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Monday, March 30, 2009

Wolves in Sheep Clothing

This Sunday afternoon the Kaminoge family drove over to the Fengyuan Culture Center (apparently there is culture in this city after all) to check out some kind of fair that was being held there. Various government and local groups had set up booths to display a variety of things, including a number of arts and crafts. It all sounded innocent enough, but once we got there something started to bother me, something about all the tricolor (blue, yellow and red) flags flapping in the wind:

I was trying to work out the connection between this fair and an as-yet-unidentified European country when the answer appeared right in front of me, on the backs of the vests being worn by hundreds of volunteers at the event:

SGI - Sōka Gakkai International. Sōka Gakkai 創価学会, for those of you who don't know, bills itself as a "Buddhist lay organization". In reality, it's about as Buddhist as the Mormon Church is Christian, and is more like a cult, led by the Kim Il-sung-like figure of Daisaku Ikeda 池田大作. Like the Mormons, SG has been around long enough, and has grown large enough in size, that it has become respectable - almost. SG members still have a reputation of being aggressive, intolerant proselytizers, which combined with the group's supposedly unaffiliated political wing, the New Kōmeitō Party 公明党, has resulted in most ordinary Japanese being distrustful and wary of the organization.

Sōka Gakkai and I have had a long, mutually antagonistic relationship, going back to my early days living in Tōkyō. I used to date a woman who was a member, and through her, I was able to witness firsthand the level of control and brainwashing the organization had over its followers. She tried her best to convince me to join - by going to concerts to see bands made up of SG converts, eating out at restaurants owned by SG followers, and most of all, by giving me lots of English-language literature by and about Ikeda the Great One. Instead of seeing the benefits of chanting "Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō 南無妙法蓮華經 day and night, I only saw a group that was preying, recruiting those in Japanese society who did not already belong to large groups - the self-employed, homemakers, part-timers and bar hostesses and others from the nighttime "entertainment" business 水商売. After 18 months of subtle and not-so-subtle attempts at getting me to see the light, my Dedicated Follower pretty much gave up and our relationship came to an end. I may have been a waste of time, but judging from the number of people serving as staff for today's event, it seems Sōka Gakkai International has established a significant presence in Taichung County 台中縣. Are all those Mormon missionaries I see around Fengyuan 豐原 aware of the formidable competition they are up against?

SGI-organized though it may have been, we still enjoyed ourselves at the fair today. My daughter was able to try her hand at painting...: wife went for a spin on an earthquake simulator:

...and we came away with two free cherry trees, though I'm not sure where we can keep them in our small, dark apartment:


Meanwhile, Fengyuan's mausoleum kept watch over the city from its perch in the hills:


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