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Our History

Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future

Installment 2


Deeply committed to the education and development of children and youth, SGI President Ikeda, as the third Soka Gakkai president, established the high school division in June 1964, the junior high school division in January 1965 and the boys and girls division in September 1965—which together comprise the future division.

The present generation of future division members will be the key protagonists of the kosen-rufu movement when the Soka Gakkai celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2030. With this recognition, the Soka Gakkai monthly study journal Daibyakurenge (starting from its November 2010 issue) launched a series chronicling President Ikeda’s efforts to foster the future division members, along with division graduates’ personal accounts and recollections of meetings and interactions with President Ikeda in their youth.

The Soka Gakkai is a citadel of capable people. Capable people are the driving force for the organization’s growth and development.

Who has fostered people and built this citadel of talented individuals? It has been none other than SGI President Ikeda.

In the early years of his presidency, President Ikeda established the high school division (in 1964). He took this decisive step with a view to the Soka Gakkai’s development in the 21st century. Many leaders at the time, however, couldn’t understand what he was trying to achieve. To them, what mattered was reaching the immediate goal of a membership of 6 million households. They were unable to grasp the grander vision that President Ikeda held for the future.

President Ikeda wrote of his thoughts at the time: “When I established the high school division, some top leaders couldn’t understand why I was focusing so much attention on that age group. But theirs was a very shallow and shortsighted point of view. I was determined to show them what my vision was.” He had incredible conviction. He had taken the first step toward victory for the development of our movement in the 21st century.

•   •   •

At a special summer training course held in August 1965, President Ikeda proposed a number of ideas for the full-fledged start of the high school division. They included appointing regional high school division leaders, and creating a flag and badge. These proposals were immediately implemented. In September, regional high school division leaders were appointed in 25 general headquarters throughout Japan. A solid lineup for fostering high school division members had been put in place. Regarding the new division’s organization, high school division groups were set up in each chapter, and high school division corps were established in each general chapter across the country.

•   •   •

As the high school division was starting to take shape, the September Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting was held at the Taito Gymnasium in Tokyo’s Taito Ward (on September 26, 1965). At that gathering, President Ikeda made an important announcement concerning an editorial titled “Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future!” that he had written for the November 1965 issue of the Daibyakurenge,[1] the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

He said: “Today, I wrote an editorial in the Daibyakurenge for our high school division members. In the past, I thought that because they were in high school, they were too young to be fully involved in the organization. Looking at them now, however, it is obvious that they are all really fine individuals.” In a humorous aside that drew laughter from the audience, he added: “I’m sorry to say this, but they are leagues ahead of all of you!”

He went on to identify the mission of the high school division.

“That is why I wrote an editorial titled ‘Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future!’ You really can’t ask men’s division members to soar into the future! [Laughter.] The article will appear in the next issue of the Daibyakurenge.

“The finishing touches of establishing the foundation of kosen-rufu will be made in the future by people who are the age of our current high school division members. Many of them are the children of Soka Gakkai members and were born into this practice. They are already well versed in Nichiren Buddhism. The time has come. I am relieved. I am happy.”

Believing that “the time has come,” this was the decisive factor in President Ikeda choosing this time to establish the high school division. How many who were present at that meeting really understood President Ikeda’s clear vision for the future? Regardless, President Ikeda felt that if he did not act then, the Soka Gakkai would have no future. He had to strike while the iron was hot.

Masaichi Ueda (Soka Gakkai senior advisor; former national high school division leader and national young men’s leader): I was really astonished. First of all, President Ikeda declared his resolve to foster high school division members at a headquarters leaders meeting, where traditionally important announcements regarding the direction of our movement as a whole were made. And then he announced that he had written an editorial for the Daibyakurenge titled “Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future!”

Until then, President Ikeda’s editorials contained valuable guidelines to individual groups such as the women’s division and the student division.

His plans far surpassed anything I could conceive of as a high school division leader, and to witness them being boldly implemented deeply moved me.

