Toda was born in 1900, the eleventh son of a poor fisherman in the village of Shioya, Ishikawa, off the Sea of Japan. In 1904 his family moved to Hokkaido, settling in the remote fishing village of Atsuta in the province of Ishikari. His education was disrupted after finishing primary school due to his need to move to Sapporo and start working at the age of 15. An autodidactic learner, he studied on his own and at age 17 passed an examination certifying him as a substitute teacher. In 1920 he moved to Tokyo where he met Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, an elementary school principal, who was to become his mentor. He taught for Makiguchi until 1922 when he became a private afterschool owner and entrepreneur.
Toda and his wife suffered the loss of a 6-month old daughter in 1923 and his wife died two years later from tuberculosis. Toda contracted the same illness as well and was often ill.
His financial fortunes changed with the successful publication and reception of his arithmetic tutorial book.
From an early age Toda revealed a strong sense of ambition as well as a strong empathy with common people. After he began teaching in Yubari young coalminers in the area began to come to his home after work to discuss issues such as politics and history. It is documented that he also submitted an education reform proposal to the Ministry of Education containing ideas to improve the conditions of teachers as well as developing more capable school leaders. According to a diary entry in 1920, part of his reason for moving from Hokkaido to Tokyo was an ambition to become "a world citizen."
Toda's vivid personality stood in stark contrast to that of his mentor, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi who was a scholar and pedagogue. Toda has been described as "a hard-sell pitchman for his faith--frank, vigorous, often rude, talkative." He had the ability to vividly and strongly articulate the ideas of Nichiren and Makiguchi. His authenticity and enthusiasm had a marked effect on the people he met.
Toda also evidenced tremendous strength in organizational innovation.
Although Toda's work in education is best known through his editing and financing Makiguchi's "System of Value-Creating Pedagogy," he was also active as a teacher and author.
Toda's first teaching assignment was at Mayachi Primary School, located in a remote section of Ubari, Hokkaido, a coal-mining town. He started working there in 1918 as a substitute teacher and a year later was appointed as a 6th grade teacher upon passing a certification exam. He quit suddenly in 1920 but remained in correspondence with his students for 15 years.
The most exhaustive treatment of Toda's educational ideas is by Shiohara. According to Shiohara, Toda derived a teaching method from his own research specifically geared to meet the needs of his Miyachi elementary school students, who came from disadvantaged backgrounds and suffered low grades.
Makiguchi hired Toda as a substitute teacher at Nishimachi Elementary School. Toda changed positions in order to keep working with Makiguchi when the latter was forcefully transferred to Mikasa Elementary School, a school for poorer students in Tokyo.
Rather than traveling with Makiguchi to Shirokane Elementary School when Makiguchi was forcefully transferred again, Toda opened an tutorial school called "Jishu Gakkan" where he applied value-creating pedagogy in an independent setting. Toda rented a vacant lot near Meguro Station and built a two-story facility which formally opened in 1924. Jisho Gakkan operated for two decades, earning a prominent reputation for its success rate in preparing pupils for secondary-level entrance examinations.
Toda used a liberal and creative approach to study developed in consultation with Makiguchi. Ikeda described Jisho Gakkan in the opening chapter of his semi-fictionalized biography of Toda.
Makiguchi's major work, "The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy," was published on November 18, 1930. This event marks the day the Soka Gakkai considers as its founding. Makiguchi parallels Toda's role in publishing this book to that of Christen Mikkelsen Kold who popularized the educational ideas of N. F. S. Grundtvig in Denmark. Toda organized Makiguchi's enormous volume of scribbled notes into a manuscript which then Makiguchi thoroughly reviewed. The "The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy" was ultimately published by Fuzanbo, of which Taizo Oinuma, the publisher of Makiguchi's "Geography of Human Life," was a manager. Four volumes were published between 1930 and 1932. During the difficult years of publishing, Toda also organized the parents of many of his Jishu Gakkan students who were also students at Shirokane Elementary School to protest and ultimately delay Makiguchi's forced retirement from Shirokane. As a result, Makiguchi was able to publish the first two volumes as an incumbent school principal, just as he wished.
Toda was active in creating a prominent group of 28 supporters who endorsed "The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy" including Tsuyoshi Inukai, who was to rise to become prime minister of Japan in 1931. The first volume of the "System of Value-Creating Pedagogy" included a calligraphy by Inukai as well as forewords by Inazo Nitobe, who at that time was one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League of Nations, sociologist Suketoshi Tanabe, and the folklorist Kunio Yanagita.
