What is (are) NGO(s) in Japan by bigbro22


									NGOs and Social Movements in Japan

Yoshitaka Mori
Associate Professor of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music

What is (are) NGO(s) in Japan?

  Unlike western countries where NGO activities have a long tradition, the term NGO

is still ambiguous and confusing to most people in Japan, though it has gained

increasingly popular acknowledgement in the media since 1980s,. While the term NGO

was originally made in a particular relation to an official organization of the UN, it was

often used in a generalized way to represent any social, political and civil organizations,

led not by governments but by citizens. NGOs are seen as organizations which deal with

problems of development, human rights, environment, conflicts and wars. The term is

often (mistakenly or intentionally) used even as synonymous with NPO (Non-Profit

Organization) within a Japanese context.

  It is not my aim here to make a clear definition of what NGO(s) is (are), but I would

like to suggest that the confusion is not accidental, but necessarily takes place due to an

(unsuccessful) political tradition of civil society in Japan. Partly because the distinction

between the public and the private has not been historically well-established in the same

way as in the West, and partly because the public often appropriated by the state

authorities, the concept of civil society, citizens and the public sphere have been less

discussed and less explored. NGOs have been facing the same fate.

  It should be pointed out, therefore, that NGOs used to mean international, unfamiliar,

organization rather than Japanese national organization until recently. It is since 1980

that Japanese NGOs, located in Japan and organized mainly by Japanese are actively

involved in civil society and politics.
  Looking back at history of Japanese NGOs, we may be able to find their origin in an

activity of Christian doctors and medical students who were sent to China to save

injured people during Japan- China war in 1938. After WWII, we saw labor movements,

consumer movements, anti-discrimination movements, anti-nuclear movements, peace

movement, environmental movements and student movement which culminated in the

1960s. These led to the establishment of many grass-roots, civil organizations and have

become the basis for today’s NGOs.

  The number of NGOs has dramatically increased since 1980. According to the report

published by JANIC (Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation), the number of

NGOs concerned with international corporation was about 50, it increased up to more

than 200 during the decade. There appear 354 organizations in ‘Directory of Japanese

NGOs Concerned with International Corporation’, which JANIC published in 2004.

  If we include NPOs which deal with domestic problems such as social welfare,

medical care, community planning, cultural activities and environment, as an expanded

version of NGOs, the number is about as many as 90,000 according to the governmental

research in 2002.

An overview of Japanese NGOs

  Following JANIC’s definition and data of NGO, I would like to briefly look at the

condition of Japanese NGOs. JANIC, which is trying to establish networks and share

information among NGOs, defines NGOs as ‘citizens-based organization active in

international cooperation’. The following data are based on JANIC’s homepage

(www.janic.org) and ‘Directory of Japanese NGOs concerned with International


  As for budgets, the average of an annual budget of about 250 NGOs is about ¥110

million (US$ 1 million).But this takes place because there are very few NGOs which
have huge budgets. Only 13% have an annual budget of more than ¥100 million

(US$ 860,000). 40% have an annual budget of between ¥10 million (US$ 86,000) and

¥50 million (US$ 435,000). A half of NGOs have legal status while the other does not

have legal status. These figures show most of NGOs have not gained enough financial

support yet.

  Then where do the NGOs derive income from? 66% are from donations, membership

fees, and income-generating activities. 14% are subsidies from governmental bodies.

4% are grants from private foundations. 5% are contract funds from government and

UN agencies and others are 10%. As you see, the income relies mainly on donation and

membership fees and income-generating activities and there fore most NGOs are under

unstable condition without government or corporation’s support. This leads to an

unstable labor condition of NGO staff. There are only about 1,200 paid staff working in

NGOs, of which 25% are on part-time basis.

  About 280,000 are individual supporting / sustaining members of NGOs. About 5,900

companies / corporations support 80 NGOs, of which over 50% are supported by less

than ten companies. Only 7 NGOs are supported by more than 100 companies. About

100 NGOs are supported by about 4,500 Non-Profit Organizations, such as churches,

temples, labor unions, and junior chambers.

  Main activities of NGOs are divided into overseas work and domestic one. The

overseas work includes education, medical and health services, vocational training,

environmental protection, rural development, relief and emergency assistance for

refugees, fair trade, while domestic work does development education / global

citizenship education, advocacy, protecting human rights of foreigners in Japan.

Japanese NGOs deal with 103 countries including Japan itself. 177 NGOs work 26

Asian countries, 48 in 38 African ones, 23 in 17 Latin American countries and 22 in 15

ex-Soviet Unions and East Europe. Among Asian counties, in particular, Philippine,
Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal and India are dealt with.

NGOs and social movements in Japan

  It is a difficult task to discuss the relationship between NGOs and current social

movements for some reasons.

  As I said, some NGOs are still under influence social and political movements in

1960s and 1970s to a certain extent, while others not. There are a lot of differences and

disagreements within NGOs. It is also ridiculous to separate Japanese NGOs from other

international NGOs, as NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) have to be, by

definition, beyond nation state boundaries. Therefore, the term Japanese NGOs sounds

contradictory as there are some Japanese who actively work in international or

transnational NGOs. It is almost impossible to generalize all NGOs activities. Here,

avoiding overgeneralization, I will put some issues both in a positive and negative way.

  Firstly, it is an urgent task to make NGOs financially and politically more

independent, more autonomous and more sustainable organizations. While the political

importance of NGOs is increasing in the age of globalization and young people are

increasingly interested in working in NGOs, there is still little opportunity for them to

work due to their financial instability and to the lack of professionalism.

  Secondly, the recent situation around NGOs raises a different problem in Japan.

Japanese government is now keen to have a good relationship with and even to control

NGOs as they realize that NGOs could be supplementary institutions through which the

government supports developing countries. Japan Platform would be a good example

we should address. There have been huge, complicated, arguments as to what extent

NGOs can or should rely on financial support from the government. How can NGOs

establish a democratic process through which appropriate organization and project are

selected for the governmental support? How can NGOs keep a critical, even if not
anti-governmental, stance towards the government?

  Thirdly, there is a certain gap between NGOs’ politics and socio-cultural movements

particularly organized by younger generation after anti-globalization movement in

Seattle and Anti-war movements against Iraqi war. We need to consider how we can fill

the gap and make mutual relationships.

JANIC    www.janic.org

Japan Platform   www.japanplatform.org/

To top