Seicho no Ie

SEICHŌ NO IE ( 生長の家)


1893  Taniguchi Masaharu was born.

1920  Taniguchi Masaharu married Emori Teruko.

1922  Taniguchi left Ōmoto after its suppression in 1921.

1923  Taniguchi’s only child Emiko was born shortly after the major earthquake in Tokyo.

1929-1933  Taniguchi received twenty nine divine revelations.

1930 (March)  The first issue of magazine Seichō no Ie was published. This is the official date of Seichō no Ie’s foundation.

1936  The Women’s Association was founded.

1945 (August)  The Pacific War and the nationalistic era ended, followed by a new constitution (1946) and a new law governing religious organisations (1951).

1948  The Youth and Young Adults Association was founded.

1954  A hierarchical structure of the branches was established.

1954  Headquarters were moved to a new location in central Tōkyō and the temple complex in Uji (near Kyoto) was opened.

1963  Taniguchi’s visit prompted proselytisation in Brazil.

1977  The temple complex in Nagasaki was completed.

1985  Taniguchi Masaharu died.

2002  The first fathers’ study groups were founded.

2006  The Sundial Movement was initiated.

2008 (October)  Taniguchi Seichō died

2009 (March)  Taniguchi Masanobu was inaugurated as third president.

2013  Headquartes were scheduled to move to Yamanashi prefecture.


On November 22, 1893 Taniguchi Masaharu ( 谷口雅春 , originally written 谷口正治 ) was born in a hamlet in today’s city of Kōbe. He was adopted by his aunt who had the financial means of sending him to school. He graduated from Waseda High School as the best student in the literature program and enrolled in the English Literature Department of the prestigious Waseda University. After a dramatic love affair, he had to discontinue his academic career and take on various poorly paying jobs. He contracted a venereal disease and, searching for a cure, became interested in traditional and spiritual healing as well as in hypnotism and other spiritual practices that were quite fashionable at that time (Biographies of Taniguchi can be found in Seimei no jissō volumes 19 and 20 and Ono 1995).

In September, 1919, he took up residence with the new religion Ōmoto near Kyoto where he helped edit Ōmoto’s magazine and newspaper and became an important member of the staff. In November, 1920, he married Emori Teruko ( 江守輝子 , 1896-1988). Taniguchi left Ōmoto in 1922 because he was disappointed with its failed prophecy of world renewal and had begun to doubt the existence of a judging and punitive creator god and also because of Ōmoto’s suppression by the nationalistic authorities the year before (Lins 1976:74-112).

The next few years were tumultuous. Because of his wife’s illness, Taniguchi tried various forms of faith healing. He assisted a former colleague from Ōmoto with editing a spiritualist magazine. He completed his first novel, pay for which he would have needed desperately, just before the 1923 earthquake entirely destroyed Tokyo. His only daughter, Emiko ( 恵美子), was born in autumn of 1923. His family moved to the Osaka area where at last he found work as a translator for an oil company in 1924. Because the job paid so well and he found it so suddenly, Taniguchi was convinced that it had materialized after he had pictured it during meditation.

Taniguchi continued writing and translating spiritualist and New Thought texts, saving money to eventually publish his own magazine. During and through meditation he started hearing voices, writing religious poems and healing illnesses . On December 13, 1929, Taniguchi heard a loud voice within himself telling him to get up, not to wait until the conditions seemed right, but to start now because the material world did not exist and he was part of divine reality and already perfect now. Taniguchi immediately took up his pen and started his magazine Seichō no Ie , official publication of whose first issue in March, 1930 is now regarded as the date of foundation of the new religion Seichō no Ie. Between November, 1929 and September, 1933 Taniguchi received twenty nine divine revelations informing him about the nature of the divine and of human beings, thus laying the foundations of some of Seichō no Ie’s key practices and doctrines (Seichō no Ie Honbu 1980:246-78).