•   •   •

The creation of a high school division flag that President Ikeda had proposed at the special summer training course proceeded as well. The flag was to be presented to each corps leader at the Tokyo metropolitan area high school division flag presentation ceremony to be held on October 1. It was a pivotal event in the Soka Gakkai’s history.

President Ikeda took on a significant role in the flag presentation ceremony, wishing to personally hand the flags to each high school division corps leader.

More than 200 leaders were to receive flags. It would be a ceremony of unprecedented scale. When the corps leaders heard about this plan, they were overjoyed.

On the evening of October 1, the Tokyo metropolitan area high school division corps leaders ran excitedly up the stairs of the Soka Gakkai Headquarters.

The flag presentation ceremony was to be held in the main hall on the building’s third floor (Mentor and Disciple Hall). A leader warned them not to run, because they were entering the most important part of the headquarters. Hearing about this, President Ikeda said to the leader: “It’s all right. Each of them will be shouldering the future of kosen-rufu.” He was glad they were eager and enthusiastic, as youth should be.

President Ikeda was entrusting the Soka Gakkai in the 21st century to the high school division.

As the members entered the hall, they all let out a cheer. The high school division flag was completed. The bright green flags stood in a row across the front of the room, their silver lance-shaped finials gleaming.

Toshiko Iijima (Soka Gakkai women’s vice headquarters leader): October 1 was a holiday for schools in the Tokyo area, so the high school division members in Tokyo had the day off. Though I lived in Tokyo, my high school was outside the central part of the city, so I had to attend school. When school was over, I hurried to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters.

I was very excited, thinking that President Ikeda would personally hand me our flag. It would be my first time meeting him in person.

Before the meeting started, we practiced receiving the flags. We waited for the ceremony to begin, eager and ready.

•   •   •

At 5:20 p.m., President Ikeda entered the hall. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “Let’s do gongyo.”

Gongyo began. The 276 Tokyo metropolitan area high school division corps leaders sat behind President Ikeda.

After gongyo, he turned around and asked, “Have any of you here today lost a parent?”

Everyone was very tense. Some members raised their hands hesitantly.

President Ikeda looked at the students who had raised their hands and warmly said: “From today, please consider me your father. You can talk to me about anything.”

Tears fell from the members’ eyes.

Takuji Sakabe (Soka Gakkai vice ward leader): My parents, fortunately, were alive and well, but I was deeply moved by President Ikeda’s warmth and compassion for those who had lost parents. Everyone felt the same way. His words brought tears to our eyes.

Kimiyo Muto (Soka Gakkai women’s vice ward leader): I was one of those who raised their hands. I felt President Ikeda’s compassion fill my heart when he said, “From today, please consider me your father.”

I thought to myself: I no longer lack a father. I have President Ikeda.

My father had passed away, and I suffered from a disability in my leg that left me with a serious limp. I wasn’t achieving good grades in school, and I was very disappointed in myself.

But that day changed me. I began to enjoy school. I knew I had a wonderful mentor. This was invaluable encouragement for my life.

•   •   •

At President Ikeda’s suggestion, high school division members had come up with ideas for the flag design, and the national high school division leader had been given the main responsibility for seeing it through. The result was a vibrant green flag. President Ikeda had proposed using green material for the background to represent fresh green leaves, a symbol of youth. A young phoenix depicted in white soared with wings outstretched in the center of the flag.

The phoenix is a mythological bird that has long been regarded as an auspicious symbol in China. It is said to appear when a ruler of virtue ascends the throne.

In his writings, Nichiren Daishonin compares the Lotus Sutra, the supreme teaching among all the sutras, to a phoenix. It was out of his hopes for the high school division members that President Ikeda named them “young phoenixes.”

President Ikeda had given his full attention to the creation of the high school division flag.

The magnificent flag presentation ceremony finally began. The emcee read off the names of the corps and their leaders, beginning with the male high school division leaders from Tokyo. One after another, the names were read. There were 76 of them.

