Donations are not Japan’s forte. This emerges with striking clarity in an interview Weekly Playboy (Aug 12) does with Tsukuba University media researcher Yoichi Ochiai. In 2016, charitable donations by individual Americans totaled 30 trillion yen – 1.44 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Individual Japanese, that same year, donated 770 billion yen – 1/40 as much as Americans – or 0.14 percent of GDP – 1/10 the American ratio.
It’s not only against the U.S. that Japan comes off badly in this regard – if, in fact, a negative view is called for. Britons donate the equivalent of 0.54 percent of GDP; South Koreans, 0.5 percent.
Are Japanese less charitable, less sympathetic than others? Does their culture place greater emphasis on self-reliance?
“I don’t know about the remote past,” Ochiai says, “but Japan after World War Two miraculously achieved an ‘all-middle-class society’ that lasted something like 50 years.”
Conditions favored it. War had razed the country and leveled the classes. Everyone began at the bottom, as the country itself did. All worked together to rebuild it, and all rose as the rebuilding proceeded.
Equality peaked in the 1980s and eroded as the economy did in the 1990s. The kakusa shakai – “gap society,” the widening gulf between rich and poor – began then. It is generally considered deplorable – the rich get richer while the poor sink into grimmer and grimmer poverty – but the Playboy interview raises the question: Is it, necessarily, an evil?
The arguments in its favor center on our inherent inequalities – of ability, of luck, and so on. Communism, the great leveling ideology, Ochiai characterizes as “worn-out.” He proposes instead an ethic he calls “liberal paternalism.” Which brings us, of course, back to charitable donations.
Why do Japanese give so much less than Americans? Ochiai raises two points, seemingly at odds with one another but on second thought maybe not. The first is religion; the second, tax deductions.
Religion, in the form of Christianity, plays a vital role in American society, Ochiai explains. Christian charity is not mere cant; it is taken seriously. Buddhism too enjoins charity, but few Japanese today are more than nominally Buddhist. Americans donating to charities and public service vast fortunes earned in hyper-competitive, often ruthless commerce is a tradition going back to the great 19th-century moguls, Andrew Carnegie and John D Rockefeller most notably. Bill Gates extends the tradition into our own century.
Japanese entrepreneurs seem less inclined to philanthropy – whether because less generous, less guilt-ridden, or more committed to an ideal of self-reliance need not be settled here. As for tax deductions geared towards encouraging private and corporate donations, the American system has evolved over many years, outstripping any steps Japan has taken in that direction, says Ochiai.
The inevitable victory of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in upper house elections last month was a wearying reminder of how little Japanese politics changes over the decades. Is there no hope? asks Playboy. How about, the interviewer suggests, Taro Yamamoto and the new Reiwa Shinsengumi Party he founded in April? It furnished the election’s one surprise: it won two seats. Might it be the wave of the future?
It might be, agrees Ochiai: “Yamamoto’s speeches are really remarkable.” Forcefully and articulately, Yamamoto advocates taxing corporations instead of consumers, halting construction of the Henoko air base in Okinawa, enforcing a 1500-yen minimum wage and scrapping nuclear power. Disability rights, LGBT rights and animal rights would all gain, he promises, under a Reiwa Shinsengumi government.
“At the emotional level, I’m very much in sympathy with this,” says Ochiai. The trouble, he adds, is the shortage of specifics. How do we get there from here?
It’s a valid point, but unfair, maybe, to press it too hard. It’s early days, after all. The party is all of four months old.© Japan Today