Toda's first published work, "Katei Kyoikugaku Soron" (An Anatomy of Home Education: Talking about entrance exams for middle level school, and turning our precious children into straight-A students), published in December 1929, was based on Makiguchi's work before the publishing of "The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy." He forcefully denounced "entrance examination hell" and the predicament of students who are devalued because of their poor grades." He blames teachers who try to educate children uniformly, ignoring their unique interests and perspectives. In 1930 he published the "Suirisiki Sido Sanjutsu" (Guidebook to Mathematics Through Reasoning based on the principles of Value-Creating Pedagogy). This became a best seller selling over one million copies. Makiguchi credited this book as being an excellent example of his theories, resulting in "an economy to learning," helping students achieve remarkable progress in the development of mathematical understanding as they develop their own powers of reasoning, and fostering their abilities to reason their way to "the life of value."
Toda also founded and edited an educational magazine dedicated to spreading and promoting Value-Creating Pedagogy entitled "Shinshin Kyozai Kankyo" ("New Teaching Material: The Environment"). The educational magazine continued as a series for more than six years, changing its title to "New Collection of Teaching Materials," to "New Teaching Materials," and, finally, to "Educational Remodeling." In these research magazines he helped elementary school teachers to put Makiguchi's pedagogy into practice.
In addition to these editing and publishing assignments, Toda wrote two works, "Guidelines for teaching mathematics" and "The establishment of the System of Value-Creating Pedagogy," both based on the principles of value-creating education. He expanded his methodologies to other fields. He published four books for fifth and sixth graders entitled "Guidance on Reading Through Reasoning." Although never published he edited the book "Guidance on the three subjects of science, geography and history," which applied the System of Value-Creating Pedagogy to these fields. In his final pre-war contribution to education Toda, in January 1940, Toda launched a magazine for learning, entitled "Shogakusei Nihon (Elementary School Children Japan)" which included correspondence materials. In each issue, according to Shiohara, he contributed a foreword and poured his passion into editing duties. He managed this despite strict restrictions imposed in the nation's system of militarism support.
Toda began practicing Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism some time between 1928 and 1930, following Makiguchi's conversion. Their conversion should be seen as closely connected to the philosophy they already developed. Apparently Toda was initially not as eager as Makiguchi in his new faith but followed his mentor's direction out of a sense of respect and gratitude.
Although not much more is known about his earliest years of practice, he did credit the tremendous success of his coaching book on mathematics to his new faith. When Makiguchi was removed, from his final school, Toda supported the editing and publication of "The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy" which was published in 1930 and marked the founding of the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai ("Value Creation Education Society"), the organization that preceded the Soka Gakkai.
It appears that Toda financed much of the operations of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai singlehandedly. His pre-war net worth was more than ¥6,000,000, approximately 9,500,000USD in today's currency. Toda served as chairperson of the board of directors. His tutoring school had signage above the door bearing the name of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, perhaps indicating that it was used as the organization's convening place. He did cite his faith as the reason for his business success.
Although he provided financial support to the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, Toda appeared to be more interested in his business activities. He expanded his holdings to control 17 companies. He enjoyed drinking parties with his employees and Soka Kyoiku Gakkai members.
With the onset of World War II, Makiguchi and Toda met with harassment and prosecution. Both were arrested and jailed by the government in 1943 on charges of blasphemy against the deified emperor (lese-majeste) and violating the 1925 Peace Preservation Law. At first intended to suppress "thought crimes" of left-leaning groups, it was amended in 1941 to include religious organizations. Toda and Makiguchi were among the approximate 80,000 people arrested for violating this law between 1925 and 1945. A total of 21 Soka Kyoiku Gakkai leaders were arrested and this effectively shuttered the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai organization. Makiguchi died in prison in 1944. Toda was released just weeks before Japan's surrender in 1945.
During his incarceration Toda was subjected to malnutrition, interrogation and physical abuse without succumbing to his interrogators' demand that he recant his faith. At the start of 1944 Toda began meditating, studying, and chanting fiercely to understand the Lotus Sutra. He experienced two awakenings that had an enduring effect on the rest of his life. The first was a realization in March that the Buddha can be conceived as the essence of cosmic life itself which, according to Urbain, resulted in the quality of fearlessness in Toda's life.