In the following years Seichō no Ie , whose names literally means “House of Growth”, gradually developed into a religious organization with branches in various communities, suborganizations, a system of lecturers, and an increasing number of publications and public lectures by Taniguchi. In 1940, Seichō no Ie was officially established as a religious organisation, and in 1952 it was registered as a Religious Corporation according to post-war legislation. In the years between 1945 and 1983, Seich ō no Ie was actively involved in conservative national politics, supporting among other issues a strong position of the emperor. Taniguchi Masaharu died in 1985 and was succeeded by his son-in-law Taniguchi Seichō. He dedicated his life to the promulgation of Seichō no Ie in Japan and abroad giving lectures, writing books and travelling to overseas branches He established “world peace” as a major issue in Seichō no Ie (Seichō no Ie online b) . Current head is Taniguchi Seichō’s son Taniguchi Masanobu who is currently shifting Seichō no Ie’s practical emphasis to environmental issues.

Seichō no Ie sees itself as “Humanity Enlightenment Movement,” a theme that was first proclaimed in March, 1930 and has been reaffirmed and put in concrete forms continuously since then. Taniguchi explained that he could no longer silently watch human misery, but like the fire of a candle had to lead humankind to salvation ( Seichō no Ie 1/1:3f.). The motto communicates that members should be conscious that humans are children of god, should live accordingly, feel grateful and responsible for their environment, bear Seichō no Ie’s mission in mind and, last but not least, spread the message to as many other people as possible (Taniguchi S. et al. 1979:73, 80-94).

In anticipation of the twenty first century, the “International Peace by Faith Movement” was added to the Human Enlightenment Movement as Seichō no Ie’s general guideline in 1993. It aims at enhancing Seichō no Ie’s international activities, arguing that information technology seemed to be making the world smaller. Consequently, internationally coordinated actions against environmental problems and local natural disasters had become increasingly desirable and possible (Taniguchi Masanobu 1993). Concrete measures towards world peace also include a prayer for world peace and imagining a peaceful world during meditation (the doctrinal explanation for this is given below.

Since 2000, Seichō no Ie’s publications and activities have shifted their focus to environmental protection and the sparing use of natural resources. Initially, this translated into popular campaigns of using one’s own (cotton) bags and plastic chopsticks rather than plastic bags and wooden one-way chopsticks. In a second step, meat-free communal meals were introduced, and members were assisted in equipping their homes with solar panels. In 2011, Seichō no Ie became a founding member of the Religious and Scholarly Eco-Initiative (e.g. Religious and Scholarly Eco-Initiative online ) (Personal Communication, March, 2009 and February, 2013).


Seichō no Ie belongs to what Shimazono (1992:74-75) called the “intellectual thought type” of new religions, that is, religions founded by widely read, well-educated men with a logically written, abstract yet easy-to-understand doctrine. Taniguchi Masaharu had enjoyed literature and read widely on topics, including Freud, Western theology and philosophies as well as on traditional and scientific schools of medicine (all of which eventually contributed to the formation of Seichō no Ie’s doctrine).

Witnessing a snake trying to devour a frog and torn between sympathy for both the hungry snake and the frog Taniguchi realized that a loving and perfect creator god could not have created an imperfect world in which some creatures had to kill others for their living. Instead, he turned to a more Buddhist worldview based on the belief in the non-existence of material things including human bodies, and in the existence of their True Image ( 実相 , jissō ) only. Seichō no Ie’s main object of worship is, thus, not a specific deity but absolute divine reality, the Great Universe itself, which is represented by the calligraphy of the word “ jissō ” (= True Image). The world as we see it does not exist. It is but a reflection of its True Image as it is perceived through the lens of our human minds. The True Image is taught to be perfect, harmonious, beautiful and complete. However, because the human mind is polluted through vices or crimes, reality can only be perceived as imperfect, full of cruelties and illnesses.

