Birth of Our Party: How Komeito emerged from a fledgling political entity into a legislative force to be reckoned with

The establishment of Komeito as a political party was proposed by Daisaku Ikeda, then president of the Soka Gakkai. At a general meeting held on May 3, 1964, Mr. Ikeda posed the following query: How would his fellow Soka Gakkai members feel about taking the Komei (“Clean Government”) Seiji Renmei, or Komei Political Federation (KPF), another step forward in its evolution? In responding to the demands of the times and the needs of ordinary citizens, they could make the Federation into a political party, Mr. Ikeda said, with candidates running in House of Representatives elections, for example.

Mr. Ikeda’s proposal was unanimously endorsed. Given that religion and politics operate in different realms, moreover, he felt that the Soka Gakkai should dismantle its political arm and that the KPF should strike out on its own as an independent political organization. The former would subsequently serve as a constituency to provide the latter with electoral support and policy endorsement. Such a separation would ensure the KPF’s autonomy and serve as a declaration of the separation of Church and State.

In addition, eight days after the general meeting, Mr. Ikeda attended a leaders’ meeting for young men on May 11, where he formally submitted a proposal to establish the Komei-to or Komei political party. There, noting that the KPF would be holding a national convention in six months, he aired his plan for the Federation to transition to a full-fledged political party and asked for the members at the meeting to endorse a resolution to do so. This was met with enthusiastic approval, setting off in earnest preparations to officially form the Komeito later that fall.

On November 2, some two weeks before the party’s founding, Komeito headquarters buildings was completed in Shinjuku, Tokyo. On November 15, at a national conference of KPF legislators, Koji Harashima was elected chairman of the newly established Komeito, with Takehisa Tsuji serving as deputy chair and Hiroshi Hojo as secretary general.

The day before Komeito’s inaugural meeting on the 17th, the party leadership paid a visit to Mr. Ikeda, who then made some sharp observations that would serve as a lesson for its legislators going forward.

One such admonition involved the ceremony’s venue, which was to be the Nihon University auditorium. One of the largest facilities of its kind in Japan at the time, the auditorium boasted an impressive seating capacity such that even the most established and sizable political parties refrained from holding events there, Mr. Ikeda observed. He was at a loss as to why Komeito, taking its first tottering steps as a newborn party that was bereft of any political achievement, would choose such a large venue. Did it hope to impress people, he asked, by parading a large gathering of participants and staging some kind of pretentious ceremony?

That, Mr. Ikeda stated, was surely a reflection of its undeserved self-importance. Had Komeito achieved repeated success as a political party and become a legislative force to be reckoned with, he said, then it would be free to hold any event, however elaborate, at whatever venue it chose, however large. But to do so at its inception was presumptuous and a sign of arrogance, he warned.

The policies and positions announced at the meeting that Komeito would henceforth uphold were those previously examined and adopted by the KPF. While the party founder fully endorsed the agenda, he asked for only one item to be added to Komeito’s core foreign policy goals: This was to extend formal recognition of the People’s Republic of China and for Komeito to strive for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China.

November 17, 1964, the day of Komeito’s official inauguration. Three banners bedecked the auditorium: the largest facing the audience read “Komeito Inaugural Meeting”; to its right, “Komeito, Pillar of Japan”; and to the left, “Komeito, For the Welfare of the People.” The party’s new leaders opened the event with various declarations and announcements, followed by a commemorative message from the party founder, who wrote:

   I believe that this worthy enterprise heralds the coming of a new dawn for Japanese politics. I pray that you will all advance courageously for the happiness of the people, the security of Japan, and the peace of the world.