The Value of a Grandfather Figure

Manchester Guardian

Sat. May 19, 1984


The Value of a Grandfather Figure

By: Ms. Polly Toynbee

On the long flight to Japan, I read for the first time my
grandfather's posthumously, published book,
"Choose Life -- A Dialogue," a discussion between himself and a
Japanese Buddhist leader called Daisaku
Ikeda. My grandfather, the historian Arnold Toynbee was 85 when the
dialogue was recorded, a short time
before his final incapacitating stroke. It is probably the book among
his works most kindly left forgotten
-- being a long discursive ramble between the two men over topics from
sex education to pollution and war.

A few months earlier, I had received a telephone call out of the blue
from Mr Ikeda's London
representative: Mr Ikeda was inviting my husband and myself to Japan,
in memory of, and in gratitude to, my
grandfather. We were puzzled at this -- eight years after his death.
But perhaps it was some inexplicably
Japanese sense of obligation and family beyond Western understanding.
Try as we might, we could elicit no
further explanation -- though by the end of our trip some much clearer
motives were to emerge. As it turned
out, we were to see a rather diferent side of Japan from the view
usually afforded Western visitors.

We arrived at Tokyo airport, and at least 10 people were there to
greet us, with a huge bouquet each for
myself and for Milly, my astounded twelve-year-old daughter. A long
solemn message of welcome from Mr Ikeda
was read out, and we were driven away in a vast black limousine with
electric darkened windows and Mr
Ikeda's emblem emblazoned on the carpet in gold thread. Walkie-talkies
between the vehicles of the
motorcade to the hotel relayed further messages from our mysterious
host. The scale of operation was soon
made clear.

Two representatives from the English branch of Mr Ikeda's movement had
accompanied us all the way from
London and were scarcely to leave our side, together with a phalanx of
interpreters, drivers and aides of
all kinds. Mr Ikeda wishes you to feel entirely at home," and "Mr
Ikeda wishes you to make every use of the
hotel's services and 36 restaurants" came the messages at regular
intervals, as we gazed down out of our
fourteenth floor window on to the hotel garden -- full of waterfalls,
bridges and carp squeezed, like
everything in Tokyo between intersecting flyovers.

Several days passed before we were to meet our mysterious host, time
in which we learned more about Mr
Ikeda and his Soka Gakkai movement. One thing above all others was
made clear: this was an organisation of
immense wealth, power and political influence. One book on the sect
declares that "no understanding of
postwar Japan is complete without some knowledge of this
religio-political movement." Its influence strikes
deep into every aspect of Japanese life. Among its many publications
is a newspaper with a circulation of
over 4 million. It has the third largest political party in the
country. It has membership of 10 million,
still growing. It has a university with 7,000 students, schools an art
gallery -- and more.

Mr Ikeda is the third leader of the movement since it started in the
thirties. But it is under him that the
thing has taken off and become so powerful. He is the relatively
uneducated son of a laver seller from
Omori, who succeeded to the leadership at the age of 36, when he was
head of the Young Men's Division of
the Soka Gakkai. It is mainly a lower middle class movement, gathering
up those uprooted from old
communities, and binding them very tightly to its strong
cell-structure.

Night and day, surrounded by his aides, we heard his name mentioned in
tones of reverential awe. The head
of the British section (an English retired businessman, told us that
Ikeda was "A man who has made the
revolution in himself." Others testified to the greatness of his
writing, his mind, his poetry, his spirit,
even his photography. (Later we caught a glimpse of his photographic
methods when we watched as an aide
handed him a loaded camera. He held it out at arm's length and clicked
it randomly without bothering to
look in the viewfinder.) He takes photographs with his mind, not with
his eye," murmured an aide on
enquiry.

The evening came when we were at last to meet him. The great black
limousine pulled into the palatial
headquarters. The doorway was flood-lit with camera lights, and there
stood Mr and Mrs. Ikeda, surrounded
by bowing aides and followers. Dazed and dazzled by this unexpected
reception committee, we were lead up to
him to shake the small, plump hand. There he stood a short, round man
with slicked down hair, wearing a
sharp Western suit. Camera bulbs flashed, movie cameras closed in, and
we were carried away with the
throng, past corridors of bowing girls dressed in white to an enormous
room.

