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‘Education Will Be My Final Undertaking in Life’

Ikeda Sensei established Soka education institutions to foster countless global citizens who will safeguard peace and contribute to the happiness of humanity.

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The Founders’ Dream for Education Expands Limitlessly

In 1930, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, an elementary school principal, wrote The System of Value-Creating Education. His disciple, Josei Toda, edited and published the work. At the time, the Great Depression raged throughout the world, and militarism gained momentum in Japan.

On an inside page, Nov. 18 is listed as the publication date, and next to it appears the printing date, Nov. 15. Interestingly, Mr. Makiguchi, the father of Soka education, died nobly for his beliefs on Nov. 18, and Ikeda Sensei, who established great halls of Soka education, died on Nov. 15.

Carrying on the will of his predecessors, Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda, Sensei built a grand network of Soka education that spans the globe. He founded the Soka schools, ranging from elementary to secondary schools in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan. He opened Soka University and Soka Women’s College, both in Tokyo. Combined, the two institutions have exchange programs with 251 universities in 67 countries and territories. At the turn of the century, in 2001, Soka University of America opened in Aliso Viejo, California.

That same year saw the opening of Brazil Soka schools, which started as a kindergarten and has since developed into a unified K-12 school system. In addition, there are Soka kindergartens in Sapporo, Japan, as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. And in August 2023, Soka International School Malaysia held an entrance ceremony for its first class.

‘I’m Counting on You, Daisaku’

Josei Toda had a dream of constructing a great castle of Soka education. Despite having just stepped down as Soka Gakkai general director amid a storm of difficulties, Mr. Toda, looking ever forward, entrusted that dream to his closest disciple.

On Nov. 16, 1950, while having a meal at a university cafeteria in Tokyo, Mr. Toda said to Sensei:

[Daisaku], let’s build a university. A Soka University. …

This may not be possible for me to achieve during my lifetime. If that’s the case, I am counting on you, [Daisaku]. Let’s make it the best university in the world![1]

Just three months earlier, financial troubles had forced Mr. Toda to suspend his business operations. As Mr. Toda’s employees left the company one after another, Sensei engaged in a solitary struggle. Only 22 at the time, he engraved his mentor’s words deep in his heart. Mr. Toda’s mentor, Mr. Makiguchi, had also wished to establish a school.

Keeping the earnest wishes of Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda firmly in mind, Sensei began to develop plans for a unified school system for kindergarten through university students.

On April 5, 1960, just a month before his inauguration as third president, Sensei and his wife, Kaneko, traveled to view a proposed site for a Soka Junior High and High School in Kodaira, Tokyo. He decided to build the school there.

On June 30, 1964, he formally announced plans to build Soka University, stating, “I would like to found a university … from which I would like to see talented people and great leaders emerge who will contribute to world peace.”[2]

The Soka University Establishment Steering Committee was created and plans began in earnest.

For What Purpose

In 1968, Tokyo Soka Junior and Senior High School opened as an all-boys school. And in 1971, Soka University opened, two years earlier than originally planned. Violent student protests at Japanese universities in the late 1960s had spurred the decision to push up the opening of this institution that could serve as the seat of humanistic education and spark a light of hope in higher education.

To help finance the school’s establishment, Sensei poured his energies into writing many books. He worked diligently, writing page after page. He donated his royalties to help pay for construction costs.

Throughout Japan, people expressed support for the school’s ideals. Some helped prepare the construction site while many others gave heartfelt financial contributions.

At every opportunity, Sensei explained to Soka University students that theirs was an institution of the people built by the efforts of ordinary individuals.

Many think that studying at a good college is for the purpose of working for a good company and leading a comfortable life. Sensei, however, spoke of his conviction that “study should be devoted to serving and contributing to the lives of those who could not pursue advanced learning themselves.”[3] This is a key characteristic of Soka University.

To commemorate the university’s opening, Sensei presented a pair of bronze statues to the school. On the pedestal of one were the words “For what purpose should one cultivate wisdom? May you always ask yourself this question!”

And on the pedestal of the other, “But only labor and devotion to one’s mission give life its worth.”[4]

Toward the 21st Century and Beyond

After founding the Soka schools and Soka University, Sensei often visited their students, modeling what humanistic education looks like through his attitude and actions.

