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How COVID-19 might unlock Japan's giving potential

17 Comments
By Mai Yoshikawa

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It will help a great deal if the Japanese would embrace a culture of giving .

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I was really surprised when I came here first time of this lack of empathy for people in hard difficulties.

For example here homeless people are just ignored, rather than treat them like humans with a heart.

I hope this society will become less cold and more giving.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

I doubt it. My experience in Japan shows that it isn't a very giving society especially towards its own when it comes to some of the reasons that I have heard from Japanese in conversation. Japan as a society will donate to international causes and countries to keep up their "image" of being polite and courteous. It is weird.

I volunteered in Ibaraki after March 2011. Most people who have ever filed to adjust their tax responsibility knows that there is tax charge for the March 2011 relief.

However, if you got it, and you can afford then I don't think it is a problem to donate what you can. I am one of the few people that I know that donates coins at the convenience store. I occasionally notice the surprise on the cashier's face when I do. It is usually 1 yen and 5 yen coins. Sometimes, it has been 10 yen coins. Despite my long time in Japan, I have never seen another person put coins in the clear boxes near the register at the convenience store.

I also believe that simply throwing money at problems is not wise. I would prefer to know about the causes and the NPO's solutions in detail for larger donations.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Giving to charity doesn't come naturally for many Japanese people.

Well if you are selfish no it doesn't or if you have nothing to spare due to the taxes you can't. Hand to mouth culture really does not allow for charity.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

As others have posted, I was shocked by the almost total lack of empathy and giving. It's even worse when the empathy and giving involve a disaster in a foreign country. I always tell my friends back home that the saying ''Looks can be deceiving'' is a perfect way to describe this country.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

As an alternative opinion, Japanese society runs on lots of volunteering. Every festival, in fact pretty much every event, all things that happen at schools, kids' sports clubs, neighbourhood cleanups, neighbourhood watches, rural fire brigades etc. are all run by essentially volunteers, with what can be varying degrees of coercion. Japanese generally refer to these things as "youji". They do not use the (trendy) katakana version of "volunteer", which is reserved for one-off voluntary activities after a natural disaster.

The above activities can consume huge amounts of time and energy, especially in the countryside where there are ever fewer people to do the same amount of work. Some people view them as "mendo" (troublesome), and go and live in the city to get away from them.

While a Japanese person in the countryside may not make many monetary donations to charities, the contribution they make in time and energy to the above causes is charitable and I would say is far more valuable to them than an extra million or two is to Mr. Bill Gates. I would happily put 50,000 yen in a box every year in return for an extra fifteen days with no two-three hour jobs at school, clubs, or my neighbourhood. Half of these jobs I have to do start at 6:30am or earlier.

In my country, the UK, a notable recipient of charity work has been the public health system, the NHS. This is a publically funded body, which begs the question of why it is relying on charity and no longer properly funded by taxation. A further question is why people support politicians who would cut health spending.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

kohakuebisu - some interesting points there.

I agree that many community events, activities etc rely on the support of people - esp locals - "donating" their time, energy and money in some case. It's one reason why many of these smaller events are disappearing because no-one picks up the challenge of continuing the effort.

However in almost all cases, as you alluded to, there is a lot of social-coercion - read as duty - to contribute to these activities. By not contributing you risk a level of ostracism, which in this society can be worst than the original effort required. My sister-in-law knows this only too well, as together with her husband are the main organizers, workers at the annual summer shrine festival. Why - because they are the youngest at 61 yrs & 65 yrs old! They can never give it up because of the shame to the family. This is replicated across all regional Japan.

And from my observations and participations in at least 2 other countries - UK & Aust - almost everything to do with kids extra-curricular activities, sports, clubs, etc etc are run by volunteers. As are most of the community events/activities from cleanups to meals on wheels to tree planting to bbqs raising money for the local library.

Much of the historical culture of giving in many "western" societies comes from a christian ethos (also responsible for great suffering over centuries). Help thy neighbour, give a lending hand, don't turn the blind eye, help the needy etc etc., which resulted in esp from the 19th C, the establishment of voluntary institutions. Nursing, Hospitals, Aged care, Ambulances etc all began as christian volunteer services, the Red Cross being perhaps the most famous example.

Japan historically buddhist /shinto, the self ( incl immediate family/world) was at the center point which resulted in the insiders & outsiders society. Embracing society as a whole was not a concept familiar to 19thC+ Japanese - not until it was forced upon the citizenry in the guise of Nationalism by fascist regimes.

This is not to mean one history is greater than anothers - just to note that the ethos of giving has roots not developed in all societies.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japan does not need many charaties because the wealth distribution in Japan is more even than most other countires. We are not a country where the 1% owns 80% of the wealth, and everyone else lives in poverty. Nearly everyone has an income that ensures a stable life.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

The country with the third highest GDP in the world still doesn’t have the wealth that a country that the UK or the US has.