Vast white armchairs were arrayed in a huge square and we were ushered
to a throne-like set of three chairs
at the head of the room, one for each of us and one for Mr Ikeda. He
speaks no English, so behind us sat
his beautiful young interpreter who accompanies him around the world.
She sat at a microphone, so all our
words could be heard clearly echoing round the room by all the aides
and followers, who had taken to their
rows of armchairs in strict order of precedence.

We sat there awed, appalled, intimidated, while royal courtesies
flowed. "I want you to feel absolutely at
home this evening," said Mr. Ikeda as we felt about as far from home
as it is possible to be. "Just enjoy
yourselves on this very informal occasion," he said. What would a
formal meeting have been like? We talked
of the weather in London and Japan, the city, the sights -- desperate
small talk, conducted in public for
half an hour, balancing champagne glass and smoked salmon plate, while
the aides round the room nodded
solemnly. Our host's style of conversation was imperious and alarming
-- he led and others followed. Any
unexpected or unconventional remark was greeted with a stern fixed
look in the eye, incomprehension, and a
warning frostiness.

As we took it in turn to sally forth in this game of verbal royal
tennis, we each had time to study the
man. Worldly he seemed, down to the tip of his hand-made shoes, earthy
almost, without a whiff of even
artificial spirituality. Asked to hazard a guess at his occupation,
few would have selected him as a
religious figure. I have met many powerful men -- prime ministers,
leaders of all kinds -- but I have never
in my life met anyone who exuded such an aura of absolute power as Mr
Ikeda. He seems like a man who for
many years has had his every whim gratified, his every order obeyed, a
man protected from contradiction or
conflict. I am not easily frightened, but something in him struck a
chill down the spine.

Dinner was an ordeal. We were ushered into the traditional Japanese
dining room, where we sat at cushions
on tatami mats at low tables, around our host. The cook crouched in
the middle of the table, serving
tempura from a vat of boiling oil. "No serious talk tonight. Only
pleasure," Mr Ikeda ordained. Our hearts
sank. That meant more excruciating small talk.

He turned eventually to reminiscences of my grandfather and their
meeting in London. I could hardly imagine
the incongruity of this small stout ball of power clanking up the
creaky lift to my grandfather's dark and
sparse flat. I wondered what meals he had been served -- a slice of
spam and a lettuce leaf being a typical
meal there. "He was a very, very great man." Ikeda said, leaning
towards me, and staring me in the eye.
"The greatest scholar in the world!" I pondered on some irreverent
family stories, but hastily tucked them
away.

"It is my mission in life to see that his work is read by everyone.
You will support me in this?" I could
hardly say no. "You promise? I have your promise?" I felt uneasy at
what exactly was expected of me. Then
he suddenly mentioned the fact that there are in existence some more
parts to the Toynbee/Ikeda Dialogue,
as yet unpublished, which he would like to be able to publish soon. A
part of our reason for this journey
fell neatly into place. Later I was to find out more.

There was one sticky moment in the course of the meal. He asked us
what we thought my grandfather's last
word of warning to him had been as they parted. We racked our brains
until, in desperation, my husband
ill-advisedly answered, "Greed." An icy look passed across Mr Ikeda's
ample features. He looked as if he
might summon a squad of husky samurai to haul us away. I hastened to
explain that Peter meant the greed of
mankind, of course, as referred to frequently in the Dialogues --
man's grasping selfishness and so on. He
looked not entirely mollified and the moment passed.

After dinner we returned to the room of the great armchairs, and
lavish present-giving followed -- a giant
doll and a calculator for Milly, pearls, a record album of the
Toynbee/Ikeda Dialogue, a personally signed
copy of the Toynbee/Ikeda book. At last the nerve-racking evening was
over, our cheeks cracked from
smiling, our minds drained of all ingenuity in small talk and
pleasantry. We were swept away with the
throng, back past the bowing girls in white and the movie cameras--and
away off in the limousine.

