The exalted star at the center of the Happy Science universe is a former Wall Street trader named Ryuho Okawa, whose followers, incredibly, regard him as the incarnation of a supreme being from Venus. What’s more, he also claims to channel the spirits of hundreds of characters, dead and alive, like Freddie Mercury, Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. Mr. Okawa almost never appears before the media and, via aides, declined requests to speak.
Before his extravagant reinvention, Mr. Okawa was born Takashi Nakagawa in 1956, on the southern island of Shikoku in Japan. The postwar decades in Japan had seen a surge in new and novel forms of religion that blended imported New Age texts with longstanding Japanese traditions. It was in this soul-searching mélange that Mr. Okawa came of age.
He attended Tokyo University and seemed poised to become a businessman. In the early 1980s, he joined one of the country’s largest trading firms and said he spent a year working at its Manhattan office.
But Mr. Okawa would pursue another career.
Around this time, he came to believe he was in contact with wise men from the past, like Buddha and Jesus. They told him he was chosen to spiritually redeem a world gone to rack and ruin. Who was he to say no?
“It was up to me,” he later wrote, “to gather all the peoples of the world into this new faith.”
Mr. Okawa returned to Tokyo, where he tapped into the city’s burgeoning metaphysical scene and attracted a following. Playing on the economic anxiety of the early 1990s, he self-published several tracts with titles like “The Terrifying Revelations of Nostradamus” and “The Great Warnings of Allah.”
The books were hits. And as more flooded out, the tales became more and more dazzling. At first Mr. Okawa was just a channel for far-flung spirits. Then he was a reincarnated Buddha. Eventually he proclaimed himself the supreme deity of this world. And remarkably, his followers agreed.
Life on earth, Mr. Okawa came to teach, was engineered millions of years ago by a creator god from Venus named El Cantare who had been reincarnated over the years as deities and enlightened masters, like Hermes, Thoth from Atlantis, Odin, Buddha and an Incan king named Rient Arl Croud. The latest incarnation of El Cantare, of course, was Mr. Okawa himself.