The décor is truly bizarre – in true post-modern style the designers seemed to have borrowed something from every world religion, including an Aztec-style "Quetzalcoatl Fountain", Islamic-style minarets, Buddhist-style entranceways, and to cap it all off everything is covered with the symbol of Judaism, the Star of David. It gets even stranger inside – the enormous golden altar is trimmed with a tropical fish tank which extends from wall to wall, and the central shrine is set in a diorama of fake cliffs and plastic trees, making it look like some sort of theme park ride. No animatronic pirates though.

I have to say I was impressed with the place – it was as strange as it was alarmingly tacky. But it was huge too (the main hall can seat 10,000 people) and it made me wonder where on earth they came up with the money to build it all. Was it really owned by a James Bond-esque super-villain? Did he have a cat?

A quick trawl through the internet showed that the cult of Sukyo Mahikari is surprisingly widespread. Their headquarters are in Takayama, but they have offices in Luxembourg, California, Brazil, Australia and Singapore, and an estimated membership of up to 500,000 , although given figures vary widely and the true number is probably much less than that . Every member is expected to make a "contribution" to the religion, but it's unclear exactly where all the money goes to, although I'm sure the construction of the shrine in Takayama must have cost a pretty penny. There are some pretty weird stories surrounding the group too...

The cult was founded in 1960 by a man named Yoshikazu Okada, who was a "lieutenant colonel and strategic planner" in the Japanese attack against Nanking in 1937; the brutal attack which became known to the world as the "Rape of Nanking". After the war Okada became a member of the Church of Messianity, whose gospel teaches that suffering results from "dust that accumulates on the soul". In 1959 he experienced a revelation at 5 in the morning when the Su God, or "True God of Light", promised to unleash a "Baptism of Fire" which would heal his followers and destroy non-believers. Scary stuff. And the date for this apocalyptic event? 2000AD. Obviously the Su God forgot to wind his watch.

In its early days the sect was known as "Lucky and Healthy Sunshine Children", but this quickly changed to the slightly less catchy "Mahikari". The main basis of the religion is a sort of "light healing", where the practitioners try to radiate the "True Light of God" from their hand in order to heal the "impurities of the body and soul". The shrine's pamphlet boldly claims that: "Even the poisons nowadays found in food and in the environment can be purified by this powerful energy".

In 1978 Mahikari split into two factions after a crisis of succession caused by the death of its founder, Okada, in 1974. After a court battle a senior member of Mahikari, Sekiguchi Sakae, took control of the movement, whilst Sukyo Mahikari was formed by Keishu Okada, Yoshikazu Okada's adoptive daughter.

One of the aims of Mahikari was to build a "Main World Shrine" to enshrine the Su God itself. Sukyo Mahikari did this in 1984 with the construction of "Suza" in Takayama, and in 1987 the other faction of Mahikari led by Sekiguchi Sakae constructed an even larger shrine on the Izu peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture, which they called "Su-Za" (spot the difference?).

Now it gets interesting. According to Andris Tebecis in his book MAHIKARI: Thank God For The Answers At Last, "A shrine is not merely a place of worship or a place held sacred, although the word is often used in this context by people unfamiliar with such things. To enshrine means to establish a dwelling-place or physical structure for communicating with the entity or spirit enshrined. "

So where is the Su God enshrined? In Suza or Su-Za? But I digress…

He continues: " I learned that since the Divine era millions of years ago, only once in the history of humankind has there been an attempt to enshrine the Creator God - that by the ancient Jews. Through Moses the Jewish people received the command to build a special Temple for Almighty God."

"Eventually David's son, Solomon, was provided with sufficient material wealth to build the Temple. Unfortunately, however, he did not quite achieve this mission. Although he did build the Temple, misled by his wives he forgot the God Jehovah and allowed other deities to be enshrined in Jehovah's place. Consequently, Jehovah destroyed the Temple after Solomon's time."

"Sukuinushisama (founder Yoshikazu Okada, also known as Kotama Okada) said that the bad karma of the Jewish people for failing this mission is the very reason why they have been persecuted to this day."

So now you know.

He carries on: "Just as Moses once received the mission to build a Temple for Jehovah, Sukuinushisama received the mission to establish a Shrine for Su God. Just as all the Jews inherited the mission of Moses, we have inherited Sukuinushisama's mission."