Next day our photographs appeared on the front page of Ikeda's
multi-million circulation daily, the Seikyo
Press, with a record of our dinner table conversation. No-one told us
it was on the record--but it didn't
matter, since it was the words, mainly of Mr Ikeda, that went
reported, and little of us beyond our
presence as his audience.

We departed for a brief trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima, only to be
greeted again by more bouquets, banquets,
black limousines and local Soka Gakkai groups. Hiroshima is an
uncomfortable place -- the shrine of Japan's
post-war peace mission. "What do you think of Hiroshima? Have you a
few words to say about Hiroshima?" we
were asked continually. The exhibits shock and stun, but words fail.
After the first blast of horror,
something else creeps in. Here is a national shrine to Peace and Never
Again, telling the story of the
sunny day the bomb dropped out of a blue sky, telling the story of
what the world did to Japan. But there
is not a word, not a thought, not a hint of anything Japan might have
done. Hiroshima was one of the main
military bases from which went out the marauding forces to Burma,
Singapore, China, Korea -- countries who
still find it hard to link Japan and peace in the same breath. But
Hiroshima is the shrine of Japan's
innocence.

One night we were shown a film of Ikeda's triumphal tour round
America, at massed rallies in stadiums from
Dallas to San Diego. Formation teams of majorettes and baton twirlers
spelled the words SOKA and PEACE in
great waves of thousands of human bodies and Ikeda, spot-lit and
mobbed by screaming fans, delivered his
usual speeches on peace -- always peace. It is one of the Soka
Gakkai's themes, peace in men's hearts,
peace across the nations, the brotherhood of mankind and so on. The
effect was somewhat spoiled when the
stadium hushed reverently as a message from President Ronald Reagan
himself was read out -- sending a
sincere message of goodwill, peace and greeting to the Soka Gakkai and
Mr. Ikeda. The stadium burst out in
delirious applause.

The Soka Gakkai takes its peace mission round the world, often
accompanied by an exhibition of horrific
photographs from Hiroshima, which is used as a powerful recruiting
aid. What were they doing, we asked,
preaching peace and accepting messages of support from Reagan in the
same breath? "We do not think there is
anything incompatible in voting for President Reagan and being a
member of the Soka Gakkai." Ikeda's
usually silent male secretary said. The English Soka Gakkai head
hastened to add, "We believe every man can
change, and when President Reagan sent us that message, it showed that
he too is capable of change in his
heart."

It was then, at yet another banquet in Hiroshima that we lost our
temper. We told them what we felt about
the Soka Gakkai and Mr Ikeda's style of leadership. Our hosts were
horrified and tried to smooth it all
over and pretend the words had never been uttered.

We asked for a proper, serious interview with Ikeda, but later we
doubted if anyone had dared relay our
comments or our request. The last time we saw him, not a flicker
crossed his face to suggest that he had
heard of our outburst, or our request. It was at Soka Gakkai's
founder's day, with the same kind of mass
rally of 6000 majorettes we had seen on the film, to the theme tunes
of "Dallas" and "The Sound of Music."
After the finale Ikeda took a lap of honour round the stadium, while
carefully rehearsed groups of girls
shrieking with adulation, pealed away towards him.

We didn't see him again but we reckoned his final gift showed that
no-one had recounted our outburst to
him. He sent us yet another silk-bound tome, in which there was no
text, but only 296 huge full-page
photographs of himself and his family -- a book of colossal
narcissism.

What had the whole trip been for? By the time we left, it all became
clear. We had been taken to be
interveiwed by newspapers and television -- Peter about international
affairs, I about my grandfather. Each
interview in which we appeared bound Ikeda and Arnold Toynbee closer
together in the public eye. Ikeda was
making a firm bid to become the chief official Toynbee friend and
spokesman.

I had no idea of the extent of my grandfather's fame and importance in
Japan. He was awarded the Order of
the Rising Sun, and his work is compulsory reading in all
universities. As the prophet of the rise of the
East and the decline of the West, he has long been a hero in Japan.
There is a Toynbee Society, run by
distinguished academics, some of whom knew my grandfather well for
many years, and they print a quarterly
journal.

