SGI is a "militaristic" org. They DO want to take over power in Japan and Americans are rich useful idiots (like american socialists are to militaristic communism). I have seen first-hand how SGI-USA has tried to "calm down" their crazy devotees. Many people (occidentals) would bow and shout "HAI!" (Nipponese for "YES!") in response to the slightest request by a leader. I have seen and heard leaders in NYC tell people not to do this "anymore" since it isn't necessary any longer. What? When WAS this necessary?
I am sure our mutual friend, tsukimoto, will attest to this.
I think this is part of the morphing of SGI-USA into a happier friendlier religion to attract more people. Japanese culture is steeped in warrior-honor(samarai) culture which the USA is not. "Toning it down" makes it more West-friendly.
Yes, I have lived in Japan, and I have served in the United States military -- and I found great similarities between the American military culture and the civilian Japanese culture:
--Rigid hierarchy; you obey your leaders and never question them. You never say no to a leader's request. You should feel honored to serve them. They have more status than you, so they are more important than you. Men have more status than women, older people have more status than young.
--The group is more important than you....you're nothing without the group. You should feel terribly ashamed if you let your group down.
--You must conform; if you can't, or won't, you will be bullied and isolated.
--You never complain that something is too much work or too difficult. You are stoic, and you just suck it up and do whatever must be done, no matter what toll it may take on your happiness, your health, or your family. Duty is everything.
--Civilian Japanese, like the military, also wear uniforms -- even store employees, public school kids, bank employees, etc. tend to wear uniforms. And this is so rigid, that if, say, a school girl has a bit of a wave or loose curl to her hair -- she has to bring a note to school from a parent or doctor saying that her hair has this natural wave, she didn't curl it!
(I used to drive past a car dealership in Yokohama early in the morning -- and I'd see the women who worked in the dealership standing out in the parking lot, in their uniforms in the nice weather. Their manager gave them a morning speech and then lead them in calisthenic-type exercises! The military had us do morning physical training too, but I couldn't quite see why these civilian office ladies who worked for a Toyota dealership would have to do it.)
When I was involved with SGI-USA in the 1980's, I saw these traits reflected in our activities all the time. You never, never questioned the leaders, no matter what they did or said. A woman would only lead the chanting if it was an all-women's meeting...otherwise a man led. And yes, if a leader asked you anything, you shouted "HAI" (yes) with great enthusiasm. Another thing that people shouted a lot was "A-O, A-O, Washoi, washoi, washoi!" I don't even remember what that means, but they shouted it with such enthusiasm. We'd put on huge conventions -- and of course, wear whatever we were told for that...all white, special t-shirts or whatever. Our schedule was intense, meetings nearly every night of the week. We'd have tosos and chant for hours! Anyone who complained was lectured on their bad attitude -- chant for more energy, more determination, a better attitude, you slacker! Whaddya mean, you can't keep up -- what kind of wuss are you?
The thing was, I'd been in the military...and the freedom of civilian life DID seem a bit odd to me after I got out...so I could accept the Soka Gakkai's militaristic traits back then. If I'd encountered the Gakkai before I had joined the military...maybe I would have thought, "These people are weird!" As it was, the Gakkai felt like my home, in a strange, but comforting way. I disliked some things, but it just felt so damn familiar!
This all began to change rather suddenly in the late 1980's. It was maybe 1989 when President Ikeda visited the United States. He decided that we would suddenly just cut down on all of our activities -- and change the tone of our meetings. There was less "HAI-ing," no more "Washoi, washoi, washoi!" We weren't having the huge conventions anymore. We had been using a lot of Japanese words for various activities and leaders' titles...and we really cut back on that. Some of the members loved the changes, some members hated them, but it didn't matter what we liked or didn't like. I mean, who were we? Nobody was going to ask us what we wanted. President Ikeda wanted the changes and that's how it was going to be.
It was a bizarre time. So few activities, all of a sudden! What in the world were we to do with ourselves? For years, leaders had been urging us to do Soka Gakkai activities nearly every day of the week. Got to work harder, faster, more, more, more to change your life and bring about world peace! And NOW, they were saying, "No, don't do that! Slow down!" Huh? One of the senior male leaders said, "President Ikeda is worried that the members are getting too tired." (Hah! Worried that we were getting tired of HIM and wanting to quit SGI!) A senior woman leader said, "You are out at meetings all the time, your neighbors and friends are thinking that that's strange.) So yes, it was calculated, a PR move. The Japanese-style SGI-USA had certainly attracted some devoted members, but had also turned off prospective members.
Really, in the end, the changes were only superficial. Gradually, the activities and demands were increased again. We still had no say in organizational policy and no idea where the money we contributed went. We were still called disloyal if we questioned any of this. Yes, we had "World Peace Prayer" instead of "Kosen-Rufu Gongyo," the first Sunday of the month. We referred someone as a "Chapter Leader," instead of a "Sancho," or "Hancho," or whatever the Japanese word was. Big deal. New sweater, same wolf.
Shortly after that, in the early 90's, the Soka Gakkai had a bitter feud with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, and broke off from them entirely. Again this was a complete 180 degree shift...before 1991, or so, we'd always been told to respect and support the priests. Now, they were totally corrupt, and we were to have nothing to do with them. AND, apparently, the senior leadership of SGI had known how bad the priests were for years. So why didn't they tell us that? Well, they didn't think we were ready. Of course, it was all part of a plan that the inner circle must have had for years; why did we not see that?