Human beings are taught to be children of this supreme god who is identical with the Great Universe. “Man is a child of God” ( 人間・神の子 , ningen, kami no ko ) is Seichô no Ie’s central creed. Human beings are, therefore, really perfect and harmonious but they are not usually able to perceive themselves that way. These doctrines, that humans are really perfect children of god and that this world only exists in our imagination, coupled with the New Thought philosophy that a positive perception positively affects this world, led Taniguchi to emphasise that by imagining positive things, humans can manipulate their perception of the world and thereby improve it. Imagining things strongly and sincerely enough, for instance that humans are perfect and powerful and illness does not exist, is, therefore, believed to make these things come true. Consequently, Seichō no Ie places great emphasis on a positive attitude towards life, the most important element of which is gratitude. Members are taught to feel grateful for every aspect of their lives, positive and negative alike. Numerous testimonials narrate how feelings of gratitude saved members from otherwise unbearable situations (Fieldwork Observations).

One essential element of a positive, grateful attitude is Seichō no Ie’s Neo-Confucianism-influenced emphasis on filial piety. Filial piety ought to be expressed in everyday tokens of respect for and compliance with one’s parents (and for female members particularly their in-laws) as well as in regular rituals of veneration of the deceased. Seichō no Ie’s doctrine also includes Christian elements, such as the belief in an absolute life-giving force, the Great Universe, of which humans are believed to be children. In his writings, Taniguchi frequently referred to the Bible, especially the power of the spoken word for the creation of the visible world as described in Moses 1,1 and John 1,1 (e.g. Taniguchi 1974 [1923]:303f.). Taniguchi explained that all religions have the same core and only differ in details and appearance due to local developments. Hence it was quite logical that his doctrine included elements from various traditions ( Seimei no jissō volume 6).

Seichō no Ie’s most important publication and key doctrinal text is Taniguchi Masaharu’s 40-volume Seimei no jissō 『生命の實相,
rendered in English as Truth of Life , written in 1932. Seimei no jissō has been translated fully into Portuguese ( A Verdade da Vida ), but only partially into English and even less into other languages. Taniguchi’s second series of books is his eleven-volume Shinri ( 『真理』 , The Truth ) which is an introduction to the doctrine expounded in Seimei no jissō and was first published between 1954 and 1958. Kanro no hōu 『甘露の法雨』 , officially translated into English as Nectarean Shower of Holy Doctrines , is the most important of Seichō no Ie’s four holy sutras. It has been translated into several languages and has recently been published in Braille. Kanro no hōu was divinely revealed to Taniguchi Masaharu by the Bodhisattva Kannon on December 1, 1930. Carrying, reading or copying the sutra are said to evoke miracles, such as unexpected recovery from illnesses and protection during accidents.

Apart from these key doctrinal texts Taniguchi Masaharu, as well as his successors and their wives, published innumerable books and articles explaining various parts of doctrine and practice and their realization in everyday life. All of these books are used in lectures, seminars and study groups, and many members own a large collection of them, thereby contributing to Seichō no Ie economically. Seichō no Ie publishes a monthly newspaper and three magazines, which are often displayed openly in shops or stations to attract new readers. Additionally, it hosts a network of loosely related websites (Seichō no Ie online a; Kienle and Staemmler 2003), Taniguchi Masanobu’s private weblog (Taniguchi Masanobu online ), and approximately thirty minutes of radio broadcasting very early on Sunday mornings on various regional radio stations.


Seich ō no Ie m embers are encouraged to read passages of Taniguchi’s scriptures and sutras, practice meditation, and do something good every day. They are also strongly encouraged to tell others of Seichō no Ie’s doctrine and lead them to its way of life. Apart from this general ideal, however, Seichō no Ie offers a large number of private and communal rituals and activities in which members (and potential members) are encouraged to participate.

Based on the doctrines that the world exits the way we perceive it and that positive thoughts and words have creative power, Seichō no Ie emphasizes the necessity of transforming one’s attitude to be harmonious, grateful and cheerful. This is done by small everyday habits, such as using “ arigatō gozaimasu ” (thank you) as a greeting and expressing gratitude for blessings yet to be received in prayers (Fieldwork Observations). Also based on these doctrines are the “practice of laughter,” during which members engage in happy thoughts until they laugh loudly, and the sundial movement initiated in 2006 in which members are encouraged to record – in a diary or online – a happy moment for every day, much like a sundial only marking hours of sunshine (Taniguchi J. 2008 and Seichō no Ie online c).