On occasion, he would invite them to play tennis or table tennis, go fishing or compose haiku with him. At times, he invited them to enjoy a fancy meal, using the occasion to teach them proper table manners.

He explained to the teachers that education means to provide continual  inspiration to students and to help them create wonderful memories.

Sensei followed the progress of Soka students, supporting those who received poor marks or dropped out of school. Many of these students later turned things around and excelled in their chosen fields, some even going on to become university professors.

Many students came from across Japan to attend the Tokyo Soka schools and lived in housing on and off campus. For these boarding students, Sensei proposed holding an event just for them called the Glory Festival, so they could create fond memories before returning home for the summer. Sensei attended this annual event for 24 consecutive years, spending time with the students.

The second Glory Festival took place on July 17, 1969. Sensei arrived on campus, went straight to the athletic field, and took a seat in the students’ section. He heartily encouraged them as he learned their names and hometowns and applauded the student performances of folk songs, dances and original plays.

Sensei called out to the students:

I believe that by the beginning of the 21st century, many of you—the members of the Soka schools’ first two classes—will be leaders in your respective fields, whether it be as company presidents or directors, or as journalists, scientists, artists or doctors. Others will likely be active as leaders among ordinary people, living modest yet brilliant lives.

I’d like to propose that [all those] gathered here today all come together for a reunion on July 17, 2001. …

I will be looking forward to our encounter in 2001, continuing my endeavors to open the way for you as I warmly watch over your efforts from the sidelines. That is my greatest joy and the purpose of my life.[5]

The fond memories they created with Sensei motivated these students to resolve to grow and win in life and reunite with him in the future.

Sensei committed himself to education as the key to transforming a century of war into a century of peace—always with his eyes trained on the 21st century and beyond.

Treasuring Students as Our Own Children

After Soka University opened, Sensei visited the campus for the first time in response to a heartfelt invitation he had received from the students to attend their first university festival.

At the festival, Sensei visited many of the food booths and viewed research exhibits painstakingly created by the students. He took over three hours visiting one exhibit after another. At one he said: “I can tell you really studied this issue. … I’ll bet it wasn’t easy.”[6] He knew that the students had worked day and night preparing it.

At another festival, held in July 1973 and organized by dormitory students, Sensei visited the campus each of the event’s three days. At the festival’s final event, a folk dance celebration, Sensei played the taiko drums until the wooden drumsticks caused the skin of his palms to peel away.

Sensei always asked the faculty and staff to treasure the students. For instance, he once said:

I hope they will care for and look out for the students as if they were their own children. Professors should respect and serve the students, not look down on them as inferiors. This is the heart of student-centered education. Universities that provide such education will develop and grow. Universities exist for the students. Those universities that value their students most highly go on to become the world’s foremost universities. This is an unchanging principle.[7]

In October 1973, at the third annual student festival, 700 business leaders and corporate recruiters attended a reception at the university gymnasium. They had been invited out of appreciation for their support and to allow them to see how Soka education was taking shape in the students’ lives.

Sensei said to these guests:

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ikeda, the university’s founder. I hope you will look favorably on our students when they begin their job search.[8]

He handed his business card to each guest, bowing deeply. Despite his fatigue from a taxing schedule, he walked about greeting all 700 of the guests. After about two hours, sweat drenched his shirt and suit collar.

Aware that the students chose to attend this new, unknown university the first year it opened, he wanted to personally greet business leaders to ask them to support the graduates.

Seeing Sensei, their school’s founder, exert such effort on their behalf deeply inspired the students to put their all into finding a job. In those days, large companies used a pre-determined list of universities to hire from. Soka University seniors were sometimes turned away because the university was not on the list.

Unfazed, students would say: “I understand. It’s all right if you cannot employ me, but I hope you will consider giving Soka University graduates a fair chance in the future. Many talented people will be graduating from my school. Please try to keep an open mind about them next year.”[9]

Despite the economic downturn in 1973, an exceptional number of students from the first graduating class landed jobs at major companies, and every graduate found employment. To this day, Soka graduates maintain a high job-placement rate.