A second awakening took place in November 1944 when he became convinced that he was, in fact, a "Bodhisattva of the Earth," the mythic figures who appeared in the Lotus Sutra symbolizing the inherent compassionate qualities within all people. From this realization Toda drew the strength that enabled him to envision and lead the Soka Gakkai's propagation campaign in the 1950s.
He was released from prison on July 3, 1945 with his health severely impacted by malnutrition and harsh living conditions. Yet his prison experiences enabled him to undergo an inner transformation that brought to light his qualities of courage, wisdom, compassion, as well as an enhanced capacity for dialogue.
Upon his release from prison on July 3, 1945, several weeks before the conclusion of the war on August 15, Toda began reconstructing the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai. Physically weakened by his two years of imprisonment, he burned with a spirit of vengeance to requite the sufferings he experienced, the death of his mentor, and the agony of millions of Japanese citizens.
His first task was to rebuild his businesses which he saw as the financial underpinning of the new organization. During the war he had accumulated more than ¥2,000,000 of debt. He attempted businesses starting with correspondence courses. The post-war business climate was tumultuous and racked by inflation and scarcity of materials. Many of his ventures met with failure.
News of his release began to spread and many prewar members came to consult with him to rebuild their personal faith. Toda began to sponsor study lectures on the Lotus Sutra and Nichren's writings and he presided over small group discussion meetings. In March 1946 the organization changed its name from Soka Kyoiku Gakkai to Soka Gakkai. On May 1 Toda was appointed to the position of chair of the board of directors. Publications resumed, a youth division was organized, and membership grew by about 200 members in 1946. On August 14, 1947 Daisaku Ikeda attended a discussion meeting and met Toda; he joined the Soka Gakkai ten days later.
Ultimately Toda had to resign his position on November 12, 1950 due to his business failures. He regarded these business failures as divine retribution for failing to fully assuming responsibility for the Soka Gakkai. After deep reflection he assented to the role of second president on May 3, 1951. At that time the membership consisted of approximately 3,000 families. At his inauguration he announced to the 1500 assembled members his determination to reach a membership of 750,000 families before his death, a target that was met with disbelief from most of the attendees.
Toda made several important and lasting contributions to the Soka Gakkai.
Toda's accomplishments as the second president of the Soka Gakkai are a crucial link in the Soka Gakkai lineage referred to as "the oneness of mentor and disciple." Toda was the only one of Makiguchi's disciples who chose to remain in prison. He inherited the legacy of Makiguchi and transformed the group, which had collapsed during the war, into a mass movement dedicated to personal and societal transformation. In so doing he reshaped Makiguchi's philosophy of value creation to the pressing needs of people in postwar Japan. He formed a "living bond between Makiguchi and Ikeda." Over the course of eleven years of training, he raised Daisaku Ikeda who then led the Soka Gakkai for over 50 years.
Strand notes that most religious movements have a trio of founders, corresponding to the three phases of “creation, development, and stabilization.” In the case of the Soka Gakkai Makiguchi’s was the risky act of creation. Toda took on the difficult work of formation. He provided the crucial link between the initiator, Makiguchi, and Ikeda who led the third task of international evangelism.
Early traces of Toda's "life philosophy" can be found in Toda's first book (An Anatomy of Home Education) as well as his most successful education publication, A Deductive Guide to Arithmetic.
Arrested in 1943 along with the other Sõka Kyôiku Gakkai leaders, Toda, unlike the other leaders, remained in prison with his mentor Makiguchi, refusing to succumb to the government’s pressure and interrogation. Toda was held in a cell at Sugamo prison, mostly relegated to solitary confinement. During his confinement, Toda determined to unlock the essence of the Lotus Sutra and chanted the daimoku in great earnest. In early March 1944, Toda had an awakening that everything in the universe is connected by a universal "life force" (seimeiryoku), tied together in a common thread of "dependent origination" (Skt. Pratityasamutpada, Jp. English). Toda realized that this life force "resides unchanged within the network of causes and effects, and is an inexhaustible source of liberation identifiable as the eternal Buddha himself." Toda equated this realization as the true meaning of life.
