chapter  4
15 Pages

Fostering civil society organizations for disaster relief in Japan: challenges and prospects for sustainable future operations


Introduction This chapter will focus on Japanese experiences of disaster relief and recovery processes. Japan is highly prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and typhoons. Frequent disasters have resulted in the devastation of infrastructure and a large number of victims despite the fact that the country has taken well-thought-out prevention measures including mandatory earthquakeproof building standards, and public education and emergency drills to mitigate risks. One of the areas that requires much attention from public policymakers and scholars is post-disaster recovery. One of the emergent scholarly findings is that the effective involvement of social resources, particularly civil society organizations (CSOs) could enhance community resilience and speed up the recovery processes (Aldridge 2011, 2012; Chamlee-Wright 2010; Childs 2008; Kage 2011). Suma, one of the suburbs in Kobe, Japan, severely devastated after the large-scale earthquake in 1995, has recovered faster than other similarly devastated areas. Aldridge (2011, 2012) and Shaw (2003) attribute this speedy recovery to higher levels of social capital, including CSOs and existing civil society networks in the area. One of the key issues is thus to identify factors to support the development of civil society, which can work to assist disaster relief and post-disaster relief community recovery processes. This chapter will analyse the constraints and opportunities surrounding the development of CSOs involved in disaster-relief operations in contemporary Japan. This is an important issue because volunteering activities in Japan have not been deeply rooted in social practice; the 1995 Kobe disaster relief has often been hailed by the mass media as the beginning of volunteerism in contemporary Japan. General interest in volunteering in community organizations remains largely limited to people who are not engaged in full-time work such as housewives and retirees (Nakano 2005). How to encourage people to volunteer and continue their disaster-relief work is an urgent matter of inquiry. Furthermore, there is a strong cultural reluctance to accept assistance from volunteers in Japan. In order to encourage volunteers and CSOs to participate in disaster relief, the

Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan launched a booklet as part of a public education campaign to mitigate the risk and impact of natural disasters. The document, Chiikino juenryoku wo takamerutameni1 (How to Facilitate the Reception of Volunteers in Our Community), argues that community members need to understand the importance of and accept unknown volunteers in emergency situations. As demonstrated by this recent publication, the Japanese Government has taken a strong leadership role in fostering civil society in Japan. Scholars have rightly highlighted the role of state initiatives as a key factor affecting the growth of CSOs (Schwartz and Pharr 2003). Because of the widely held expectations that the state should regulate volunteers and CSOs, scholars tend to identify the growing number of volunteers as a source of chaos and confusion in disasterrelief operations, as reflected in their research topics (Murai Masakiyo Kanreki Project Jikko Iinkai 2011: 55). Responding to this state-centred analysis, a Japanese sociologist, Hasegawa et al. (2007), has provided an alternative view highlighting that increasing social expectation of volunteerism is the key for the development of civil society in contemporary Japan. His study has shown that social expectation of the involvement of CSOs is increasing in Japan along with the spread of media and social interactions (Hasegawa et al. 2007). In view of these scholarly discussions, this chapter will identify two matters for consideration. First, by analysing CSOs involved in disaster-relief operations, this chapter will not only examine the motivations of volunteers and volunteerism in Japan, but also evaluate the key factors for operational sustainability. Second, this chapter will draw our data from empirical case studies with a focus on two types of emergent CSOs involved in disaster relief: faith-based and secular CSOs. Disaster-relief CSOs are among the growing number of civil society groups in Japan (see Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan n.d.). This chapter will argue that sustainable mobilization of support for the organizations, facilitated by ‘unconscious religiosity’, held widely among the Japanese, is a key factor for the growth of CSOs involved in disaster-relief operations in contemporary Japan. The structure of our chapter is as follows. The first section comments on the legal framework related to the development of CSOs and disaster relief in Japan. The second section will review the role of faith-based organizations (FBOs) and the constraints to and opportunities for the development of these FBOs. The third section will focus on secular CSOs and their strategies for sustainability.