Thinking Globally

During his journeys abroad for peace, Sensei would send postcards to Soka students out of a desire to nurture their awareness as global citizens.

In May 1973, he traveled to Europe in part to engage historian Arnold J. Toynbee in dialogue. During that trip, he bought a French doll in Paris for the students at the Soka Girls Junior and Senior High School, which had just opened that year. He wanted to name it, and since he considered the schools to be “gardens of learning,” he suggested using the Chinese character for garden (sono) and naming the doll Sonoko. Sonoko became the school mascot, and the students came to proudly refer to themselves as Sonokos.

In 1982, this school was renamed Kansai Soka Junior and Senior High School. That same year, both the Tokyo and Kansai schools made a fresh start as coeducational campuses.

The students have developed a vast understanding of the world because Sensei always kept them in mind as he traveled abroad. In addition, many leading thinkers with whom Sensei has met have also visited Soka campuses. More than 5,000 of Sensei’s friends—such as leading proponent of European unification Count Richard Coudenhove-
Kalergi, French art historian René Huyghe and internationally renowned children’s book illustrator Brian Wildsmith—have visited these schools.

What is the correct way to live?—Sensei has motivated Soka students to contemplate this question by introducing them to the lives of great world figures of the past and present.

On Nov. 20, 1997, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, visited the Kansai Soka school. On that occasion, Sensei referred to one of Leo Tolstoy’s fables, The Young Tsar, in which three voices address the leader in a dream:

The first declares that the tsar’s sole responsibility is to maintain the power that he now enjoys; the second tells him to cleverly evade his royal responsibilities; the third reminds him that he is a human being before he is a tsar. This last voice … emphasizes taking action and alleviating people’s suffering because it’s one’s duty as a human being.[10]

Sensei praised President Gorbachev, likening him to a leader who follows the third voice.

Sensei wrote in a 2009 essay:

Leaders must emerge who can think beyond Japan’s limited perspective to think on a global scale. That is why I have told Soka University students “the world is your stage” and created many opportunities for them to encounter world leaders and cultural figures, as well as first-rate art.[11]

Irreplaceable Treasures

“President Ikeda, what is your dream?” On Feb. 28, 2000, Sensei was asked this question during a conversation with Kansai schools students soon to graduate.

He jokingly replied, “I’m so busy that I don’t have time to think about dreams!” Then he said, “I’m always thinking about the world.” He said that his dream was to actualize the vision of his mentor and reminisced how he single-mindedly lived his life toward this end.

He continued: “I hope that in the future all of you will also become fine scholars and leaders. That is my greatest personal dream.”[12]

Referring to them as “my irreplaceable treasures,” Sensei kept by his side a collection of graduation essays and signature books submitted by the students. He always encouraged and prayed for the happiness and victory of all Soka schools’ alumni.

He wrote in a poem:

How my heart leaps with delight
when I learn
of the successes and achievements
of Soka Alumni.
How it pains me
to hear their sad news.
These are feelings known only
by the founder of a university.

My friends,
for all eternity
I will be together with you!
For all eternity
I will be your ally![13]

He always cherished students of Soka schools. And in the same way, many alumni will always keep Sensei in their hearts, carrying on his dream for strengthening and expanding the network of Soka education.

January 2, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 21–23


  1. The New Human Revolution, vol. 15, revised edition, p. 86. ↩︎
  2. NHR-9, revised edition, 162. ↩︎
  3. NHR-15, revised edition, 99. ↩︎
  4. Ibid., pp. 98–99. ↩︎
  5. NHR-12, revised edition, 312–13. ↩︎
  6. NHR-15, revised edition, 137. ↩︎
  7. Translated from Japanese. From a speech in the April 3, 2010, Seikyo Shimbun. ↩︎
  8. Translated from Japanese. From an essay in the March 20, 2000, Seikyo Shimbun. ↩︎
  9. NHR-15, revised edition, 209. ↩︎
  10. Dec. 5, 1997, World Tribune, p. 5. ↩︎
  11. Tentative translation from an essay in Oct. 24, 2009, Seikyo Shimbun. ↩︎
  12. April 7, 2000, World Tribune, p. 5. ↩︎
  13. Journey of Life: Selected Poems of Daisaku Ikeda, p. 299. ↩︎

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