My grandfather never met Ikeda on his visits to Japan. His old
Japanese friends were clearly less than
delighted with lkeda's grandiose appropriation of his memories, on the
basis of a handful of rather vague
interviews in extreme old age.

Soka Gakkai is the most powerful of Japan's "New Religions" which have
sprung up since the war, collecting
together an uprooted urban people lacking an identity in a society
that puts a high premium on belonging to
groups. Soka Gakkai means Value-Creating Society, and is based on the
teachings of a thirteenth century
monk, Nichiren Shonin, a militant nationalist who promised worldly
rewards to his followers. It is rigidly
hierarchical, with no democratic elements, and absolute power in
Ikeda's hands. It imposes few religious or
moral duties, beyond chanting twice a day, but it expects a high
degree of obedient social participation in
its organisation.

When Ikeda founded the movement's political party, Komeito, there
began to be some alarm as to how he would
use this power. This alarm has lead the party to officially separate
itself from Soka Gakkai, though all
its leaders remain Gakkai members. The Komeito (Clean Government)
Party is the third largest party in the
mysterious and labyrinthine shifting factions of Japanese politics.

It is called a centre party, but such labels mean little in a country
where a huge consensus agreed broadly
on defence and foreign relations, and approves the absence of a
welfare state. With the same party in power
for 25 years, it is the factions that count, and Komeito, Clean
Government or not, has often helped Tanaka
faction candidates, in exchange for Tanaka having helped them over a
scandal.

To call Soka Gakkai and its Komeito party "fascist" is to
misunderstand Japanese politics. Certainly the
movement is run on rigid anti-democratic lines, demanding absolute
obedience. It is partly nationalistic,
but also highly Americanised in taste and culture.

But it is a supporter of the Peace Constitution and it is not in
favour of Japan rearming. Politically,
like most of the other parties, it is mostly in favour of being in
power. Soka Gakkai has non-governmental
organisation status at the United Nations, a fact used much by Ikeda,
as it establishes them as a
world-wide "peace movement" and helps to give Ikeda access to heads of
states around the globe. At Soka
Gakkai's founders' day, we found representatives of many foreign
embassies, and the French Ambassador was
the guest of honour. People who seek influence in Japan cannot afford
to ignore Ikeda, and indeed his own
books sport hundreds of pictures of himself meeting people like Edward
Kennedy, John Galbraith, and
Presidents from every continent.

As we were leaving, Ikeda's secretary took us aside and asked if we
could help with the publication of a
second batch of Ikeda/Toynbee Dialogues left over from the first book.
There were, it appeared, problems
with executors and rights. Also it was hinted that in Ikeda's
forthcoming tour of Britain in June 1985, we
might be of some assistance. Exactly what was unspecified, but the
marker was put down.

Back in England, I telephoned a few people round the world who had
been visited by Ikeda. There was a
certain amount of discomfort at being asked, and an admission by
several that they felt they had been drawn
into endorsing him. A silken web is easily woven, a photograph taken,
a brief polite conversation published
as if it were some important encounter.

I talked to the Oxford University Press, my grandfather's publishers.
They said they had firmly turned down
the Toynbee/Ikeda Dialogues, which were being heavily promoted by
Ikeda after my grandfather's death. It
would have been better if they had stuck to that decision. But Ikeda
succeeded in getting it published in
New York and the OUP felt obliged to follow suit. In the file lies a
later letter referring to the
possibility of a second batch of dialogues being published.

A reply from OUP tells inquirers that the manuscript can now only be
obtained with the permission of the
literary executors. The papers are stored, unsorted, in the Bodleian
library in Oxford. It emerged that
even while we were in Japan, Ikeda's representatives had been making
discreet calls to England about the
Toynbee papers. That, in the end, I suspect, was the purpose of our
trip -- but from the present firm
attitude of the OUP, it is highly unlikely that further Toynbee/Ikeda
material will appear.

I like to think that if my grandfather had not been so old or if he
had met Ikeda in his own bizarre
surroundings, he would not have lent himself to this process of
endorsement. He was a frail man at the
time, and by nature trusting. If our trip to Japan was intended to
bind him yet more tightly to Ikeda, I
hope the effect will have been the reverse.


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