chapter  15
12 Pages

The new prominence of the civil sector in Japan

ByAkihiro Ogawa

When one enters a Japanese neighborhood, one fi nds various types of associations and a wide range of social groups and networks that are active at the local level. The traditional neighborhood association ( cho¯naikai ), the most widespread grassroots unit of Japanese civil society, is the center of everyday life; this volunteer-based neighborhood association, which functions as a grassroots administrative entity, also organizes a variety of activities in the community, including fi refi ghting, crime prevention, and traffi c control. These neighborhood associations are complemented by institutional civil sector organizations – called public interest corporations ( ko¯eki ho¯jin ) – which include incorporated foundations ( zaidan ho¯jin ) and incorporated associations ( shadan ho¯jin ). These organizations provide important social services for the local residents and are offi cially recognized under Japanese law as comprising the civil sector as entities whose activities benefi t the public. Nonprofi t organizations (NPOs) were added to this landscape of civil sector activity in 1998, with the enactment of the Law to Promote Specifi ed Nonprofi t Activities (popularly called the NPO Law). These new organizations play signifi cant roles in achieving civic engagement at grassroots levels. The non-governmental organization (NGO), concerned with international development and human rights issues, and well known for its activities even in Japan, is also included in this new legal framework. In addition to these offi cially recognized institutions, there are thousands of informal independent groups and circles. All of these add to Japan’s rich history of social movements, including citizens’ movements ( shimin undo¯ ) and residents’ movements ( ju-min undo-), which have strongly advocated for peace, environmental conservancy, and consumers’ rights since the early postwar period.