Masafumi Kubota (Soka Gakkai vice prefecture executive leader): When the emcee called out “Tokyo No. 1 Corps,” I responded in a clear voice. I was so nervous, I felt like I was floating on air.

“Please do your best!” President Ikeda said, his gaze penetrating into the depths of my being.

The flag was heavy when I took it in my hands. It was a moment that changed my life. And I don’t think I’m the only one who felt this way.

Shigeru Asami (Soka Gakkai vice president; former national youth leader): President Ikeda said a few words to each person as he handed them the flag.

To me, he said, “I’m entrusting you with the Soka Gakkai’s future!” I will never forget the power in his voice. I responded with all my might.

Akira Kuwahara (Soka Gakkai vice chapter leader): As he handed me the flag, President Ikeda said, “Be good to your parents.” I was surprised. Though it was our first encounter, he seemed to know what was troubling me. At that time, only my mother and I practiced Nichiren Buddhism. My father had not yet joined the Soka Gakkai.

With a feeling of self-righteousness about my faith, I resented my father for his opposition to it. I was unable to put into practice an important point from President Toda’s “Guidelines for Youth,” in which he says, “How can those who don’t love their parents expect to love others?”

President Ikeda’s encouragement helped me break out of this deadlock. I deeply reflected on my attitude. I let go of my petty mindset and made a firm vow to behave in a way that would win my father’s trust.

In the years that followed, my mother and I continued to speak to my father about Buddhism, and he came to understand our beliefs and eventually joined the Soka Gakkai.

Through President Ikeda’s encouragement, we became a harmonious family based on Nichiren Buddhism. I am eternally grateful to him for that.

•   •   •

President Ikeda sincerely handed the flag to each leader, one at a time. After the leaders from Tokyo, those representing surrounding areas were called forth. Youth leaders busily assisted him, and it was clear from their expressions that they were becoming tired. President Ikeda, however, remained composed and solemn, speaking to each member and continuing to encourage the young phoenixes who would shoulder the future.

Noboru Tomatsu (Soka Gakkai assistant general administrator; writers division vice leader; vice ward executive leader): The hall became very warm for October, filled with the passion and enthusiasm of the high school division members.

President Ikeda’s face shone with perspiration as he continued to hand out the flags to one leader at a time, totaling more than 200. Eventually, the legs of the youth division leader who was passing the flags to President Ikeda began to give way from the sustained effort. But President Ikeda remained composed. He looked each leader in the eye, offered words of encouragement and presented them with the flag. He was the very picture of earnest concentration. I was moved by his warmth and compassion.

•   •   •

Flags were presented to all 138 male high school division leaders. Their faces flushed with excitement. President Ikeda was completely focused. He continued to offer words of encouragement to each member.

When those flag presentations were finished, the presentations to the female high school division leaders began, starting with the Tokyo No. 1 General Headquarters and moving from there to Santama, Kanagawa, Saitama and Gumma.

Kimiyo Muto: President Ikeda told me, “Do your best!”

He must have noticed me dragging my leg as I walked and realized I had a physical disability. But he didn’t look at me with pity or offer me words of sympathy. Rather, he looked me right in the eye and encouraged me wholeheartedly. That made me happier than anything and gave me tremendous confidence.

Noriko Ichiyanagi (Soka Gakkai women’s vice ward leader): When I received the chapter flag, President Ikeda said to me, “Be optimistic.”

At the time, my father was very sick and couldn’t work. Our family was extremely poor, and I was working part time to contribute to the household finances and pay my school expenses. I would be lying if I said that seeing my friends from well-off families enjoying a carefree youth didn’t make me very jealous.

President Ikeda saw right through me. I sensed he was telling me: “Don’t allow yourself to be swayed or bothered by those around you. Just follow your chosen path, with a strong, positive attitude.” That flag presentation ceremony was the most moving event in my life.