In November 1944 Toda had a second sudden awakening, picturing himself attending the "Ceremony in the Air" depicted in the Lotus Sutra. He saw himself as one of innumerable "Bodhisattvas of the Earth" who pledged to the Buddha to propagate the Law in the future, directly connected to Shakyamuni and Nichiren, to propagate the Law. For Toda, the Ceremony in the Air moved from a mythic status to "a dynamic reality, eternal and spiritual yet alive in the present" in which he had a mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth to awaken the suffering people of the world.
Later Toda captured these realizations in the term "human revolution" which entailed transforming one's karma through Buddhist practice. This term was borrowed from a phrased used by Shigeru Nambara, president of Tokyo University, in 1947. The latter called for an inner transformation in the Japanese people to enable the success of occupation policies geared for social and political revolution. Toda used this term as the title of his autobiography published in 1957.
After his release, Toda lectured and wrote extensively to Soka Gakkai members about his realizations, now calling them a “life force philosophy” (also translated as "philosophy of life") (seimeiron). Study of his interpretation of the Buddha as an eternal life force remains an integral facet of the group’s doctrinal training.
Toda believed that the collapse of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai during the War under the duress of the government was due to a weakness in the doctrinal disciple of its members. According to McLaughlin, upon his 1951 inauguration and declaration of "The Great Shakubuku March," his first priority was quickly publishing doctrinal study materials. In preparation, he shifted the contents of his study lectures from explanations on the Lotus Sutra to studies on Nichiren's writings. He also created a Study Department consisting of 24 leading students who also gave local lectures.
The first product of the Study Department was "Shakubuku Kyoten" (The Shakubuku Manual) published on Nov. 18th, 1951. It was designed to empower members of the Soka Gakkai with all the doctrinal tools they would need to do increase membership. In a readily accessible way it explained to members the essential doctrine of Nichiren Shoshu, how these teachings differ from and are allegedly superior to other faiths, and summarized Makiguchi's theory of value. It spelled out the benefits of proselytizing and also provided detailed guidance about how to proselytize under different circumstances. The manual underwent eight editions and 39 printings, often changing emphases on such topics as Makiguchi's theory of value and Toda's "philosophy of life."
The second project Toda undertook was the collection of the extant writings of Nichiren. Throughout its 700-year history, Nichiren Shoshu, although claiming it was the orthodox teaching of Nichiren, had not produced its own canon of Nichiren's writings and had to rely on collections produced by other sects. Often these collections omitted writings of Nichiren the sect deemed as essential, such as the "Ongi Kuden" (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings). Toda offered to sponsor a definitive publication of Nichiren's writings based on the take of Nichiren Shoshu. The work was completed in less than a year by members of the Study Department under the supervision of Nichiko Hori, the retired 59th high priest of Nichiren Shoshu.
The book, "Shimpen Nichiren Daishonin Gosho Zenshu" (New Edition of the Complete Writings of Nichiren Daishonin), was released on April 28, 1952 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Nichiren's proclamation of his teachings in 1253. The book remains the supreme canon of the Soka Gakkai.
Soon after his inauguration, Toda created a section called the "Young Men's Division" on July 11, 1951. Its inaugural meeting consisted of 187 members who were divided into four "corps." Among the attendees was Daisaku Ikeda who was to become Toda's successor. In Toda's speech he outlined his vision that the young men would lead his propagation campaign, comparing them to the youth who were the vanguard of the Meiji Restoration. The "Young Women's Division" was formed on July 19, 1951 with seventy members organized into five corps.
According to McLaughlin, this was Toda’s second key initiative toward achieving his propagation goal. As Soka Gakkai members, carrying the new Gakkai publications as tools, began spreading out through neighborhoods to convert their families and acquaintances, the principal vanguard of "The Great March of Shakubuku" was the Youth Division.
Critics worried about the aggressive style of the Youth Division which employed military-sounding organizational units such as "corps commander" or "staff officer." In addition to propagating the religion to neighbors, Youth Division members challenged other sects to religious debates. The aggressive campaigning resulted in negative press coverage which reached a height in 1954. Regardless, the Youth Division membership grew exponentially, reaching a total of 10,390 members by the end of 1954.
According to McLaughlin, Toda's third initiative for the Great March of Shakubuku was creating a vision of Buddhism that is practical and attainable. To the people of the tumultuous post-war period, Toda used language that was optimistic and focused on progress. He spoke in an intuitive rather than esoteric way, for example referring to the Gohonzon as "a happiness-producing machine." He spoke to the real problems members were facing such as economic woes, illness, and family stress, stressing the fundamentals of chanting daimoku and proselytizing as tools.
