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Our History

Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future

Installment 6


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) has launched a series chronicling President Ikeda’s efforts to foster the future division members, along with graduates’ personal accounts and recollections of meetings and interactions with President Ikeda in their youth.

On the evening of January 3, a national high school division meeting was held in the Grand Reception Hall at the head temple.

The bright green flags of the high school division were lined up across the front of the room. The young phoenixes filling the hall waited eagerly for President Ikeda’s arrival. Members of the junior high school and boys and girls divisions were among them.

President Ikeda cared deeply for the young phoenixes. He once wrote:

From the time I was inaugurated as the third Soka Gakkai President, I had made the profound determination that my true victory in life would be determined by what happened in the 21st century. That is why, looking far ahead to the future of kosen-rufu, I quickly established the future division, comprising the high school, junior high school and boys and girls divisions.

A great writer who observed the Soka Gakkai said at that time: “The Soka Gakkai has taken another major step—a brilliant step. Now it will grow even more. It will experience tremendous growth.”

I was overjoyed. This meant that I would live together with, struggle together with and create history together with wonderful disciples.

At 5:40 p.m., President Ikeda arrived, greeted by thunderous applause. The young people energetically called out together: “Good afternoon, Sensei!”

“Let’s all do gongyo together,” he said. A resounding “Yes!” came in reply.

Hideko Tairaku (Soka Gakkai women’s division vice zone leader): Before the high school division meeting started, the atmosphere was electric. When President Ikeda entered, he took the microphone and began to speak. He said:“In honor of the New Year’s holiday, I brought some handwritten pieces of calligraphy to celebrate. I could only write a few, so I’m afraid I can only present them to some of you.”

We could all feel President Ikeda’s compassion, and we applauded enthusiastically.

•   •   •

The first item on the agenda at the high school division meeting was the introduction of new personnel appointments. Next, it was time for corps flags to be presented to the 512 young men’s and young women’s high school division corps leaders living outside the Tokyo metropolitan area. The corps leaders living in the Tokyo metropolitan area had received their flags three months earlier.

President Ikeda presented the flags to 14 young women and 14 young men representatives. The hall shook with joyous applause and cheers.

Yoshiichi Yamada (Soka Gakkai vice ward leader): I was eagerly anticipating this day. I had been counting down the days until the corps in our area would also receive the flag.

I was surprised to learn that I would be one of the members to whom President Ikeda would directly present the flag. I was very nervous.

When I accepted the flag from him, I felt its solemn weight.

Nori Ueotani (Soka Gakkai women’s division vice ward leader): I received the corps flag from President Ikeda as a representative of Hokkaido.

He told me, “Do your absolute best.”

I was a timid person, with a passive, negative attitude. But President Ikeda’s words made me think about this tendency, and I resolved to grow into a capable person who would live up to his high expectations.

Hiromitsu Ogata (Seikyo Shimbun editorial bureau general director): I’ll never forget how, when he handed me the corps flag, President Ikeda said with a penetrating gaze, “I’m counting on you.”

I could feel his profound determination to train genuine disciples.

•   •   •

President Ikeda then presented the new high school division badges to one young man and one young woman, as representatives of all the members.

The badges were round, brushed silver for the young men and bronze for the young women. They depicted a phoenix in flight with the character ko for “high” in “high school” in green lettering beneath the image.

Masafumi Kubota (Soka Gakkai vice prefecture executive leader): I was called upon to receive the badge as a representative of the high school division. I replied,“Here!” energetically as I stood up and walked over to President Ikeda. He then handed a wooden box that contained the badge.

From that time on, whenever I wore the badge, I felt a sense of responsibility and pride, and would renew my vow [for kosen-rufu] to President Ikeda. I think that was the case for all of us.

•   •   •

At the end of the high school division meeting, President Ikeda took the stage to thunderous applause.

The first thing he said was: “Is there anyone here from Hokkaido? From Okinawa? Thank you for making the long trip. Please, all of you come forward.”

The entire hall was enveloped in his personal warmth.

Sumiko Hirose (Soka Gakkai women’s division vice ward leader): We had spent two full days traveling on the Seikan Ferry crossing the strait linking Hakodate in Hokkaido and Aomori on Japan’s mainland, as well as on a night train to get to the event. We studied Nichiren Daishonin’s writings along the way. I was exhausted, but I really wanted to see President Ikeda.

President Ikeda was fully aware of our long journey and our feelings. He looked at us with a warm expression and gestured for us to come up onto the stage. This was the first time for me to be in such close proximity to him. We were all nervous. His kind words made me cry. I strengthened my commitment to kosen-rufu.

•   •   •

President Ikeda continued speaking. The young phoenixes leaned forward eagerly in their seats as if to catch his every word.

He said: “As our next goal, I propose that all of us here today meet again five years from now, on January 3, 1971. What do you think?”

The young people cheered loudly.

