More than 20 percent of Japan’s population is over the age of sixty-five, and 45 percent of all cities, towns, and villages in Japan are classified as “depopulated” by the national government. Researchers have long been aware of the challenges that the aging population and depopulation pose to traditional Buddhist temples. In contrast to those temples, many new religions were formed when people moved from farming villages to cities. This history of providing urban forms of belonging that sometimes fed off of the depopulation that traditional Buddhist temples struggle with has led scholars to overlook ways that depopulation and the aging population might be affecting new religions. This article asks whether and how population change in contemporary Japan is affecting new religions. More specifically, through the use of statistical data, interviews, and newsletters from Konkōkyō and Risshō Kōseikai, two new religions that have locations throughout Japan, it shows that new religions are facing many of the same issues as traditional Buddhist temples. Comparing the organizational form, practices, legal structures, and membership size of these new religions, this article looks at ways that they are affected by depopulation and the aging population and how they are working to serve aging members in depopulated areas.
In1950, it was necessary for Risshō Kōseikai to register at least one local location other than their headquarters with the Minister of Culture as a legal religious corporation in order to register the headquarters as an “inclusive religious corporation” (hōkatsu hōjin 包括法人), so they registered the Ibaraki Dharma center as its own legal entity falling under the inclusive corporation of Risshō Kōseikai. The Okinawa Dharma center, which was a chapter at the time of its registration, was in American controlled territory, which made it necessary for it to register as its own legal entity. It was registered with the Ryūkyū government as a religious corporation in 1962. Presently, article three of each of the official registrations of both of those locations state that they fall under the inclusive religious corporation that is Risshō Kōseikai.