I refer to the assets that Japanese have or rather do not have.

Finding a Japanese with heirlooms such as art, precious metals, diamonds etc is like finding a needle in a stack.

Most Japanese regard themselves as poor and without employment they are.

The current pandemic (in a few months) will show just how poor the Japanese really are...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Giving to charity doesn't come naturally for many Japanese people.

I was shocked about this too when I first came here.

I also remember when the SE Asian tsunami occurred and there were many acts of charity from so many people around the world, from famous to ordinary people, be they British, American, Chinese, etc. But I noticed nothing in Japan - with the exception of boy scouts in Tokyo.

I really don't understand this desire to watch tarentos winning prizes for themselves on TV.

And I very rarely hear of Japanese billionaires who are also philanthropists.

Japan does not need many charaties because the wealth distribution in Japan is more even than most other countires. We are not a country where the 1% owns 80% of the wealth, and everyone else lives in poverty. Nearly everyone has an income that ensures a stable life.

You're deluding yourself if you think there aren't many needy people in Japan. 'Nearly' can be a very subjective word.

Much of the historical culture of giving in many "western" societies comes from a christian ethos

Muslims are supposed to give a small portion of their wealth to charity. It's not uncommon to see Sikhs serve free food to the needy. Li Ka Shing is a Buddhist. On the other hand, some so-called Christian pastors in US are asking their church-goers to hand in their money (stimulus checks) to the church - for what, who knows. Like Louisiana pastor Tony Spell.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Some of you pointed very good arguments about this lack of humanitarian spirit among Japanese.

After all these Abrahamic religions have the same route.

I totally disagree that Japan is a wealthy country without poverty that doesn’t need help the poor.

Every time I go to Osaka I’m impressed by the high numbers of homeless people wondering in the streets looking for food inside trashcans.

But besides the religion I think Japanese people are just capable of strictly follow the orders from their government,boss or sempai but they lack of spirit of initiative and critical thinking to such problems,lot’s of them think it is the government or greater institution duty to take care of such people.

And I don’t think this is going to change.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japan can be a very giving country, but unfortunately it is often not as willing as people like Sakagami-san are. If it involves reputation and/or something to gain, they jump up and do back flips for others, saying "omotenasu!" And, I have found that if you ASK people they are usually incredibly helpful. But, helping of their own volition when there is potentially nothing to gain? Not so much. As others have stated, it is easier to ignore, and that's unlikely to change unless, again, people are asked directly, or it involves them in some other way.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I'm always disappointed with the charities here. I wish at times there were something like the Salvation Army, Easterseals, Boys & Girls clubs, Meals on Wheels...that would accept unwanted but usable items from people and give them to those in need.

I would love to give away my children's old clothes, toys, books and whatnot to people who really need and could use them. Now I give them away to friends, but they are not really in need and it just does not feel right to sell them or throw them away. My folks grew up hard in south Georgia and they both have commented several times that if it were not for the Salvation Army they would not have had shoes or gotten anything for Christmas (my mother still has the teddy bear she got from them in 1944). My mother is 80 and still rings the bell and delivers Meal on Wheels. Sorry, I'm rambling.

I remember right after 3/11 my wife and I took some old baby and children's clothes to a donation center and we were rejected. We were told that they would accept new clothes, but not old ones. These were not in bad condition, mind you. They were simply out grown and we washed, folded and packed them. I still can't wrap my head around it. If I had lost everything, I would not care whether the clothes I got for my children were new or not. Same thing with some toys we tried to give to a children's home. They were not new, so they were rejected. I just don't understand it. Giving money seems to impersonal to me. Plus, you never know if it is actually going where it is supposed to.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Well, the usual foreign stereotypes of Japanese are totally on parade here!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@Browney: It comes from Jewish roots, not Christian. It is deeply imbedded in the Jewish faith to treat the stranger as a family member.

Even when the poor receive charity, they are expected to give part of that to those poorer than they are.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

People are charitable for the simple reason that kindness is innate to human beings.

"Treat people like you yourself want to be treated." That simple statement pre-dates all made up religion.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Tom - Thanks for your comment.

I believe my comments merely stated western countries giving cultural roots esp 19th C onwards.

"Much of the historical culture of giving in many "western" societies comes from a christian ethos (also responsible for great suffering over centuries). Help thy neighbour, give a lending hand, don't turn the blind eye, help the needy etc etc., which resulted in esp from the 19th C, the establishment of voluntary institutions. Nursing, Hospitals, Aged care, Ambulances etc all began as christian volunteer services, the Red Cross being perhaps the most famous example."

That Jewish tradition earlier on had "giving" traditions is noted but beside the point in my reckoning here, as there is no dominant Jewish culture/country in the "West".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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