Home [ CULTURE ] Japan is not a charitable nation!

Japan is not a charitable nation!

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We are one of the world’s least charitable nations, if you believe the recently published World Giving Index.  We come in at 119th out of the 153 countries covered.  Amazingly, Australia and New Zealand are top of the world.  What's going on?

Giving time or money voluntarily to help others is seen by sociologists as a marker of cohesiveness in a society, according to the UK-based Charities Aid Foundation.  Almost all countries, cultures and faiths have their own traditions of giving which are complex and shaped by their history, customs and religion.  The level of giving in a country indicates something about the strength of civil society – the extent to which individuals are willing and able to contribute towards addressing the needs of others both in their own localities and across borders.

Drawing on Gallup’s WorldView World Poll data, the Charities Aid Foundation have estimated a World Giving Index.  There is of course more to giving than giving money.  So the Index includes three components: donating money to an organization; volunteering time to an organization; and helping a stranger or someone you did not know.  As it turns out, helping strangers is the most common way that the world gives.

The top 10 countries in the World Giving Index are: Australia and New Zealand (equal number 1); Canada; Ireland; Switzerland; USA; Netherlands; United Kingdom; Sri Lanka; and Austria.  At the bottom of the scale are: Cambodia; Pakistan; Romania, Rwanda; Bangladesh; China; Lithuania; Greece; Serbia; Ukraine; Burundi; and with Madagascar being the last.

On a regional basis, the most giving regions are Australasia, North America, Western and Southern Europe, and South Eastern Asia.  The bottom four regions are Southern Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia at the very bottom.

Why do countries give?  The Charities Aid Foundation looked at two factors, gross domestic product and wellbeing (or happiness).  While both of these factors are related to giving, there seems to be a stronger relationship between wellbeing and giving.  In other words, people from happy nations are more likely to give than people from wealthy nations.  

This is interesting.  Apart from Singapore and Hong Kong, Japan is the wealthiest country in East Asia in terms of GDP per capita.  But most other Asian countries are more giving.  In East Asia, the following countries score better -- Hong Kong (18th), Mongolia (67th), Taiwan (72nd), and Korea (81st).  Only China scores worse in East Asia (147th).  And most countries in Central, Eastern and Southern Asia score better than Japan.

Let’s dissect Japan a little more.  According to the survey, in the previous month, only 17% of Japanese donated money to an organization, 23% volunteered time to an organization, and 25% helped a stranger, or someone they didn’t know who needed help. 

So what is the problem with Japan?  The Japanese people can certainly afford to give.  But there wellbeing score is not very high.  They only score 5.8 out of 10, while most of the top 10 countries score over 7.  Do we feel so miserable that cannot even open our hearts to help others?

There may be cultural factors which explain Japan’s lack of giving.  In their social relations, the Japanese distinguish between in-groups (“uchi”) and out-groups (“soto”), and may be less inclined to help people from out-groups. 

I also know that when Japan provides assistance to developing countries, it rarely comes from the heart.  The main motivation is either creating business for Japanese enterprises or hoping that the recipients will love and respect Japan -- why are we so insecure?  

Some argue that the Japanese custom of “giri”, or the burden of obligation, may hold the Japanese back from helping others.  If a Japanese person helps someone, that person will then feel a burden of obligation to return the favor.  So by refraining from helping someone, a Japanese person would also not be imposing a burden of obligation. 

The Japanese have also developed a complex code of respect and non-intrusion into the lives of others which enables millions of them to live peacefully in jam-packed cities.  Unfortunately, respect and non-intrusion can also  translate into not helping.  Further, the Japanese have traditionally looked to employers and the government to help them, and have much less of a culture of mutual help.  Another argument often made is that Japan has never really been influenced by the Christian values of giving and loving “thy neighbour as thyself”. 

Even if these specific cultural factors may help explain why Japan is not a charitable nation, the situation is not satisfactory.  We Japanese need to lighten up a bit, and be friendly, caring and giving to our fellow national and world citizens.  It would probably make us happier and then more giving!



The World Giving Index 2010.  Charities Aid Foundation