The "Mahikari Exposed" website goes on to say that official Mahikari documents state that followers of the religion are the "true Levites" and the "tribe most favoured by God". In other words the Mahikari members are the "true Jews" – hence their Star of David symbol.

The group also believes that Jesus Christ actually died in Japan at the age of 106, and his burial place is in a village called Herai in Aomori prefecture. Which will be news to a lot of people. (You can see a photo of His alleged resting place below)



However, there's an even stranger cult (ahem, sorry again, "religious sect") a lot closer to home. "Pana Wave Laboratory" are a group of people who believe that electromagnetic waves are causing environmental destruction, so they sought out a place as far away from "polluting" electromagnetic waves as possible – the mountains of Fukui.

If you thought the ideas of Sukyo Mahikari were a little odd you'll be amazed at the beliefs of Pana Wave devotees… The group was formed in 1977 by an English student and part-time streaker called Yuko Chino, and it teaches a mixture of Buddhism, Christianity and New Age doctrines. They also believe that " electromagnetic attacks are being carried out by communist guerrillas who have dispersed around the world following the break up of the Soviet Union".

Hey, it could happen.

The group made headlines on 25 th April 2003 when they took over a 200 metre stretch of road in Gifu prefecture, covering up trees and roadside barriers with white cloths. They claimed that their guru, Yuko Chino, had come under attack from electromagnetic waves and that it was dangerous to move her. When confronted by TV reporters they claimed the TV cameras were emitting dangerous "microwaves", but after a week-long stand-off they were eventually moved on by police.



The group believes that white cloth can reflect electromagnetic waves and so they dress from head to toe in white, even wearing white surgical masks. I first came across Pana Wave last year when I was driving down the Echizen coast road and found myself following a convoy of white 4x4s. Intrigued, I followed them into the mountains and caught a glimpse of their encampment – obvious because of the numerous white sheets draped over the surrounding trees. In the past they've even tried to cover up a stretch of riverbank in white cloth next to their headquarters in the Gotaishi district of Fukui city, until the prefectural government ordered them to remove it all.

The group also believe, or should I say believed, that the world would end on the 15 th May 2003, stating that the 10th planet of the solar system would approach the Earth, causing disaster as the North and South poles switched polarities. Needless to say, it didn't happen, and presumably there were a lot of red faces all round.

Pana Wave officially has about 3,000 members, but the true number is believed to be a lot lower, possibly 1,200. However, in the 10 years prior to 2003 they are believed to have received around 2.2 billion yen in donations, 300 million of which was used to feed birds such as tobi kites and crows, according to police.

It's good to know that there are such interesting people living so close by.

 
Sources:
The Rick A. Ross Institute
Mahikari Exposed
http://www.forteantimes.com/articles/173_panawave.shtml
http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/mahikari.html

8 Comments:

Blogger Chris C said...

I was once told that Jehovah was a mistranslation of Yahweh from the original Hebrew. Hebrew contains no vowels. I wonder how the Japanese would Katakana-ise hebrew?

That would be a sight to see (hear?)

1:04 pm  
Blogger arieh said...

Quite an interesting report.

BTW, you will be able to find more information about Mahikari and the Jews on The Mahikari Project Blog Site.

2:12 am  
Blogger Paul Hewitt said...

Well thats all good for them. So long as they are happy and not bothering anyone. Unfortunately I don't think a white sheet is going to do much against a microwave. Has anyone ever suggested testing their protection? Try putting your ready meal in the microwave wrapped in a white sheet and see if it cooks any slower eh? Perhaps they should build a house out of lead to relect the radiation. Of course there could be some other issues with the lead.

Nuts, guess we are all doomed then. Oh well never mind, worse things happen at sea apparantly.

9:35 pm  
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7:43 am  
Blogger Ian said...

To be honest the beliefs sound no less stranger or weird than most other religions. Or indeed most people.

4:21 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

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9:15 am  
Blogger Thomas David said...

Hi there, you got a funny blog there LOL

Good stuff

I've actually made a new site on Sukyo Mahikari if anybody's interested in finding a bit more about it

http://www.mysukyomahikari.org

Cheers

10:12 pm  
Blogger Anne said...

There's also more info on Mahikari available at:

Mahikari Exposed

3:27 pm  

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