One of the most successful of the new Buddhist sects, the Sōka Gakkai (Value Creation Society) is an offshoot of Nichiren Buddhism. The organization was first formed in 1937 by Makiguchi Tsunesaburō (1871–1944) and Toda Josei (1900–58), two men who had known each other since 1920 and had joined the Nichiren Shoshū together in 1928. They called their new group the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai (Value Creation Education Society). Their original goal was to organize educators and promote a value-based educational system in place of the rote-learning emphasized at that time. They found a suitable religious framework in Nichiren Buddhism, with its emphasis at that time on human life and peace. However, their activities and conviction put them at variance with the militarist stance of the government going into the Second World War, and both were imprisoned in 1943. On 18 November 1944, Makiguchi died at the age of 73 in the Tokyo Detention House. Toda survived, and was released from prison in 1945. He set out to rebuild the organization, which had suffered a decline with the imprisonment of its leadership. He renamed it Sōka Gakkai, and sought to expand its mission outside of the field of education to reach society as a whole. He changed the direction of the group's teaching and activities. Whereas Makiguchi had stressed his theory of value and the responsibility of the individual to learn how to evaluate, or create value, properly, Toda turned the organization in a more religious direction, stressing the pursuit of happiness and the efficacy of the Lotus Sūtra, and in particular the chanting of its title as per Nichiren's teachings, as the key to its attainment. His energy and dedication paid off: the Sōka Gakkai grew rapidly under his leadership, to more than 750,000 households by the time of his death in 1958. The presidency of the organization was assumed in 1960 by Daisaku Ikeda (1928– ), who had joined several years before at the age of 19.
Ikeda undertook many initiatives to expand the Sōka Gakkai's membership still further, and also established many other educational, cultural, and political ventures. In January 1975 the Sōka Gakkai International was created, with Ikeda as its first president, and in April 1979 he stepped down as the Sōka Gakkai president, becoming honorary president, in order to further concentrate on the needs of the world-wide membership. In 1992, he officially separated the SGI from its parent group, the Nichiren Shoshū. At that time the group was estimated to have 8 million members. (The Nichiren Shoshū, for its part, excommunicated Ikeda and the SGI for arrogance and deviations from correct doctrine.) The SGI has been controversial for several reasons. Following Nichiren's own example, they practised a very aggressive form of proselytization called ‘shakubuku’ during the 1960s and 1970s, which contributed to their rapid growth, but alienated many in Japanese society who decried such confrontational methods. They also entered the field of politics in 1955, when a member was elected to the Tokyo prefectural assembly. The SGI responded by forming the Komeikai, or ‘clean government association’, in 1962 to promote ethics in office, changing the title to Komeitō, or ‘clean government party’ in 1964. This party, which claims to be above bribery and corruption and to encourage resistance to militarism, is the third largest party in Japan.and has suffered some criticism for its blending of politics and religion. Many of these practices (and thus the criticism that they draw) have ameliorated since the 1990s, and in contemporary Japan the SGI is a mainstream lay Buddhist organization with a large international presence.