Shimazono states that the doctrines developed by Toda represent a significant departure from the theology of the Nichiren Shoshu sect as well as of the Gakkai's founder, Makiguchi. Toda's vision, reshaping the traditional teachings of Nichiren Shoshu, was one of this-worldly salvation similar to other modern and popular Buddhist movements. Toda stressed that practice of Nichiren Buddhism would result in secular benefits. In fact, he stressed that faith must be actualized through victories in daily life.
Toda stressed in his frequent communications that propagation was an essential component of Buddhist practice. He introduced a tactical style that was described as "belligerent, activist, and ideological." He replaced Makiguchi's academic-oriented Theory of Value with activist guidelines through publications such as the Propagation Handbook and highly motivational tracts to the Youth Division such as "Injunctions to Youth" and "Injunctions to Patriots." In the latter he exhorted youth to become "the pillar, the eyes, the great vessel of Japan," borrowing Nichiren's description of himself.
In 1954 he stated, for example, "Let me tell you why you must conduct shakubuku. This is not to make Soka Gakkai larger but for you to become happier....You might say it is sufficient for you to pray [to a gohonzon] at home, but unless you carry out shakubuku you will not receive any divine benefit."
Membership grew rapidly under Toda's leadership, to more than 750,000 households by December 25, 1957, just months before his death on April 2, 1958.
Scholars have put forth different theories to account for Toda's success in building the Soka Gakkai. The media have pointed to aggressive propagation which sometimes resulted in violent removal of other religious artifacts from the homes of new members. The author questions, in contemporary terms, whether forced activities could result in the spontaneous actions needed to sustain a campaign.
Other scholars point to the success in finding a willing and sympathetic substratum of society to serve as its base. Toda made repeated references to "the poor and the sick," making it evident that his propagation campaign was aimed at such people and, Murata concludes, "And evidently, for many of them, their new faith worked." Media also portrayed the Soka Gakkai as a conglomeration of lower social elements. According to Dower, after the war the Japanese population displayed a "kyodatsu condition," a mass state of personal and collective disorientation and depression characterized by war-weariness, sickness, malnutrition, numbness, and despair as many people poured into cities in search of work and food. To these people Toda's reconceptualization of Buddha with life force and his focus on Buddhism as a transformative force in culture and politics had appeal which resulted in rapid growth.
White, on the other hand, recognizes the unique personality of Toda and its effect on youth. He was articulate, inspirational, frank, and engaging. He was able to field conversation and dialogue in a spirited way. Metraux emphasizes Toda's ability to empathize with and counsel the suffering people of his time; he had strong organizational abilities and work ethics. Seager highlights the unique fit between Toda and a new generation of youth that enabled the Soka Gakkai to develop into a dynamic force, more specifically, the relationship between an ailing Toda and an energetic Ikeda.
From as early as his twenties Toda began focusing on the concept of global citizenship. His years of imprisonment, accompanied by realizations that his life was one with the universe and he had a mission to awaken humanity to the sanctity of life, prepared him to be a peace leader. On February 17, 1952 Toda crystallized his experiences and understanding, introducing before several hundred of his youth division members his support for "one-worldism." According to Ikeda's interpretation based on numerous conversations, Toda was calling people to place a greater priority on the perspective of humanity rather than their respective nations. Urbain suggests that a modern-day equivalent to "one-worldism" would be "global citizenship."
On September 8, 1957, Josei Toda, a half-year before his death, issued a declaration for abolishing nuclear weapons as his will to future generations. According to Urbain, Toda exerted painstaking effort to create a succinct statement summarizing what he viewed as the essential aspect underlying nuclear armament. In his speech to 50,000 assembled members of the Soka Gakkai Youth Division Toda described the destructive functions inherent in human nature as the ultimate cause of nuclear war. He described an imperative to transcend the prevailing discourse of “we-ness” versus “they-ness” characteristic of the divisive tendency evident in the superpower rivalry during the Cold War. To this end, he declared a "death sentence" to such destructive functions which attempt to justify the use of nuclear weapons. His proposal for nuclear disarmament models acts of individual moral courage that take a clear and uncompromising stand to abolish nuclear weapons. In bequeathing to his youthful followers the responsibility for actualizing his vision of nuclear disarmament, his 1957 declaration points to a broad-based civil society movement dedicated toward nuclear disarmament. Th*`/is “Toda Declaration,” proclaiming nuclear weapons to be “the ultimate evil of mankind, our numbed and remorseless readiness to deprive others of their inviolable right to live,” remains the guiding principle of the Soka Gakkai peace movement. Urbain deconstructs the context, meaning, and implications of the speech.
