Toda was a primary school teacher from Hokkaido. He moved to Tokyo at 20. Disillusioned with a Japanese educational system that advanced the interests of the state and suppressed independent thought, he became inspired by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a primary school principal with a unique, child-centered teaching methodology. Makiguchi and Toda founded the Value Creating Educational Society (Soka Kyoiku Gakkai) which aimed to promote human development through education and Buddhist principles.
With the onset of World War II, Toda and Makiguchi's pacifist beliefs met with harassment by the Japanese military government. In July 1943, Toda and Makiguchi were arrested on charges of violating the notorious Peace Preservation Law. Makiguchi died in prison, but Toda survived two years of incarceration and resisted state persecution. Toda was released a few weeks before Japan's surrender in 1945. His deep indignation toward the military government's wanton exercise of power motivated him to build a grassroots Buddhist movement for peace and people's empowerment for the remainder of his life.
Josei Toda made his historic declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons on September 8, 1957 in front of 50,000 Japanese youth at Mitsuzawa Stadium in Yokohama. This was when the Cold War was intensifying. Toda denounced those who would use nuclear weapons as 'evil.' His conviction was that nuclear weapons were the product of the dark, destructive nature inherent in all people, and they posed a fundamental threat to people's right to exist. His stance was that nuclear weapons and their use must be absolutely condemned from the universal dimension of humanity and our inalienable right to live.
Josei Toda's desire to build a peaceful world respecting the inherent dignity of life is carried on in the Toda Peace Institute's programme.