An essentially important ritual is shinsōkan 神想観 , a form of meditation (Taniguchi 1996 [1970]; Seimei no jissō volume 8; Taniguchi S. 1991; Staemmler 2009:305-08). Shinsōkan is defined as a religious practice through which the formless, ubiquitous and truly divine reality ( shin ) can be thought about ( ) and visualised ( kan ) directly and without employing the eyes or the brain. Shinsōkan is regarded as one of the main techniques for becoming aware of the fact that what humans perceive as reality is not reality at all and that humans are children of god, perfect because god is perfect, and with the same supernatural powers as god. Becoming fully aware of this through shinsōkan is said to free divine supernatural powers in anyone.

Shinsōkan may be performed either on one’s own or as a group exercise and ideally twice a day every day for about thirty minutes in bright rooms to further bright and happy thoughts. There are no restrictions on the age from which children may begin to practise shinsōkan , and there are no regulations about appropriate clothing or time of day. Shinsōkan begins with a short song of praise to the all-pervading life-giving god with whom unity is to be established. This is followed by a quarter of an hour of silent meditation. A variant of shinsōkan is the inori-ai shinsōkan during which people perform shinsōkan for the sake of other, unhappy or ill people. It is believed that the positive atmosphere created by a group of people performing shinsōkan will contribute towards alleviating or eliminating the sufferer’s problems. Similarly, shinsōkan is performed as a communal ritual to further world peace.

Seichō no Ie’s religious practice includes various ceremonies (private and communal, daily and annually) of reverence for ancestors which are quite common in the Japanese religious repertory. In Seichō no Ie their primary aim is not to ask for ancestors’ assistance or protection. Rather it is to express one’s gratitude towards one’s ancestors and to please them with a bright, grateful heart, positive words and the delightful smell of incense, which contributes towards one’s salvation. Most prominent is the annual ancestor ceremony in August at the main ancestral shrine in Uji. For this occasion paper strips bearing names, dates of birth and death of members’ ancestors are collected to be ritually read and finally burnt in a large purificatory fire (Fieldwork Observations). In 1977, rites for stillborn and aborted babies were separated from those for ancestors because of unborn babies’ distinct spiritual status. The suffering and respite felt by the souls of unborn babies finds its expression, it is thought, through disorderly siblings or other family problems and needs to be alleviated through special rituals as tokens of parental love and repentance ( Seichō no Ie Uji Bekkaku Honzan 1997: preface).

As in most other new religions, seasonal festivals of various scale and frequency may also be found in Seichō no Ie. Some ceremonies, such as annual celebrations in memory of Taniguchi’s revelations and monthly memorial days for Taniguchi, Taniguchi Seichō and Teruko (as well as larger annual festivals) are only or primarily performed in Nagasaki (see Shūkyō Hōjin Seichō no Ie Sōhonzan online b). Others, such as ancestor veneration, and especially the annual Ancestral Memorial Festival in August, take place in Uji (see Seichō no Ie Uji Bekkaku Honzan online b ). Other events, such as ceremonies at the beginning of every month , are celebrated in all the facilities.

Seichō no Ie runs several kinds of training events. Apart from local, private study groups there are large scale public lecture meetings by Taniguchi Masanobu and his wife as well as “spiritual training seminars” ( 錬成会 , reinseikai ). Renseikai take place on a regular basis and instruct new members (or refresh older members) in Seichō no Ie’s doctrine and key rituals. They last for three to ten days and include overnight stays and communal (and recently meat-free) meals. Lectures during renseikai are given by appointed lecturers and are interspersed with testimonials, performance of various rituals as well as communal singing and morning and evening worship. Another important element are small, informal sessions for discussion and personal exchange. The number of participants range from three or four to fifty or sixty depending on time and location. There are various kinds of renseikai depending on target groups (teenagers, women, experienced members and so on) and foci (such as general introductions and seasonal). Venues are the main and regional headquarters as well as two rensei centres conveniently located within easy reach of Tokyo (Fieldwork Observations; Shūkyō Hōjin Seichō no Ie Sōhonzan online c).