In discussing the Russell-Einstein Manifesto with Daisaku Ikeda, Sir Joseph Rotblat characterized Toda's denunciation of nuclear arms as a "moral approach." Toda's analysis and approach toward nuclear disarmament have gained traction and form.
The Soka Gakkai has attempted to take action on Toda's call through numerous initiatives. In the 1980s, with the support of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Soka Gakkai created the exhibition "Nuclear Arms: Threat to Our World," which attempted to raise public awareness of the grave consequences of nuclear weapons and toured different parts of the world. In 2007, the Soka Gakkai International launched a grassroots antinuclear campaign called "People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the antinuclear declaration made by Toda. The exhibition "From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Toward a World Free From Nuclear Weapons" was created as its initial project. The exhibition toured more than 230 cities in 31 countries and territories around the world and concluded in Bahrain in March 2013. A new exhibition, "Everything You Treasure – For a World Free From Nuclear Weapons," developed with the support of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), aims to foster a deep awareness of the consequences of nuclear weapons by reexamining the challenges they pose from twelve different perspectives, including ecological integrity, human rights and gender. The English-language version of the exhibition was first launched at the 20th World Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in Hiroshima in 2012. It has since been shown at ICAN’s Civil Society Forum in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013, and later at the UN Office at Geneva, during the Second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in April 2013.
According to many commentators the success of the "Great Shakubuku Campaign" launched by Toda at his 1951 inauguration was the result of zealous and over-aggressive techniques. Toda adopted an aggressive and controversial method of proselytizing, based on Nichiren teachings on shakubuku (折伏), often translated character for character as "break and subdue", sometimes as "forced conversion," or as "to criticize and to convince". Shakubuku, essentially, is the more assertive of two different methods of proselytizing traditionally employed by Nichiren adherents, in which the proselytizer aggressively confronts a non-adherent about the falsity of their beliefs. According to some, Toda's brand of shakubuku was of an unusually aggressive nature and would come to give Soka Gakkai a reputation of militancy. It also resulted in widespread criticism in the popular press and also by other Buddhist sects. An alternative belief is that some overenthusiastic members were responsible for excessive activities despite the cautions of Toda.
Other scholars are skeptical of the interpretation that the growth of the Soka Gakkai under Toda's leadership could be simply ascribed to forced conversion. Some point to the organization's growth as the product of Toda's organizational acumen. During the rebuilding years of 1945–50 Toda reassembled prewar members, appointed selected leaders, developed an organizational structure, constructed a fabric of ideology, conceived of youth and the disaffected urban underclass as a target population for propagation, and began laying a foundation for propagation.
Others point to Toda's authenticity stemming from his awakenings in prison, his conviction and force of personality, and his ability to relate to individuals and small groups. Toda built his movement through conducting personal and small group dialogues and promoting small discussion groups.
Toda used Nichiren's writings and keen social observation to create a proselyting movement that was both militant and vigorous. Toda was also effective in incorporating the powerful imagery of classical literature into his discussions and actions. For example, Toda named the young men select training group he formed the "Suiko Kai," Water Margin Club, named after the novel attributed to Shi Nai'an, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, written in vernacular Chinese rather than Classical Chinese. His intention was to inspire the group of young men to aspire the group of 108 heroic outlaws depicted in the novel. He encouraged the young men in this group and the young women in the accompanying "Kaiyo Kai" group to read classical works such as Hugo's Ninety-Three, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Caine's The Eternal City, Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, and Gogol's Taras Bulba. In this vein, in October 1954, Toda made a speech to over 10,000 Gakkai members while mounted on a white horse, proclaiming: "We must consider all religions our enemies, and we must destroy them."
A case in point was Ikeda's conversion through his meeting with Toda. Ikeda was seemingly inspired by the authenticity and clarity of Toda's message, his capacity to employ language and logic to inspire people, and his vision of global citizenship.
Criticisms have also been made on the propensity of zealous members to insist that new converts discard previous shrines and artifacts from their prior religions.
The relationship with Nichiren Shoshu went through many ups and downs throughout Toda's presidency.