Junko Toyoda (Soka Gakkai women’s vice chapter leader): When I accepted the flag from President Ikeda, he looked straight into my eyes and said, “Stay cheerful!”

I felt like he had perceived my true feelings. My father was opposed to my mother and me practicing Nichiren Buddhism. There were many occasions when we came home from meetings and he had locked the door to the house and wouldn’t let us in. I cried many tears because of my father. I was very afraid of him.

That was my home situation when I attended the high school division flag presentation ceremony.

After graduating from high school, I debuted as a singer with my twin sister. In 1968, as a member of the first class of the Soka Gakkai Arts Division’s Young Power Group, I had a chance to meet President Ikeda again. I told him about how my father opposed our Buddhist practice.

He listened intently and then said, “When you get home, tell your father that Mr. Ikeda thanks him and sends him his best regards.”

He then added warmly, “Be good to your father.”

That remark really hit me. After I got home, with tears in my eyes, I told my father all about my exchange with President Ikeda. My father, who was always so outspoken about his opposition to my faith, for the first time listened quietly to what I was saying.

Later, he joined the Soka Gakkai. At last, the spring of family harmony came to our home. It was all thanks to President Ikeda.

Yuko Niikura (Soka Gakkai women’s vice chapter leader): When I was in the first year of junior high school, my mother died. It was a terrible shock. A senior in the young women’s division encouraged me at the time, and from then on I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and recited the sutra regularly.

When I was in my third year of junior high, I heard about the formation of the high school division, and I decided I wanted to go on to high school and become a member of this group that President Ikeda had founded.

We couldn’t afford a private high school, so I set my sights on a public school and studied and chanted hard, eventually gaining admission.

I was filled with gratitude, since it was thanks to President Ikeda founding the high school division that I was able to lead a positive life with kosen-rufu as my mission.

It was at this time that I took part in the flag presentation ceremony. When “Santama No. 10 Corps” was called out, I answered, “Present!” and walked up to President Ikeda feeling very nervous.

I was very touched by his encouragement to me to “be cheerful and energetic.” I had done my best to surmount the sadness of my mother’s death through my faith, but President Ikeda accurately perceived my karma and encouraged me in a way that shook me to my core.

Since then, whenever I start to feel down, I remember President Ikeda’s encouragement at that time and renew my vow to dedicate my life to kosen-rufu. That encouragement to “be cheerful and energetic” has become my lifelong motto.

•   •   •

After the flags were presented to the 276 high school division corps leaders, everyone sat in rows having disassembled their flags into two, holding them at their sides. President Ikeda took his seat at last and immediately began his speech.

The eyes of all the high school division corps leaders were focused on him.

He spoke with deep feeling: “Congratulations to all of you! My mentor was second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda. Seven years have passed since he died. I became president of the Soka Gakkai five years ago on May 3, 1960. Since then, together with my fellow members, I have opened the way for kosen-rufu in both Japan and around the world. Today is the happiest day in all that time.”

The members applauded thunderously in response to President Ikeda’s words. They all leaned forward in their seats as they listened to him speak.

His voice grew more emphatic: “The reason is because the high school division is taking the lead, followed by the junior high and elementary school divisions. The future presidents of the Soka Gakkai must emerge from these three divisions. This is what I wish, and it is my hope that it will happen as a matter of course.”

Masaichi Ueda: I was extremely surprised to hear President Ikeda’s reason for calling it his happiest day.

He said, “The future presidents of the Soka Gakkai must emerge from these three divisions.”

I was astonished to think that the succeeding presidents would come from among the members of the boys and girls division, the junior high school division and the high school division.

Masaaki Gono (Soka Gakkai vice ward leader): I engraved President Ikeda’s words deep in my heart. I felt a shock run through my body as I listened to him. His hopes and expectations for the high school division were much higher than I had ever imagined.

Translated from the December 2010 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. The full translation of the editorial “Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future!” from the November 1965 Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal, will appear in the August 2019 issue of Living Buddhism. ↩︎

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