Meet the newest Japanese idol group composed entirely of so-called cult members: anjewel.
The idol group – a commercially manufactured pop group, typically of young girls – represents Happy Science. The religious organisation has temples in Japan, Brazil, Hawaii, and Australia. Founder Ryuho Okawa purports to be the incarnation of El Cantare: a supreme God manifesting the spiritual leaders of all major religions. Okawa also claims to channel the guardian spirits of famous people, gracing us with a series of ‘spiritual interviews’, those with Keira Knightley and Donald Trump being two of many examples.
The idol group released its first single in July, featuring lyrics about bidding a soul-mate farewell before reincarnating onto another planet, to a deceptively upbeat instrumental track and rosy music video. To better acquaint fans with the group, Happy Science prepared several POV videos where you ‘go on a date’ with these girls. In one video, a group member takes you to a private spot in your high school, expresses her love for you, and then asks you to join her for a Happy Science lecture meeting attended by angels and aliens.
Japanese idol groups amass massive popularity worldwide, from AKB48 to Nogizaka46. However, three months have passed since anjewel’s debut single, and its catchy pop beats and provocative videos have garnered little attention. Luckily for them, this is not their only gimmick. Happy Science also created its first high-budget anime in 1997, founded a political party in 2009, and established its own university in 2015.
There is some unease about the gradual expansion of the Happy Science in view of Japan’s recent past. In 1984, two years before the founding of Happy Science, Aum Shinrikyo emerged as a religious movement. It founded a political party in 1989, created its first anime series in 1991, and went onto orchestrate a terrorist attack in 1995 by releasing sarin gas on a crowded Tokyo subway.
Aum Shinrikyo‘s successors, Aleph and Hikari no Wa, manage to operate legally as religious organizations. The 1995 atrocity and the continued existence of these groups is a reminder that we must remain vigilant of the conducts and recruitment methods of ‘new religions’. While the Happy Science has no known connections to Aum or its descendants, their expansion into countries like Australia, Hawaii, and Brazil offers few reasons to be cheerful.
Adina Darbyshire is a first-year undergraduate student studying a Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at the Australia National University.