The Weekly Flash magazine reported on its website and April 19 issue that Shueisha removed Mariko Kikuchi‘s “Kami-sama” no Iru Ie de Sodachimashita ~Shūkyō 2-Sei na Watashi-tachi~ (A Home Life With God ~We Children Born Into Religion~) manga from the Yomitai web media platform in February, following an alleged backlash from the controversial religious organization Happy Science (Kōfuku no Kagaku).
The anthology essay manga tells a different story about a different faith every chapter, and centers on children who were born into a religion due to having parents practicing the faith, and who had no choice in their entry into the religion. Kikuchi (also the creator of A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad’s an Alcoholic) draws from her own experience of being born into a religion and interviews she conducted with former members of religious groups.
The manga launched on the Yomitai platform on September 22 and published the fifth chapter on January 26. The editorial department then removed the chapter on February 10 and apologized for “offending a particular religion or group of believers.” The editors stated on March 17 that the other chapters would be removed due to “insufficient fact-checking.” The statements did not mention Happy Science.
Kikuchi told Flash that her editor initially told her to change the drawings of the altar and institution in chapter 5. Later, however, she was informed suddenly to revise the entire manga. She was also told that interviewing a single person was insufficient research, but received no answer when she asked how many interviewees were sufficient. She said that she declined to alter the manga and asked to end the serialization instead, perceiving the edits as a means of suppressing the voices of those who have left the religious groups.
Kikuchi argued that the manga was not intended as a criticism towards the groups, but as a depiction of a personal life story. “In that light, I think it would be strange to show excessive consideration towards religious groups. Even Shueisha understood that they were saying something unreasonable, but I suppose they had gone too far to back out now.”
Kikuchi said that she was not allowed to state the name of the protesting organization or the contents of their criticisms. According to fringe religious group researcher Yoshirō Fujikura, the situation evokes Happy Science’s pressuring tactics, which have exerted a disquieting effect on the Japanese media in recent years. “Looking back on the past 1-2 years, even when there have been scandals related to religious groups, their names are not reported. Multiple outlets have reported on Kikuchi’s case, but none have mentioned Happy Science by name.”
Happy Science’s public relations department told Flash that it is aware of Kikuchi’s manga, but claims Shueisha made her decisions independently. “Kikuchi’s manga contains numerous factual inaccuracies and an unfair, negative portrayal of the faith and its teachings. It also conflates the issue of children seeking independence from their parents with the issue of religious faith. Regarding the decision to remove it, we believe that Shueisha reached that conclusion through independent discussion.”
Shueisha claimed to Flash that it ended the serialization due to insufficient fact-checking, but declined to mention who pointed out the alleged inaccuracies.
Kikuchi believes that the incident is troubling for artistic freedom. “It is becoming taboo to deal with religion,” she warned. “I am firmly against altering a story according to what a religious group dictates. If it has become so impermissible to depict religion as a theme, then freedom of expression has already eroded to such a degree that it only exists in name.” She later clarified on Twitter that she is grateful to the editorial department for protecting her, although she wishes they could have protected the manga as well.
Happy Science has come under scrutiny for its practices and coercive recruitment tactics in the past. Through its political party, the Happiness Realization Party, the group has advocated for nuclear deterrence, and has called for the amendment and removal of the pacifist Article 9 of Japan’s constitution. The group has also repeated common Japanese right-wing rhetoric, such as the denial of the Nanking Massacre, the Imperial Japanese Army practice of taking comfort women, and the assertion of the Japanese state’s de jure ownership of the Senkaku Islands. Recently, the group has offered spiritual “vaccines,” which it claims can cure the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Sources: Yomitai, Smart Flash, Mariko Kikuchi‘s Twitter account