日本語   JCIE Japanese Language Site

Issue 16
September 26, 2003

Japan's Civil Society Development: A Step Behind

by Toshihiro Menju, Chief Program Officer, JCIE

Commissioned by the Keizai Koho Center (Japan Institute for Social and Economic Affairs), JCIE is currently conducting a survey on NGO activities in seven countries in Asia and Europe. Specifically, it is looking at the state of civil society development in these countries where Japanese overseas investment has been growing, in addition to surveying partnerships between corporations and NGOs. After reviewing the reports submitted by experts in each of the surveyed countries and then reflecting on Japan's situation, it appears that Japan is still a step behind in its civil society development.

The Debate on Reform

As one important example, the current debate on socioeconomic reform that is actively taking place in Japan does not involve any discussion of the nonprofit sector as an active player in the reform process. The debate is occurring as part of the face-off between conservatives, who call for government-led reform in the traditional sense, and reformists, who advocate a shift of power away from the central government and government agencies, in favor of privatization and a market economy. Any mention of the nonprofit sector and civil society within the government seems to be limited to discussions of NPOs as a low-cost, alternative mechanism of providing public services.

The Third Way in Britain

Great Britain offers an example of steady civil society development. It was over twenty years ago that then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher led an effort to shrink government and promote a market economy. While the slimming-down effort succeeded in correcting the enlarged bureaucracy, a subsequent overemphasis on market economy principles led to the emergence of serious social issues, such as wider gaps between rich and poor and social instability. Drawing on the lessons learned from this experience, Professor Anthony Giddens, a close associate of Prime Minister Blair, began espousing the concept of the "third way," which seeks to achieve social justice and economic efficiency in tandem through the introduction of an effective market economy. Five years have passed since the initiation of this philosophy.

During this process, the nonprofit sector emerged as the focus of much attention. The British government's recognition of the importance of the role of NPOs became evident when Prime Minister Blair took the lead in establishing the "Giving Age" agenda in 2001 despite financial constraints within the government. "Giving Age" is aimed at encouraging citizens to make donations to nonprofit organizations. With regard to the government's social policy, "social cohesion" and "inclusion" have been incorporated as main themes with the goal of addressing issues of social unrest such as those related to its growing immigrant population. There is a strong awareness within the government that the nonprofit sector will play a crucial supporting role in addressing these issues given its active presence in local communities.

Among nonprofit activists (also known as social entrepreneurs), there are many organizations that assist the socially disadvantaged and immigrants, and the British government is pro-actively supporting innovative activities initiated by such organizations. An important development has emerged in the form of a comprehensive agreement between the government and the nonprofit sector, called "The Compact," aimed at ensuring flexibility and self-initiative within the nonprofit sector when government funds are allocated to NPOs.

Inclusion of NPOs in the Discussion of Social Reforms

There are several important issues facing Japan's nonprofit sector. It is anticipated that there will be an increased flow of funds from the government to NGOs as a result of a decrease in the government's role in society in Japan. However, there are many in the nonprofit sector who are concerned that this shift will be accompanied by strict regulations tied to financial accountability, which could take away from NPOs' flexible and dynamic nature.

Among nonprofits in Japan, the debate concerning NPO development has tended to focus on technical issues, such as the legal system, which points to a weaker emphasis on strengthening understanding of the sector among the general public. Also, as a result of the fact that bureaucrats and politicians place nonprofits within the framework of community-level policies, there has been no active discussion of the nonprofit sector in the context of national reform policies related to Japan's social systems.

Perhaps for this reason, as far as the public can tell from television and other media, the discussion on reforms to revitalize Japan involves only two main players: the government and the private sector. The discussion of Japan's future is moving forward without an informed understanding of the significant role of the nonprofit sector as the third sector of Japan's society. As such, it is necessary for the nonprofit sector to clearly convey through the media its latent potential for revitalizing Japan and expand the discussion on reforms to include a broad range of players, including citizens and leaders in the political and economic arenas.

Toward a Culturally Diverse Society: NPO Support for Foreign Residents of Japan

by Satoko Itoh, Chief Program Officer, JCIE

Fact: One in five newborns has at least one parent with foreign citizenship. One might venture to guess that this statistic refers to the United States or Australia, both known for their high immigration inflows. But, in fact, this statistic refers to babies born in Tokyo's Shinjuku and Minato wards. While these two wards are known to have a relatively large foreign population, this statistic will undoubtedly come as a surprise to many people. In addition, the rate of prevalence of "international marriages" (i.e., marriages between a Japanese citizen and a person of foreign citizenship) in Japan is now one in 20, and the rate rises to one in 12 with respect to the 23 wards in Tokyo. These facts are a clear indication of how Japan is becoming a multicultural and multi-ethnic society.

This situation does not relate only to foreign residents. The number of naturalized Japanese citizens is growing, and an increasing number of Japanese returnees from China (zanryu koji or Japanese orphans abandoned in China after World War II) are settling into local communities in Japan. In addition, Japanese society has seen an increase in the number of young people who are making a permanent move to foreign countries, as well as in the number of kikoku shijo, or children who have returned to Japan after spending their formative years overseas. Japan gradually is making its way toward becoming a society in which being a "Japanese citizen" does not necessarily imply a shared ethnic or cultural identity and, more importantly, in which this is becoming an accepted notion.

