Our History

The Min-On Concert Association

Celebrating 55 Years

The Min-On Concert Association building in Shinanomachi, Tokyo. Photo by Seikyo Press.

Fifty-five years ago this month, SGI President Ikeda established the Min-On Concert Association with the purpose of making first-rate culture available to common people. In addition, he hoped for many countries to come together and engage in cultural exchange with music, erasing boundaries of language, ideology and race. Currently Min-On holds concerts at music halls throughout Japan and in other countries, where musicians gather from various cultures to perform. To date, Min-On-sponsored events have welcomed artists from 104 countries and territories. In the following pages, President Ikeda writes of the founding of the Min-On Concert Association in The New Human Revolution, vol. 8, pp. 215–21, in which he appears as Shin’ichi Yamamoto.

Music For the Common People

Shin’ichi Yamamoto conceived the idea of the Min-On Concert Association during his first visit to India and Southeast Asia in February 1961 as he was traveling back from India through Burma (now Myanmar) toward Thailand and Cambodia. Shin’ichi’s elder brother died in Burma during World War II, and throughout that trip he thought about what was needed for humanity to break away from the tragedy of war and build lasting peace. He realized that some means of promoting mutual understanding among the peoples of the world was indispensable to this end, and that cultural exchange through music and the other arts was essential. Shin’ichi decided to found an organization with the Soka Gakkai as the parent body for the purpose of promoting exchange in music and the arts.

The Soka Gakkai leadership carefully considered the matter, and at the second national convention of the Education Department on August 1 that year, Shin’ichi announced plans for forming a cultural association. A preparatory committee was set up and final steps taken toward the association’s establishment. This included selecting its name, defining its guiding principles and goals, choosing its president and directors, and proposing a concrete program of events.

On October 18, a concert celebrating the association’s establishment was held. It began at 6:30 p.m. with a rousing performance of the march “Anchors Aweigh” by selected members of the Soka Gakkai Brass Band. The logo of the Min-On Concert Association, a stylized design of musical notes, hung at the back of the stage.

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The event celebrating the founding of the Min-On Concert Association featured a chorus, a musical ensemble and performances by a leading violinist and cellist. The president of a local music college gave a brief congratulatory speech on behalf of the other guests, followed by words from Eisuke Akizuki, who had been appointed Min-On’s executive vice president.

Akizuki began by stating that the full name of the organization was Minshu Ongaku Kyokai, or “The People’s Concert Association,” and that its goal was to promote music widely for all to enjoy. He explained that at first there was talk of calling it “The Public Concert Association,” but Soka Gakkai President Yamamoto had suggested changing it to “people’s” to express that it is the people who are the true sovereign of society and the nation, and they play the leading role in fostering music and the arts.

Akizuki continued: “I would next like to introduce the five principles of the Min-On Concert Association. They are: 1) to promote a vibrant and thriving musical movement widely among the people; 2) to create and develop a new music for the people; 3) to promote music education for youth, and raise the general level of music appreciation, toward the realization of a rich cultural life for the people; 4) to deepen international cultural exchanges through music and establish friendly ties linking people around the world; and 5) to foster musicians and present their finest works and performances at home and abroad.

“In order to develop a new musical movement of the people in accord with these five principles, the association will sponsor regular performances, which will include the metropolitan areas. Our goal is to create a new current in music culture that will return music to the people.”

After Akizuki finished speaking, Hiroshi Izumida, a Soka Gakkai vice general director and now executive president of Min-On, asked the audience for its continued support of the association and its activities. Next, the Fuji Wind Ensemble played the Light Cavalry Overture and other pieces, and for the finale, the famous Japanese composer and conductor Hidemaro Konoe conducted the march, “Old Comrades.”

When the performance was finished, the hall erupted in enthusiastic applause. This was the Min-On Concert Association’s maiden voyage into society as the flagship of a new musical and cultural movement of the people. There were many guests in attendance that day, and they all expressed support for Min-On’s guiding principles and goals. Such a flourishing of music born from the people was long-awaited.

The inaugural concert of the Min-On Concert Association, Tokyo, October 1963. Photo by Seikyo Press.