When Taniguchi Masaharu died in 1985 he was succeeded by his son-in-law Taniguchi Seichō ( 谷口清超 , 1919-2008, born as Arachi Kiyosuke 荒地清介 ), who had been the first head of Seichō no Ie’s youth assocciation. Simultaneously Taniguchi Seichō’s wife, Emiko, succeeeded her mother as president of the women’s association (both associations are described below). When Taniguchi Seichō’s health began to fail in 2005, his second son, Taniguchi Masanobu ( 谷口雅宣 , born 1951), gradually succeeded him and became officially inaugurated as Seichō no Ie’s third president on March 1, 2009, four months after his father’s death. Simultaneously, the presidency of the women’s organisation was passed from Taniguchi Emiko to Taniguchi Masanobu’s wife, Junko ( 谷口純子 , born 1952).

According to its official English-language website, as of December, 2010 Seichō no Ie had 651,119 members within and 1,032,108 members outside of Japan ( Seichō no Ie online d ). Seichō no Ie is, thus not only one of the largest new religions in Japan, together with Sōka Gakkai it is also the largest Japanese new religion outside of Japan. Missionary activities in Brazil began in the mid-1950s when members immigrating to Brazil transmitted their faith to fellow Japanese immigrants. After Taniguchi’s visit to Brazil in 1963, however, missionary efforts turned to non-Japanese as well. Recently, Seichō no Ie’s membership in Brazil (the Brazilian headquarters are Seichō no Ie’s missionary headquarters for all of Latin America) has been estimated at around half a million members, eighty to ninety per cent of whom have no Japanese ancestry ( Carpenter and Roof 1995; Maeyama 1992; Shimazono 1991 ). Although missions to Hawai’i and other parts of the United States began before the Pacific War, membership figures do not compare to those in Brazil and most members are of Japanese descent. There are Seichō no Ie branches in several European countries, such as Germany, France, Great Britain and Portugal. However, they have only a few members, many of whom are Japanese students or employees or of Brazilian origin (Clarke 2000:290-93).

Seichō no Ie’s International Headquarters is its doctrinal and administrative center. It is scheduled to move from central Tokyo into an “office in the forest,” that is, a zero energy building in the mountains of Yamanashi prefecture, in autumn of 2013 (Taniguchi M. and J. 2010 and Seichō no Ie online e ). The main temple in Nagasaki primarily serves ceremonial functions and contains the main shrine dedicated to Sumiyoshi Daijin, a Shintō deity said to “protect the state and purify the universe” ( Shūkyō Hōjin Seichō no Ie Sōhonzan online d) . The third religious center is the Additional Main Temple in Uji, near Kyoto, which focuses on the veneration of members’ ancestors and the care for stillborn or aborted babies. Hence it includes the main ancestral shrine (Fieldwork Observations; and Seichō no Ie Uji Bekkaku Honzan online a) . Additionally, Seichō no Ie has 129 hierarchically structured regional and local branches in Japan ( Seich<o no Ie online d ). It runs its own publishing company, Nihon Kyōbunsha, and a young women’s boarding school ( Seichō no Ie Yōshin Joshi Gakuen), whose educational focus lies on Seichō no Ie’s scriptures, on housewifely skills such as childcare and nutrition, on artistic courses such as music and traditional Japanese arts, and on basic office skills ( Seichō no Ie Yōshin Joshi Gakuen online ).

A key function in Seichō no Ie’s internal, horizontal structure, however, is fulfilled by its three suborganisations, membership in one of which implies full membership in Seichō no Ie as opposed to mere reading membership. Headquarters of these organisations are in the International Headquarters in Tokyo, activities are conducted nationwide in local branches. All of these groups are official yet small and informal study groups. Members meet regularly to read current issues of monthly magazines or listen to lectures on Taniguchi’s doctrine, to exchange news and talk about current and often very private problems.

