Wire Service: AP
On July 10, 2004 the Associated Press reported, " The meeting in the small Tokyo apartment starts with the chanting of prayers before a small Buddhist altar, then quickly turns to politics and campaign strategies. An election is just days away, and, as these Buddhists see it, it's every believer's moral duty to get out the vote. Repeated in the homes of millions of members all over the country, the gathering is typical of the Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist group created just before World War II. It has established itself as one of Japan's most influential religious organizations -- and one of its most formidable political lobbies. As Japan prepares for a hotly contested set of parliamentary elections on Sunday, Buddha's disciples are widely expected to emerge once again as the kingmakers. 'Buddha won't just solve everyone's problems while you sit and do nothing,' said Hiroko Ota, one of the 10 people at the meeting. 'You have to work for a better society. That's a central part of the teachings of our Buddhism, and why we get so involved.' Hundreds of thousands of Soka Gakkai members have tirelessly canvassed for their candidates, mostly from the organization's de facto political arm, the Komeito. The Komeito, whose members are virtually all Soka Gakkai believers, holds only 34 seats in the 480-member lower house and 23 seats in the upper house, but play a key role as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's junior coalition partner. The real benefit to Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party is its access to Soka Gakkai's powerful campaigning machine. Soka Gakkai has about 10 million members in Japan and several million more overseas. Moreover, its members are unusually well organized and adept at mobilizing voters. 'Without them, the Liberal Democrats can't keep control of the government,' said Tokyo University professor Ikuo Kabashima. 'Their support is absolutely essential.'"