The Tradition of SGI Culture Festivals

Soka Gakkai Culture Festivals

Photo by Seikyo Press.

What do music and culture have to do with Buddhism? Nichiren Daishonin has said, “We can know a country’s rise and fall by whether its tones are happy or sad” (Gosho zenshu, p. 88). Music is an expression of the human spirit; it speaks directly to the heart and proves that we can transcend national and ethnic barriers. It plays a critical role in building peace. For this reason, SGI President Ikeda established several institutions and traditions in the Soka Gakkai to bring cultural awareness to its members as well as to express, in a way that transcends language, the life condition of Buddhahood.

In his youth, President Ikeda noticed how second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda often encouraged young people to familiarize themselves with first-rate art and music. With the spirit to develop the Soka Gakkai youth division members into world-class leaders, he would go so far as to teach them etiquette and take them to art museums.

Shortly after being appointed as the youth division chief of staff, Daisaku Ikeda proposed an idea to the Soka Gakkai board of directors to engage in cultural activities, such as putting together a marching band. They did not approve of Mr. Ikeda’s idea, as they were unable to see the correlation between music and their movement to propagate Buddhism. President Ikeda writes about his feelings in creating musical groups in his novel The New Human Revolution, in which he appears as Shin’ichi Yamamoto:

The idea was based on Shin’ichi Yamamoto’s belief that an outstanding religion invariably gave rise to brilliant art and culture, and that the realization of a humanistic culture was the Soka Gakkai’s mission. It was also his conviction that the fostering of art and culture would demonstrate the greatness of Buddhism. (vol. 14, p. 122)

When the young Daisaku spoke with President Toda about developing a cultural element in the Soka Gakkai, Mr. Toda told him that, if he was passionate about it, to go ahead and make it a reality.

Brass Band and Fife and Drum Corps Established

The Brass Band was established on May 6, 1954, and the Fife and Drum Corps on July 22, 1956. In the beginning, both groups faced similar challenges, such as procuring instruments and instructing those with little to no musical ability. The groups were determined, however, to create the soundtrack of the Soka Gakkai’s movement for human revolution. In response to their desire, as the youth division chief of staff, Daisaku personally saved up money to purchase used instruments for the groups.

The Brass Band first performed on May 9, 1954,at a youth division general meeting under the pouring rain. The Fife and Drum Corps’ first performance was September 3, 1956, at a young women’s leaders meeting. While they were trying their hardest, the majority of the fife players could not play well, so the sound of their breath into the instruments was more prominent than the music itself. Some audience members humorously called them the “breath band.” Hearing these comments, Daisaku encouraged the young women’s leaders after the meeting, saying:

What people say about them now doesn’t matter. The important thing is that they become the best in the world. And I know they will . . . The reason I am so certain is that in order to become the best, one must have a lofty goal and a strong sense of purpose . . . The Soka Gakkai Fife and Drum Corps exists for the sake of kosen-rufu, for the happiness of humankind and world peace. What could be loftier? (The New Human Revolution, vol. 14, p. 127)

From these humble beginnings, the Soka Gakkai Brass Band and Fife and Drum Corps have become world-class performance groups, winning national competitions and receiving international recognition. In addition, these groups are active in SGI countries around the world, showing actual proof in their communities and developing many capable young leaders in the SGI.

Soka Gakkai Sports and Culture Festivals

After forming the Brass Band, Daisaku Ikeda, together with other youth leaders, proposed holding sports festivals as a way for youth to train themselves and forge deep bonds of unity. The board of directors was again uneasy about approving the activity, but President Toda allowed the youth leaders to give it a shot as long as they took full responsibility. The first sports festival called “Festival of the Century” was held on November 7, 1954. Sports festivals subsequently became an honored tradition of the Soka Gakkai and continued each year for the next several years. The most well-known one occurred on September 8, 1957, when President Toda delivered his “Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons,” marking the start of the Soka Gakkai’s peace movement.

These sports festivals evolved into culture festivals, in which Soka Gakkai members use music, dance and art to express the joy of earnestly practicing Buddhism. President Ikeda has said about culture festivals in the Soka Gakkai:

Soka Gakkai culture festivals are celebrations of the triumph of ordinary people, giving expression to the joy and vitality gained through their practice of Nichiren Buddhism. They are microcosms of human harmony, showing the beauty and strength of unity arising from trust and friendship. They are festivals of hope, proclaiming a vow for the realization of kosen-rufu, or world peace. (May 3, 2018, World Tribune, insert p. 2)

More than six decades have passed since the beginning of the Soka Gakkai’s cultural movement, which has become an SGI tradition around the world. In the following pages, we highlight some key festivals that have taken place in the United States, Japan and Brazil.

(pp. 12-13)