The largest of these suborganisations is Shirohatokai, the women’s association. It was founded in February, 1936 and derives its name (White Dove Association) from the fact that doves are associated with purity, friendliness and peace (attributes women, too, ought to have). Shirohatokai’s aim is to teach women how to make their families paradises and to establish enlightenment of love and peace (Seicho-no-Ie online f). The “ Brotherhood Association” (Sōaikai) is intended for middle-aged men (Seicho-no-Ie online g) aiming to assist them in coping with problems of work, family and health. It also aims at spreading Taniguchi’s message into male-dominated areas of society. Parallel to the long-standing mothers’ study groups within Shirohatokai, the Sōaikai successfully took up recent social trends and in 2002 established fathers’ study groups to assist and instruct men in their parental duties (Personal Communication). The “ Youth and Young Adult Association” (Seinenkai), finally, was founded in 1948. It addresses young men and women between junior high school and their late thirties, that is, those in education and early working years. In addition to regular study groups, members may participate in special weekend courses or training seminars and, as in other new religions, in other (for instance environmental, fund-raising or, recently, disaster relief) activities on a local level (Seichō no Ie online h).


Seichō no Ie is more overtly patriotic than many new religions. The 1890, the Imperial Rescript on Education, whose importance for Japan’s nationalistic period is well documented (e.g. Antoni 1991:44-47), is included in Seichō no Ie members’ “indispensable” collection of texts (cf. subtitle of Taniguchi S. et al. 1979). In addition, a recent edition of the youth group’s magazine answers questions about the emperor, the national flag and anthem, with emphasis on nationalistic auto-stereotypes of Japan as a peace-loving country and its unique imperial lineage uninterrupted since times immemorial ( Risō sekai 2009/2: 12-16).

Seichō no Ie’s Confucian-influenced ideal female role is readily discernible in the policies of its girls’s school, countless testimonials and, above all, Taniguchi’s own writings (see e.g. Seimei no jissō volume 29; Taniguchi 1954-1958 volume 5). Rather than equality between men and women or superiority of men over women, Taniguchi teaches that men and women are fundamentally different and that women, like men, should strive to fully develop their innate potential. As Seichō no Ie regards the family, especially husband and wife, as society’s basic unit, peace and harmony (which are prerequisites for a peaceful, prosperous society), it encourages women to be loving housewives and caring mothers who “obey their husbands without hesitation” (Taniguchi Masaharu 1991:135) because husbands are head of the family endowed with fatherly, that is divine, wisdom (Taniguchi 1954-1958 I: 63-67).

As in many other new religions, testimonials describing people’s release from illness, misery or strife through belief in a new religion’s doctrine or the performance of its rituals are commonplace in Seichō no Ie. Frequently new, often female, members report their change of attitude from anger, disappointment and frustration towards gratitude, forgiveness, optimism and endurance (and in effect often to a large degree towards a denial of the member’s true needs) (Fieldwork Observations).

Parallel to these aspects which my own political and moderately feminstic point of view might induce me to regard as more problematic than others, however, it must be noted that Seichō no Ie has recently taken up environmental issues with more seriousness than most Japanese people and organisations. This is based on the founder’s doctrine to “be grateful for everything in the world” ( Passage from Taniguchi’s founding issue of Seichō no Ie quoted in Taniguchi M. and J. (2010:229) ) includes all natural phenomena and resources. Additionally, the current leader is convinced that religious practice is not only a matter of performing rituals but should reflect on one’s everyday behaviour and activities (Taniguchi Masanobu 2009: 290-94), that, secondly, changing circumstances required changes in religious practice, and that, thirdly, living in harmony means not only harmony with humans but also with nature.

Seichō no Ie is therefore a fascinating example of an organisation that draws on various religious traditions and is simultaneously very conservative and very progressive. As the environmental focus is a relatively new development within Seichō no Ie, its development during the next decade or so is bound to remain fascinating.


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Birgit Staemmler

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