NPOs' Societal Niche

Despite these changes, the path that lies ahead is by no means certain. Japanese society, long perceived to be homogeneous, is facing newly emerging, complex issues that it did not anticipate. A multitude of issues concerning social security, healthcare, education, labor, housing, human rights, and other areas lie waiting to be addressed, revealing the lack of necessary support systems to help foreigners, namely migrant laborers, maintain residency. NPOs are playing a crucial role in addressing the areas in which the state and local governments have not been able to provide a sufficient response. The niche that NPOs have identified for themselves consists of three areas: 1) providing specialized knowledge not offered by administrative agencies, such as linguistic skills, familiarity with foreign health practices, and legal information about foreign residency requirements; 2) offering a concrete understanding of the actual circumstances facing foreign residents that is derived from their close interaction with them at the local level; and 3) responding flexibly to issues concerning unregistered immigrants who have overextended their official period of stay.

The Levi Strauss Advised Fund of JCIE: Social Justice

For several years, the author has been involved in administering the Levi Strauss Advised Fund of JCIE, and, as such, has been managing grants for NPO projects related to the theme of "social justice." Social justice refers to the principle of empowering the socially disadvantaged and those who have been marginalized and, as a result, are not truly engaged in society. Of the many issues that include domestic violence, homelessness, drug dependency, and single motherhood, we receive the most applications from NPOs that provide support for immigrants, refugees, and foreign residents in Japan.

NPO Support for the Foreign Community in Japan

The NPOs involved in this field in Japan number in the hundreds and include organizations that work on a nationwide level as well as those that operate at the local level. Although the grant applications received offer only a limited perspective on the field, there appear to be specific patterns concerning how these organizations were established and what serves as the foundation for their activities.

The first category consists of organizations that are Christian in nature. The Catholic Church in particular actively organizes systematic activities, and in many regions in Japan with large Catholic populations consisting of Brazilians, Peruvians, Filipinos, and other immigrants, solid community-building efforts rooted in the Church are taking place. For example, such communities often conduct mass in foreign languages and offer regular consultations on daily issues.

The second category consists of organizations connected to labor unions, or organizations set up by former union members. Generally, these organizations are gradually formed as unions accumulate information in the process of providing consultations to migrant laborers on issues such as work-related injuries and unpaid wages.

The third category is that of organizations established by physicians and nurses who have experience providing medical treatment to the foreign population. They offer specialized services that administrative agencies cannot, such as the provision of periodic medical check-ups by multilingual staff and medical interpreting.

Organizations run by legal experts, though few in number, make up the fourth category. These organizations are formed by lawyers and administrative scriveners (gyosei shoshi) who have experience providing legal advice on issues such as visa requirements, international marriages, and human rights.

The fifth category consists of organizations that specialize in issues concerning foreign women living in Japan. Certain organizations that have been involved in rescuing trafficking victims, especially Asian women, are now applying their expertise toward cases of domestic violence in "international marriages." The sixth category is that of organizations that were originally formed to serve as the domestic base of activities for NGOs involved mainly in international cooperation and aid to developing countries. Many of these organizations are directing their attention toward the rapid increase in the number of foreign residents from developing countries and are utilizing their specialized knowledge of those countries and their language skills to offer phone consultations and other types of support for this group.

Emergence of Organizations Run by Non-Japanese

The seventh category is one that has been growing recently and consists of organizations launched by non-Japanese. To name just a few, there is the Filipino Migrants' Center, established in 2000 by Filipinos living in Nagoya; KALAKASAN, an organization established in 2002 with the aim of empowering immigrant women; CREATIVOS, established in 1999 to offer support programs related to HIV/AIDS prevention and care for Brazilians and Peruvians living in Japan; and NGO Vietnam in Kobe.

Perhaps because their country of origin has a very active and well-developed civil society, the organizations launched by Filipinos are extremely active and diverse. There are numerous organizations in many categories and regions, including those for Philippine women with Japanese spouses, organizations for elderly Filipinos living in Japan, mutual aid organizations for Philippine women, and organizations that address labor issues.

It was previously the case that the overwhelming majority of NPOs involved in issues related to immigrants and foreign residents were led by Japanese individuals; the foreign community was involved merely in a volunteer capacity or served only as the target of their activities. This situation appears to have been unique among advanced countries. In Europe and the United States, it is often pointed out that immigrants tend to start up mutual aid organizations immediately upon their arrival. Also, in these regions, when potential and new immigrants need advice about where to emigrate to and about starting their lives in their new country, they most often than not turn to the community of immigrants from their country.

In Japan, brokers often are involved in bringing foreigners over to Japan, especially in the case of migrant workers, which has made it difficult for immigrants to maintain networks with each other and thereby hindered the development of mutual aid organizations. The fact that the number of organizations run by non-Japanese has been increasing, albeit gradually, suggests that more and more foreign residents are taking charge of their situation rather than simply being passive recipients of support services, and that Japan's immigrant community is growing. These organizations are playing a growing role as intermediaries between Japanese NPOs and the foreign population they serve.

Promoting Specialized Skills

As the significance of national borders diminishes with the advance of globalization, Japan is entering a new stage of increased coexistence with immigrants and foreign residents, whether it is prepared to or not. It must now turn to building a society that is based on the premise that its members are diverse peoples who speak different languages and have different customs and perspectives. The contributions of NPOs should not be undervalued in this effort. The grantmaking foundations and local international exchange associations that are in the position to support these NPOs must explore appropriate directions of funding that will draw forth their potential and help them to develop specialized operations

Please send comments/inquiries to grassnet@jcie.or.jp.