“In that time, I am sure each of you will advance along your respective life paths, but I hope that none of you will abandon your faith. I want you to develop into first-rate people who base themselves on strong faith.

“Looking forward to our future encounter, I will take the lead in all activities. Let us all, without a single exception, meet again on that day!”

The young phoenixes applauded vigorously in response to this inspiring proposal, delighted at the thought that they would be able to see President Ikeda again.

Noriko Ichiyanagi (Soka Gakkai women’s division vice ward leader): The hall erupted in joy when we heard we would meet President Ikeda again in five years.

At that moment, I decided to overcome every hardship I faced.

I subsequently began taking classes while working at a part-time job. My family was very poor. Life was hard, but I kept at it, aiming for the goal of five years into the future.

I felt incredibly fortunate to have encountered a wonderful mentor at such a young age.

•   •   •

President Ikeda’s voice intensified as he continued: “When all is said and done, only faith in the Daishonin’s Buddhism can lead to absolute happiness. Please remember that the greatest and most admirable people are those who stay true to their faith.

“Only seeking the superficial trappings of success is a mark of the theoretical and pre-Lotus Sutra teachings. If you want to become people who experience genuine happiness, people of integrity and people who understand truth, lead your lives in a way that befits disciples of Nichiren Daishonin—as emissaries of the Gohonzon and proud young Bodhisattvas of the Earth of the high school division.”

Masaichi Ueda (Soka Gakkai senior advisor; former national high school division leader and national young men’s division leader): President Ikeda urged us to be “proud young Bodhisattvas of the Earth of the high school division.”

It goes without saying that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth play the leading role in the essential teachings of the Lotus Sutra. They are the bodhisattvas to whom Shakyamuni entrusts kosen-rufu.

President Ikeda was not looking just five or 10 years ahead. Though it may be a bit late, I can see that now. The time for the action of the young phoenixes is from now onward.

•   •   •

President Ikeda then spoke about the youthful Nanjo Tokimitsu, who was a devoted supporter of Nichiren, conveying his high expectations for the high school division members:

Believing that each one of you will follow in my footsteps, I will do everything I can to pave the way forward for you, in Japan and around the world. My heartfelt wish is that you will put the finishing touches on the foundation of our movement, taking action in the same spirit as Nanjo Tokimitsu—no, taking even much greater action than the Daishonin’s disciples!

It was a mighty lion’s roar that gave the high school division members a fresh sense of resolve.

President Ikeda wrote about his thoughts that day later in an essay:

To my beloved young disciples, I imparted the message that justice, sincerity, wisdom and courage were all incorporated in the word faith, and I called on them to complete the foundation of our movement for kosen-rufu … Everyone’s eyes shone with hope and determination.[1]

Tadashi Shirai (Soka Gakkai vice ward leader): My life changed when President Ikeda told us he would pave the way for worldwide kosen-rufu.

I was studying at a technical high school at the time and never imagined that I would have the opportunity to attend university. But out of my wish to respond to President Ikeda’s hopes for us, I decided to apply. I poured all my energies into my studies and was accepted into a university. I also learned a foreign language.

Later, I secured a job at the British Embassy, eventually becoming a Senior Scientific Officer. January 3 is really the starting point of my life.

•   •   •

President Ikeda then shared three guidelines he wanted everyone to remember:

First, never judge people based on their grades in school. Always respect one another. All high school division members are my true disciples. Grades alone do not determine a person’s worth.

Second, it is likely that not all of you will be able to go to university. But please don’t think less of yourself if that is the case. Those who do go on to university should never be arrogant about it.

Third, some of you are probably facing difficult situations, including family problems. I hope everyone will rally around and help those who are struggling.

At the time, many members were not able to attend university because of their family situations or financial difficulties.

Yasunori Ushida (Soka Gakkai vice president and Seikyo Shimbun Photography Department advisor): President Ikeda’s words moved me deeply.

Two months earlier, he had invited my mother and me to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters. My father had died the year before, and my mother began working part time, caring for my four siblings and me. We were barely scraping by, and, since I was a high school senior, I was faced with the difficult decision of whether to try to go to university or get a job.

In the guest room at the headquarters, President Ikeda asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I immediately answered that I wanted to be a doctor. The reality, however, was that given the cost of medical school tuition, this truly was an impossible dream.

President Ikeda was aware of our situation. Still, he said supportively, “I’m sure you’d make a wonderful doctor.”

A concerned look then appeared on his face as he added, “But if you keep up that forlorn expression, I’m afraid you might have to be the patient!”

He smiled. He was making a joke.

“How about coming to work for me? What do you say?” Knowing the hardship my family was going through and my concerns as a high school student, he encouraged me to come and work at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters.

I was filled with gratitude. With tears in my eyes, I bowed and said, “I would be honored.”

“All right, that’s settled. Once something’s decided upon, there’s no reason to waste any time. You can start here at the headquarters from the New Year.”