Toda began his presidency with a determination to build closer cooperation with Nichiren Shoshu even though his appraisal of the school was at times critical. He often spoke of "bad priests" and his wartime experiences led him to conclude that his faith was stronger than that of some of the priests. On May 12, 1951, Toda requested from High Priest Nissho a special gohonzon for attaining the organization's goal of propagation which was bestowed on May 20, 1951 and enshrined in the Soka Gakkai headquarters. On November 18, 2013 this gohonzon was moved and enshrined at the newly constructed "Hall of the Great Vow" near the Soka Gakkai's headquarters in Tokyo; members from around the world visit and chant to this gohonzon.
In particular Toda was extremely critical of Jimon Ogasawara, an ultranationalist priest Providing context to the prewar situation, Montgomery explains: "During the Pacific War, most religions supported the militaristic policies of the Japanese government. While some religions did so in order to avoid political oppression, it seems that in the end most religions in Japan became permeated with the ultranationalistic spirit and supported the war effort rather voluntarily. In particular, the Nichiren tradition of Buddhism produced thinkers such as Chigaku Tanaka or Jimon Ogasawara, who, drawing on the political aspects of Nichiren’s teaching, created ultranationalist ideologies legitimizing Japanese military policies of expansionism and colonization. These ideologies were then adopted by many Japanese religions. Reiyukai. which, through schismatic movements, produced many New Religions, such as Rissho Koseikai, was one of those religions which embraced Tanaka’s ideology and, thus, avoided wartime oppression." Ogasawara also articulated an amalgam of Buddhism and Shintoism, claiming that Buddhist deities were only manifestations of the true Shinto deities, thus placing Shinto superior to Buddhism. By supporting Ogasawara's ideology, Nichiren Shoshu managed to avoid the wartime government's goal of unifying all Nichiren groups. Toda held that Ogasawara was the one primarily responsible for the government repression of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, his and Makiguchi's imprisonment, and, ultimately, Makiguchi's death. In 1942 Ogasawara was expelled from Nichiren Shoshu.
One incident occurred in 1952 which tarnished the reputation of the young Soka Gakkai movement. On the eve of April 28, 1952, a special commemorative event was held at the head temple to honor the 700th anniversary of Nichiren's declaration of his school with 4000 Soka Gakkai members in attendance. As it turns out, Ogasawara had been secretly readmitted to the priesthood without the knowledge of the Soka Gakkai and was present at the event. When Ogasawara's presence was discovered, a group of 47 young men, with the participation of Toda and Ikeda, confronted him and demanded an apology for his wartime actions. Holte conjectures that 47 youth were chosen to draw a parallel to the Japanese tale of the Forty-seven Ronin. During this confrontation Ogasawara kicked Toda and Toda struck him twice. Ogasawara refused to apologize for his actions during the war or recant his doctrines.
The young men then seized Ogasawara, tore off his priestly robe, and forcibly carried him to Makiguchi's grave with a placard inscribed "Tanuki Bozu" (Raccoon Monk) placed on him. Under duress he signed a letter of apology at the gravesite. Ogasaware filed a complaint with the authorities against Soka Gakkai for assault and battery and later a complaint against the high priest. After Toda's apology, and with Ogasawara's lawsuit against Nissho, public sentiment turned against him and he withdrew both complaints.
Additional accounts of the incident provide more details. Brannen notes that Toda was temporarily banned from entering the temple. Shimada informs that though no legal action was taken, this incident helped establish a public view of the organization as a violent cult,., a reputation which has abated over the years. The Soka Gakkai has never denied the factual events of the story but has provided its own narrative about the incident. Ikeda gives an almost 40-page explanation of the incident in The Human Revolution, his fictionalized biography of Toda.
The incident did not strain relationships between Toda and Nichiren Shoshu for a long time. The day following the incident, April 28, 1952, Toda published the first edition of the New Edition of the Complete Works of the Great Sage Nichiren (Shinpen Nichiren Daishōnin gosho zenshū), a single-volume collection of Nichiren's writings that continues to serve as the organization's primary source for its Buddhist practice. Several months later, in November 1952, Nissho, the high priest of Taiseki-ji, reprimanded Toda for the April 27th incident. Toda responded with an article entitled "Apology" printed in the Soka Gakkai's newspaper. In May 1955 Ogasawara issued a pamphlet in which he repented his indiscretion in having had the unfortunate conflict with the Soka Gakkai. As time went on Nichiren Shoshu prospered as never before in its history due to financial support from the Soka Gakkai and pilgrimages by members.
