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[Corona ni Makeruna] Charity Culture in Japan is Changing

The culture of “helping each other” has become more evident, particularly for helping Ukraine since it has been invaded by Russia.

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Japan has often been criticized for lagging behind other countries in giving to charity. This appears to have changed, however, during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. 

The activities of groups raising funds on the street have inevitably declined during the pandemic. On the other hand, personal contributions to charity have climbed to record highs. The culture of “helping each other” has become more evident, particularly for Ukraine since it has been invaded by Russia. 

The scale of donations in Europe and the United States remains greater than Japan, however. 

To change this, some are urging that the value of giving be taught in Japanese schools. There are also proposals for creation of a system to ensure that donations reach their intended  right destinations.

Meijo University students call for donations to help refugees fleeing to Lithuania due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (June 1, 2022, in Nagoya.)

Urgent Donations Exceed Pre-Pandemic  

Ashinaga is a non-profit organization that supports the education of children who have lost their parents due to illness or disaster. In years past it sent out students who were scholarship recipients on a so-called national fundraising relay to solicit donations on the street.  

The pandemic has brought a virtual halt to such initiatives. The number of students requiring financial assistance, on the other hand, has risen to more than 8,000, a record, due to economic difficulties caused by the pandemic and rising costs. 

Moreover, in 2020, emergency assistance provided to all students grant recipients totaled ¥2.5 billion JPY ($18.4 million USD), depleting the organization’s funds even further.

Yet, when Ashinaga sought urgent offerings via bulletins and online messages, they amassed about ¥7 billion JPY ($51.5 million USD) in 2020, and ¥5 billion JPY ($37 million USD) in 2021. These figures are significantly higher than the pre-pandemic levels, when donations ranged between 3.5 billion to 4.5 billion JPY ($26 million to $33 million USD) annually.   

“I was worried that the financial problems would endanger the education of the students on scholarships,” said Atsushi Kawamoto, the public relations director.  Fortunately, in mid-May, for the first time in two and a half years, they managed to resume the national fundraising relay.

Other Examples

The Japan Guide Dog Association, which trains guide dogs for the blind, has also seen a drop in annual collections.  by 90% due to the Anti-COVID measures that prevented fundraising on the street brought a 90% drop in annual receipts by this method.   

Nonetheless they have managed to survive with donations from individuals and companies. “We’ve received warm help and backing when everyone was experiencing difficulty during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Yuma Yokoe,  a public relations officer at the association’s Tokyo office.

Ashinaga National Fundraising Relay has started, and students calling for donations (May 13, 2022, in Shinjuku, Tokyo.)

The Rise of Crowdfunding

According to a survey by the NPO Japan Fundraising Association, private donations in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic totaled ¥1.2 trillion JPY ($8.8 billion USD), about 1.5 times higher than the ¥776 billion JPY ($5.7 billion USD) recorded in the previous survey in 2016. 

Those donations also surpassed the previous record of ¥1.18 trillion JPY ($8.7 billion USD) in 2011, following the Great East Japan Earthquake. 

The increase is in part due to the rise in the use of hometown tax payments. But the survey also shows that younger people, especially those in their 20s and 40s, have been particularly generous with donations.  

The pattern of raising funds has been changing as well.  The volunteer movement in Japan took off in a big way in 1995, when people charged from all over Japan to support the areas affected by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe in January that year, according to Masataka Uo, representative director of the Japan Fundraising Association.  

Contributions have been not only in the form of cash, but also through crowdfunding initiatives raising money online. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, donations from entrepreneurs and the wealthy have also been increasing.

Pales Compared to Charitable Giving in the US 

Barely three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Japanese public rushed to send money to the Embassy of Ukraine in Japan. A total of ¥5 billion JPY ($37 million USD) was received. 

“The Japanese people have expressed an unprecedented desire to donate, showing heightened awareness of the crisis,” Mr Uo explains. “Japan’s culture of charitable giving in the form of money has grown through the tragic experiences of disasters and wars.”

Still, the figures are small compared with those of other major countries. Donations in the United States total more than $320 billion USD annually, about 30 times that of Japan.

Mr. Uo explains some of the reasons for the difference. “In the United States, the collaborative spirit is deeply rooted in their culture dating from the time their country began. There are also opportunities to learn about social contributions such as donating and volunteerism in schools.” 

“In order to enhance the philanthropist culture in Japan,” he emphasizes, “we need to reform education and tax systems, and to reduce concerns about whether the donations made are secure.”

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(Read the article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Nozomi Motoe