Soka Spirit
3. A Time of Destruction: Sho-Hondo Awaits Its Fate

Summary of Events surrounding the announced demolition of Sho-Hondo

SGI Office of Public Relations

Summary of Events surrounding the announced demolition of Sho-Hondo
From the early 1960s, having contributed hundreds of temples to the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, and donated 80% of the total land around its head temple at the foot of Mount Fuji, the affiliated Soka Gakkai lay organization worked towards contributing a “state-of-the-art” main temple building on this site (the Sho-Hondo) to house the primary object of worship for both priests and lay members around the world.

Fundraising began in 1965, and in October 1972, following enormous efforts by 8 million members of Soka Gakkai and other lay followers, who raised 35.5 billion yen ($100 million at that time), the Sho-Hondo building was completed and opened in ceremonies involving thousands of people from many countries.

Six major construction companies co-operated in the construction, and it set new standards at the time for reinforced concrete construction. A total of 118,000 tons of concrete was poured. The design of the building is extremely striking, especially the suspension roof, weighing 20,000 metric tons and designed to simulate the shape of a crane in flight.

The main auditorium seats 6,000 and at the time of construction it was the world’s biggest one-floor auditorium. Enormous care was taken during the construction to ensure that all materials used, especially the concrete, was of the highest quality, with stringent monitoring at all stages of the process. The building was constructed with a very long life span in mind – at least 500 years – and with protection against earthquakes incorporated.

In 1991, the priesthood announced the unilateral excommunication of the lay organization Soka Gakkai International and its 10 million members worldwide, refusing discussion on the issues involved.

Since that time Soka Gakkai members have been unable to attend pilgrimages at the Sho-Hondo, and overall, numbers of people visiting the temple have dropped dramatically. At the same time, efforts began to remove all trace of Soka Gakkai contributions to the head temple area. First came the chopping down of over 300 cherry trees donated by the lay organization, then came the buildings.

In 1996 a major concrete building which had been donated in 1964, the Daikyakuden or Grand Reception Hall, was demolished, citing inadequate protection against earthquakes. This building had been awarded the Architectural Society Award in 1964 and the Builders Society Award in 1965, and it was considered an outstanding example of modern architecture.

When its destruction was imminent, the Japan Institute of Architects appealed for its preservation, and the chief architect, Kimio Yokoyama and anti-earthquake assessment structural engineer Shigeru Aoki also appealed, stating that there were no grounds for its dismantling. They had proposed a series of simple options for reinforcement which would increase the capacity of the building to withstand strong earthquakes, but their recommendations had been ignored. These appeals were dismissed and the building was demolished. A traditional style building was constructed instead using donations from lay followers still associated with the priesthood.

This Grand Reception Hall had also housed a priceless ceramic mural entitled “Phoenix,” a joint creation by Takuro Kato, Japan’s premier master of ceramic art, and Matazo Kayama, a distinguished artist. Since the destruction of the building, this mural, in pieces, had been left under trees on the head temple grounds until a local protest group was formed calling for its restoration.

Lay believers around the world had long feared that Sho-Hondo itself might be next in line for destruction. In a sermon in early April 1998, High Priest Nikken Abe described the Sho-Hondo temple building as “a useless ruin of gigantic stature,” and then on April 28 he issued a sudden decision that the object of worship would be transferred from the Sho-Hondo, to an older building. The reason given for the transfer was the so-called “slanderous” conduct of the Soka Gakkai’s honorary president and the members of the lay movement.

It was also claimed that the construction was flawed, and that ocean sand had been used in the concrete which was now causing corrosion and staining on the marble exterior of the building. These claims have been dismissed by those closely involved in the construction. Extensive records kept of every stage of the construction process demonstrate that only river sand was used in the concrete production and the highest quality standards were maintained throughout.

A notice has now been posted internally at the head temple notifying the intention of the priesthood to demolish Sho-Hondo, claiming that it is no longer useful as it no longer houses the Dai-Gohonzon. It has been estimated that the demolition would cost in the region of $35 million. The companies involved in the construction, on being approached to tender for this work have all refused to become involved.

Soka Gakkai International is deeply concerned by the prospect of the destruction of a building of great cultural, architectural and spiritual value, for no reason other than the personal antipathy of the High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu towards the Soka Gakkai. This decision takes no account of the sincerity of the millions of individuals who contributed donations towards constructing a building which was to hold profound significance for Nichiren Buddhists for centuries to come.