日本語   JCIE Japanese Language Site



Issue 7
December 3, 2002

Trends Concerning International Exchange Associations

by Toshihiro Menju, Chief Program Officer, JCIE

Recently, several new trends appear to be taking place in the field of international exchange associations with important implications for their continued presence in Japanese society.

1. What are International Exchange Associations?

International exchange associations are auxiliary organizations (citizen's groups) established through the initiative of local governments for the purpose of promoting international exchange and cooperation. In 1989, the former Ministry of Home Affairs issued "Guidelines for Promoting Local-Level International Exchange," which called for the establishment of these associations in Japan's prefectures and ordinance-designated cities (cities with large populations that have been given a level of political authority almost equivalent to that of prefectures). Today, each of Japan's 47 prefectures and 12 ordinance-designated cities have international exchange affiliates that have been officially recognized as "local international exchange associations" by the Ministry of Home Affairs. These associations employ approximately 1,500 staff members nationwide. Many of the prefecture-based associations are reorganized versions of previously existing associations such as kaigai kyokai, or "overseas associations," which are affiliated with prefectural governments and provide local support for citizens who emigrate to foreign countries, among other activities. Starting in the early 1990s, a succession of international exchange associations also emerged in local municipalities (i.e., cities, towns, and villages), and as of June 2001, 972 international exchange groups existed in Japan (including those based in prefectures and in ordinance-designated cities).

2. Types of International Exchange Associations Based in Local Municipalities

As indicated above, the majority of Japan's international exchange associations are those based in local municipalities that are not officially recognized as "local international exchange associations." Although a survey has yet to be conducted on these organizations, it is possible to divide them broadly into the following categories:

  1. Those based in large municipalities
    Similar to the "local international exchange associations," associations in this category have their own independent facilities and have full-time staff, including staff on temporary loan from the municipal government. The majority of these organizations' activities are planned and organized by their secretariats.
  2. Those based in medium-sized municipalities
    These associations are not housed in their own independent facilities, and personnel from the international exchange division within the municipal government handle the administrative duties. However, the members of these associations are local citizens who take an active, leadership role in implementing the international exchange activities.
  3. Those based in small municipalities
    Like the above category, these associations are not housed in their own independent facilities, and personnel from the international exchange division within the municipal government handle the administrative tasks. Both the planning and implementation of activities are carried out by personnel who concurrently function as local government staff, while local residents take the role of the participants. The majority of these small municipalities have few citizen groups with a prominent presence in the community.

Of course, these categories simply provide general characterizations, and there are also many cases that represent a combination of these characteristics or that do not fall under any of these areas.

3. New Trends among International Exchange Associations

Since all of these international exchange associations were established through the initiative of local governments, they naturally are being affected by government budget cuts. The nature of the impact has depended on the type of the association, as described below:

  1. International exchange associations in large municipalities
    In addition to reducing their grants and subsidies to international exchange associations, local governments are calling for these associations to become more self-sufficient. However, as they have little experience in raising funds from other sources, these organizations are encountering difficulty in adapting to this change. Due to their shrinking budgets, they are being forced to cut the scale of their programs and are starting to face the possibility of having to reduce the number of their staff. Some of these organizations even have started to merge with other local government_affiliated organizations, as witnessed in municipalities in Chiba Prefecture and Aomori Prefecture. At the same time, however, an increasing number of associations with professional staff are successfully obtaining grants from private foundations in addition to local government funding and are engaging in innovative programs. In addition, many associations have started to actively explore linkages with educational institutions as well as linkages with local businesses.
  2. International exchange associations in medium-sized municipalities
    Although citizens are actively involved in these associations' programmatic activities, local governments are starting to call for citizens to take responsibility for the overall operations, including the administrative aspects (along the lines of NPOs). More specifically, the local governments are pushing for citizens to take on the duties currently shouldered by local government staff, such as tracking membership fees and updating membership lists. Although there is some resistance on the part of the citizens who have, until now, only been responsible for programmatic activities, the exchange associations nonetheless are starting to separate from and become more independent of local governments. The local governments are aiding this transition through temporary financial support and commissioned projects.
  3. International exchange associations in small municipalities
    Local governments internally handle the planning and implementation of these associations' programs, and there has been no fundamental change to this pattern. However, there are indications that there will be calls for more substantive citizen involvement in these programs and that we may start to see a shift toward these local governments commissioning various NPOs to carry out international exchange programs.

Clearly, there are various changes occurring at a rapid pace in the field of international exchange at the grassroots level. While the need for international exchange associations has increased with the growth of the foreign population in local communities, these organizations are faced with difficult circumstances due to the financial situation of local governments. The key to these organizations' survival may be to highlight the significance of international exchange and cooperation activities for local communities and the government and to enhance their recognition of the value of these activities.


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