Charitable Contributions: Lending a Hand to the Less Fortunate Still Lags in Japan

Associated Press

Good causes often fare poorly in Japan, one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

Although contributions to charity are growing, officials and experts say Japan still lags far behind other well-off nations.

“There’s been a lot of catching up in a relatively short time,” said David J. Exley, who ran the United Nations Children’s Fund office in Japan until his retirement in April. “But Japan has a long way to go and a lot more catching up to do.”

Last year, the Community Chest, Japan’s largest charity, raised $144 million. That’s about 6% of the amount raised by its U.S. counterpart, the United Way, officials said. Japan’s non-governmental per-capita aid to developing countries ranked 16th in the world in 1985.


Fund-raisers do say, however, that increased involvement by the news media and some religions is a hopeful sign.

Although Japan has grown affluent in recent decades, many in the nation still need help. Charity officials say the decline of the extended family, in which every individual had a place, has left many elderly and single-parent households in need.

Among other activities, charities organize home delivery of meals, home care for the elderly, blood donation drives and programs to combat juvenile delinquency.

But fund-raisers believe that historical and cultural obstacles will hinder their work for years to come.

At all levels, Japanese culture teaches that one’s responsibility is to those inside one’s group, an attitude that often leads to a lack of concern for outsiders.

“In terms of personal generosity, Japanese are second to none,” said Exley. “But sometimes when it gets beyond that to ‘We must do something to help,’ they don’t really relate it to themselves.”


The uchi-soto , or inside-outside complex, coupled with the island nation’s long isolation, makes awareness of overseas needs particularly low, said Osamu Muro, a university professor and expert on Third World non-governmental aid.

He and others point to other obstacles:

- Religions do not emphasize formal charity work. Buddhism teaches a doctrine of helping others but usually does not initiate formal organized care itself. Shintoism, a fluid set of beliefs, also does not create such vehicles of aid.

- A disbelief in Japan’s wealth.

- A belief that the government must care for its citizens.

Not only do many Japanese believe the government alone should fund social work, but the Community Chest lacks the corporate or employee support that fuels the United Way in the United States, said Yoshihisa Shimizu, the Community Chest’s chief of general affairs.

Raising money for projects overseas is even more of a battle, said Masako Hoshino, director of the Japan International Volunteer Center, a kind of private Peace Corps.

Last year, she said, the center’s third-largest donation came from Band Aid, the British-based charity. “Isn’t it strange--a British organization donating to a Japanese group?”

One of Japan’s largest donors is said to be controversial 87-year-old tycoon Ryoichi Sasakawa, who made millions on legalized gambling on motorboat racing. Officials of his Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation say his various charitable foundations gave away $29 million last year overseas and $650 million in Japan.


While Muro and others praise Sasakawa’s work, they say the figures cannot be verified.

Still, fund-raisers find hope in the growing involvement of the media and new Buddhist sects.

Japanese newspapers publicize charity campaigns and television networks devote programs to developing countries. And some Buddhist sects, called “new religions” because they date from the 19th and 20th centuries, also have begun to raise funds.