Would any other leader have gone to such trouble for a 17-year-old high school student?

I later became a photographer for the Seikyo Shimbun, and traveled as part of the photography team with President Ikeda to universities around the world, including Harvard, Oxford, Moscow State University, Beijing University and the University of Bologna.

I owe more to him than I could ever repay in this lifetime.

Hisashi Kunitomi (Soka Gakkai women’s division vice chapter leader): President Ikeda’s guidance was filled with warmth and kindness. I was profoundly moved.

I had polio as a child and hadn’t been able to walk or even stand. My mother joined the Soka Gakkai motivated by her wish to cure me, and when I was 6 years old, I was able to stand up for the first time. My legs were weak, however, and I often fell down. There were many occasions when I came home from school in tears. Then I contracted tuberculosis. My childhood was a very difficult time for me.

I was overjoyed to be able to participate in the high school division meeting at the Grand Reception Hall.

I can’t express my feelings upon first meeting President Ikeda. To hear him say “You are my successors” became a source of tremendous hope for me. From that time, I began carrying a picture of President Ikeda with me, and felt a rush of fresh courage each time I looked at it. I was accepted to a night school program at a foreign-language university, and I mastered English.

Though at first I couldn’t even walk on my own, through President Ikeda’s encouragement I was able to stand up as my own person.

•   •   •

Everyone was rejuvenated after President Ikeda’s speech. In closing, all the participants sang Soka Gakkai songs together. The meeting should have ended there, but President Ikeda suddenly took the microphone and said, “As a prayer for your growth and health, let’s all do gongyo together again.” His feelings were distilled in those words.

President Ikeda wrote: “We did gongyo twice at the high school division meeting. I couldn’t suppress my wish to chant intently for the growth, health and success of our earnest young phoenixes.”[2]

Masaichi Ueda (Soka Gakkai senior advisor; former national high school division leader and national young men’s division leader): From the time the second gongyo session began, President Ikeda’s focus was completely on the younger members. He paid no attention to the vice general directors or youth division leaders, including myself. It was a solemn moment of interaction between the lives of President Ikeda and the young phoenixes only. We couldn’t help but feel the depth of this generation’s mission.

From that second gongyo session, the real high school division meeting began.

•   •   •

When the second gongyo session ended and President Ikeda stood up, voices began calling out: “Sensei, please lead us in a song!” “Please!” Everyone applauded. The young phoenixes unhesitatingly expressed their wishes.

“All right,” he said. But before he did so, he had the Soka Gakkai vice general directors on the stage lead songs.

Finally President Ikeda stood up. “What do you want to sing?” he asked the room.

“‘Takeda Bushi,’[3]please!” someone shouted.

President Ikeda gracefully and vigorously led the young phoenixes in singing “Takeda Bushi” as everyone clapped in time to the rhythm.

Next someone called out, “‘Kuroda Bushi,’[4]please!”

The young phoenixes didn’t hold back. President Ikeda again responded to their request. He led them in four songs in total, putting his all into each one.

In “Thoughts on The New Human Revolution,” President Ikeda wrote:

Responding to their heartfelt requests, I led them in songs. One song followed another. My arms ached and I was out of breath.

But I was determined to give my life to protecting and looking after these young people, with whom I shared a profound bond, as models of genuine successors.[5]

Masaaki Gono (Soka Gakkai vice ward leader): I vividly recall President Ikeda leading us in four songs. One after the other, he led us in “Takeda Bushi,” “Kuroda Bushi,” “Song of Courageous Departure” and the young men’s division song “Song of the Sons of Japan.”

Seeing him drenched in perspiration from the effort to encourage us, I was deeply moved by the level of his expectations for us.

Eiko Taira (Soka Gakkai women’s division vice zone leader): As President Ikeda led us again and again in song, I felt a powerful emotion that I had never experienced before pierce me at the center of my being. Watching his gallant form leading us in song changed my life. It gave me a sense of empowerment. That memory became a source of incredible strength when I was later diagnosed twice with cancer.

Kimiyo Muto (Soka Gakkai women’s division vice ward leader): President Ikeda’s leadership in the songs filled the room with overflowing excitement. But I could see him up close, and his exhaustion was evident. Even so, he continued to lead song after song, to bring joy to the high school division members.

My tears flowed as I watched him.


  1. From “Thoughts on The New Human Revolution,” no. 190, which appeared in the January 15, 2001, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun. ↩︎
  2. Ibid. ↩︎
  3. Takeda Bushi: A Japanese folk song describing Takeda Shingen (1467–1568), a skilled military leader of the late Muromachi period (1336–1573). ↩︎
  4. Kuroda Bushi: A Japanese folk song from Fukuoka Prefecture. ↩︎
  5. From “Thoughts on The New Human Revolution,” no. 190, which appeared in the January 15, 2001, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun. ↩︎

Make the Brilliant Light of Encouragement Shine

Ota Jomyo