In 1952 the Soka Gakkai was legally registered as a religious organization in Japan, overcoming some initial resistance from Nichiren Shoshu clerics. At the end of that year, at the seventh Soka Gakkai general meeting, Nichijun Horigome, who was to become the 65th high priest of the order, stated,"I entrust the great propagation of the Law to the members of the Soka Gakkai."
Starting in 1954 Toda financed and donated to Nichiren Shoshu the first three of many local temples. He provided funding for the restoration of Taisekiji's Five-Storied Pagoda and the Somon Gate. In 1955 he constructed on the Taisekiji site the Hoan-den to house the Dai Gohonzon and the Grand Lecture Hall in 1958. (The latter building was demolished by Nichiren Shoshu in 1995.) On New Year's Day 1956 Nichijun made highly complimentary statements about the Soka Gakkai Toda had built.
Despite his support for Nichiren Shoshu, Toda kept a wary eye on priests. In 1951 he tells in his own hand, in an essay entitled "The History and Conviction of the Soka Gakkai," his experience before the war, his realizations during his imprisonment, his efforts to rebuild the Soka Gakkai, and his concerns for the future. In this essay he expresses praise for Nissho, the high priest at that time, but also issues strong cautions about degenerate priests.
Toda died on April 2, 1958. Nichijun, at the eighth general meeting of the Soka Gakkai held one month later, eulogized Toda stating: "It was President Toda who, as their leader, called forth those bodhisattvas; it was in the Soka Gakkai that they gathered. In other words, it was President Toda who manifested the five and seven characters of Myoho-renge-kyo as 750,000 [bodhisattvas]."
Toda died on 2 April 1958 while the funeral was held at his home and the coffin was afterwards carried to the Nichiren Shōshū Jozai-ji temple in Ikebukuro, where he was buried. Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi attended the funeral - something that scandalized "quite a few Japanese" but was a testament to how the Gakkai had grown in influence under Toda. For two years after Toda's death, there was a leadership vacuum and the Gakkai had no president, as it was unclear if anyone was able to replace him. Toda was buried at Nichiren Shōshū Ikebukuro Jozai-ji temple, where his wife Iku Toda was laid to rest in the year 2000. His wife, per her request also had a funeral provided in the Nichiren Shoshu tradition. Some Soka Gakkai senior leaders requested to provide a funeral service to Iku Toda but was refused by their eldest son, Takahisa Toda. Daisaku Ikeda did not attend the funeral ceremony. In 2001, on Toda's death year anniversary at the request of his family descendants, Toda's ashes were moved from the Jozai-Ji Temple in Tokyo and re-enshrined in a modest size tombstone on the left side of the Goju-nomoto (Five-story Pagoda) of Taiseki-ji Head Temple where it remains today.
After the war Josei Toda transformed the Soka Gakkai into "a national phenomenon," increasing its membership exponentially and positioning it as "a grassroots social movement that championed peace and the rights of ordinary people." Although the movement was derided as one composed of "the poor and sick," Toda taught his members that such criticism was a source of pride. Toda revitalized the traditional teachings and practices of Nichiren Shoshu so they became vital for people in the modern age.
Toda firmly aligned the Soka Gakkai movement with a commitment to peace in the secular world.
Toda is recognized by scholars to be the primary influence on Ikeda. In turn, Ikeda describes the impact of Toda on his life in numerous published dialogues he has conducted with leading intellects.
Toda's call for nuclear disarmament currently takes institutional form in the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research which was founded in 1996 by Ikeda. The institute promotes peace research through the organization of conferences, the publication of books, and of the yearly journal Peace & Policy. The Toda Institute focuses on three main themes: Human Security and Human Rights, Dialogue and Nonviolent Conflict Transformation, and Global Governance and World Citizenship. It seeks concrete solutions to three main issues: Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, UN Reform, and Sustainable Peace through Environmental Integrity and Social Justice.
Toda's experiences in prison as well as his efforts to build the Soka Gakkai are chronicled in two films by Japanese film director Toshio Masuda, the 1973 film The Human Revolution (Ningen Kakumei) and a 1976 sequel, The Human Revolution II (Zoku Ningen Kakumei), both starring produced by Toho.