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At the time, the average person in Japan listened mostly to popular music, but wasn’t so familiar with classical music or opera. Tickets to such concerts were very expensive, most likely because promoters were looking to make a profit, which made them inaccessible to a large part of the population. Shin’ichi believed that the first priority of the Min-On Concert Association was to provide people with an opportunity to enjoy all types of music, including classical, opera and that of the traditional Japanese variety.

Music is for everyone. It is not the exclusive possession of the privileged or wealthy.

The Workers’ Music Councils (Jpn Ro-On) was another major organization promoting musical appreciation at the time, but most people thought it was too political. In 1963, the same year of Min-On’s founding, the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations established the Musical Culture Association (Jpn On-Kyo), but its scope was still rather small.

Shin’ichi was pleased with the prospect that both of these organizations might also offer fine music to a broad spectrum of people. His hope was that Min-On’s birth would spark the creation of fresh culture by giving ordinary people more opportunities to experience music of the highest caliber.

During the concert celebrating the founding of Min-On, Shin’ichi was at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters chanting for the success of the event and the association’s growth and development. After the concert was over, Hiroshi Izumida and Eisuke Akizuki returned to the headquarters. It was just after 10 p.m.

“It was a great success,” Izumida told Shin’ichi. “The guests were very receptive to the founding principles of Min-On, and they expressed great hopes for its future.”

“That’s wonderful. Congratulations!” said Shin’ichi.

Akizuki elaborated: “Actually, until tonight’s concert, many people in the music world seem to have been of the opinion that the Soka Gakkai founded Min-On in order to use music and art to expand its influence.

“Also, one guest asked whether Min-On would avoid sponsoring performances of music related to any other religion, such as that celebrating Christmas. Since the Soka Gakkai does not compromise in matters of religion, this person thought that Min-On, as an affiliated organization, would reject any art or music that had religious overtones.”

Izumida then added: “Mr. Akizuki, there are some Soka Gakkai members who think the same thing.”

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The Soka Gakkai has always distinguished clearly between superior and inferior, deep and shallow, and correct and erroneous when it comes to religious teachings. This is because whether we are genuinely happy or not is determined by the beliefs we uphold. Consequently, there were many members who felt uncomfortable about performing or listening to music that was related to other religious traditions.

Religion and art are certainly intertwined. Religion cultivates the earth of our being, our life itself, while art brings the flowers and fruits of culture to bloom in that earth. Appreciating the art that is born from a particular religious tradition, however, is not the same as believing in that religion. Though religious feeling may be the wellspring of artistic creation, once the art is created, it transcends religion.

A beautiful flower delights and refreshes the hearts of all people equally, no matter what soil it grows in. That is the power of beauty. The same is true of great art. It is this spirit that the German poet Heinrich Heine sang of when he wrote that once the peapod bursts open, the sugar peas inside are for everyone to enjoy.

To categorize art by its religious or ideological content and reject it on that basis is to reject humanity itself. Furthermore, Buddhism teaches respect for the dignity of life, and of freedom and equality. It is a philosophy of compassion that enables us to bring our humanity to full bloom. Since the Soka Gakkai’s musical movement is based on Buddhism, it is completely mistaken to categorize and reject any music that is an expression of our shared humanity. This was Shin’ichi’s feeling and also his firmest conviction.

Shin’ichi addressed Izumida and Akizuki: “I am concerned about Soka Gakkai members falling into a narrow and dogmatic way of thinking. Our strictness is aimed at religious teachings themselves. We must make it understood by both our membership and society that we are entirely open-minded when it comes to art and culture.

“Art is not a slave to ideology or politics, nor is it a slave to religion. It has a value all its own, and so it is only natural to recognize and treasure it. Furthermore, I have not the slightest intent to use the activities of the Min-On Concert Association to propagate Nichiren Buddhism or bring music lovers into the Soka Gakkai. That must also be made very clear. My purpose in founding Min-On is to return music to the people. It is to create a humanistic culture, join the hearts of people around the world through music and contribute to world peace.”

(pp. 34-37)