It’s easy to underestimate Japanese NGOs. Japan does not have the same NGO tradition as many Western countries. Government and business have always occupied much of the societal space. But Japanese NGOs are very active, as are overseas volunteers. And they work very closely with JICA, Japan’s development co-operation agency.
The first Japanese NGO project was perhaps a medical mission composed of Christian doctors and medical students sent to China in 1938 in response to damage caused by the Japanese military invasion and to provide care for refugees. Such NGO international cooperation was then disrupted by the war and reconstruction period in Japan.
But the 1960s saw the creation of NGOs which are still active today, like the Japan Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Service (born in 1960 out of the very group that sent the medical mission to China) and the Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (established in 1969).
The 1970s saw continuing growth in the number of international cooperation NGOs, like Shapla Neer (named the Help Bangladesh Committee at the time), a pioneering development NGO. From this time through the late 1980s, the number of NGOs continued to increase rapidly, spurred in part by responses to the large number of refugees from Cambodia and Indochina during this period. Examples include the Association for Aid and Relief, the Shanti Volunteer Association and the Japan International Volunteer Centre. Initially the focus of NGO activity was on emergency relief and the provision of goods, but later shifted to reconstruction, expanding to include support for self-reliance/self-help activities, facilitation of repatriation and assistance to internally displaced people.
Throughout the 1980s, public interest in international issues grew, due in large part to media reports on famine in Africa and the beginning of international debates on global environmental issues. During this time many NGOs were established. It was also during this decade that Japanese branches or partner organizations of international NGOs began to increase in number, like Greenpeace and World Wide Fund for Nature.
The 1990s saw the greatest number of newly established organizations. This growth occurred against a backdrop of the end of the Cold War and the arrival of globalization. In the latter half of the 1990s, various governmental funds to support NGO work began to be made available as many NGOs experienced deteriorating financial conditions. During the latter half of the 1990s, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) began to strengthen its cooperation with NGOs.
Since 2000, while the number of new NGOs has been decreasing, the scope of work done by NGOs continues to grow, as evidenced by increasing coordination and collaboration between the government, NGOs and international agencies.
The overwhelming majority of overseas activities of Japanese NGOs are conducted in the field of education, followed by health care, vocational training, rural development and reforestation/forest conservation. The top target group is children, followed by women.
Asia is the principal region where Japanese international cooperation NGOs work (200 organizations, or 70% of the total). This is followed by Africa (54 organizations), Latin America (23 organizations), the former Soviet Union/Eastern Europe (14 organizations) and Oceania (5). In Asia, many organizations work in the Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal, India and Thailand. In Africa the target regions are widely distributed rather than concentrated on certain regions with the major countries being Kenya, Zambia, Uganda and Ethiopia. The number of organizations working for Afghanistan has also significantly increased.
Who are these NGOs? Here are a few examples.
Plan Japan receives the greatest amount of donations in Japan. It is the Japanese branch of an international, UK-based NGO, which works with communities in 48 developing countries to alleviate child poverty. Peace Winds Japan is dedicated to the support of people in distress, threatened by conflict, poverty, or other turmoil. With its headquarters in Japan, PWJ has been active in various parts of the world. In 2008, its Iraq Mission carried out its operations in the education, health, water, sanitation and non-food item sectors for the benefit of people in need. 21st Century Association is working with JICA in the Philippines on the health and sanitation support system for the ethnic minorities in the Amnay area. In another project in the Philippines, the International Nursing Foundation of Japan worked with JICA on strengthening community based health care activities.
So while Japanese NGOs may be rather quiet on the home front, they are pretty active overseas.
Understanding Japanese NGOs from Facts and Practices
Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers – 40Years of Grassroots Cooperation
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