Gov Looks to Spur Philanthropy


Namesakes of Naoto Date, the hero of the Tiger Mask cartoon series, have been getting charitable. They’ve been responsible for more than 800 anonymous gifts and donations of money to children’s facilities throughout the country since Dec. 28.

However, Haruo Yamamoto, president of the non-profit organization, NPO, Youth Forum Japan, says this is not the way it should be. NPOs are serious businesses devoted to helping Japanese society.

“Some of these Tiger Mask copycats did it because it was fun,” he says. “They laughed and felt good about it while the media made it a big story. That’s the only reason why we had some of these copycats.”

There is a different NPO culture in Japan than in Western countries, he noted. In comparison to the Western world, the Japanese are not big donors. Japan has 41,000 NPOs, while the United States has 1.6 million, according to the TCC Group. The United States donated 304 billion dollars in 2009, while Japan donated 15 billion dollars.

However, Japan has had a phenomenal growth of NPOs from about 500 NPOs 10 years ago to more than 41,000 now. It says a lot for the involvement of Japanese society at all levels. It also shows the tentative growth of philanthropy in Japan.

The tradition of philanthropy in the U.S, which has never flourished in either Japan or Europe. Starting with 19-century magnates like Sears, who made hundreds of millions of dollars (back when 10,000 dollars was considered a fortune you could live on for life) and having achieved this peak, spent the rest of his life giving away almost all of it.

Andrew Carnegie alone built over 1,000 public libraries and fully stocked them with books as well as endowing their operations throughout the U.S., which is more than the total number of libraries in Japan. The Ford foundation was another case of philanthropy.

Paul Newman is a good example of Modern American philanthropy. In 1982, he co-founded the Newman’s Own food company and donated all after-tax profits to various charities. Upon his death in 2008, the company had donated over 250 million dollars to thousands of charities. Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation is yet another example and on and on.

In almost every city in the U.S. the opera and symphony is funded almost entirely by donations. The culture of philanthropy is so entrenched in the U.S. that the President’s wife even worked in a shelter on Thanksgiving helping serve dinner to the poor and indigent.

Even in Europe there is some sign of this. The Burroughs-Welcome drug company for example was started as a philanthropic charity by the family who owned Wedgwood. Alfred Nobel created the Noble Prize, as an outstanding example of European philanthropy. A number of other good examples can also be found.

There is nothing like this in Japan. The NPOs cannot rely on donations and have a hard time raising cash. The smaller the NPO, the harder it becomes.

For example, NPO childcare centers that help working single women have a difficult time. These centers charge between about 60 dollars to 95 dollars per month. However, some women cannot afford to pay this amount, and the centers cannot afford to lower their fees.

Yamamoto noted that one solution would be to have the public make donations via Internet to help subsidize the fees at the childcare centers.

According to 2009 Interior Ministry data, about half of the NPOs had a total annual operational income of less than 59 thousand dollars. The average salary for an employee was 27 thousand dollars million, leaving little to cover expenses. Donations make up about only 4% of the income at the majority of NPOs.

However, NPOs have become necessary for Japanese society and are active in various areas such as welfare, education, art, and culture—areas the government cannot cover.

Some work with the government and some are independent. Other NPOs obtain funds from foreign based-companies or Japanese corporations, but it’s been especially difficult after the Lehman Brothers Shock, noted Yamamoto.

Unlike Japan, in the UK and the United States, many individuals who profit from their investments have more of a tendency to donate because they are exempt from taxes and the NPOs have been certified, according to the ministry’s White Paper.

There are special tax exemptions for donations in Japan, but they apply only to NPOs certified by the government. However, it is difficult to get certified as an NPO because the application is complicated and the criteria are too high. In fact, only 188 applied last year, which represents 0.46 % of NPOs.

Japan’s ruling Democratic Party Japan, DPJ, agrees. The DPJ says it will implement tax exemptions to make it easier to entice individuals and companies to donate to NPOs.

Another problem, Yamamoto says, is the culture of donating in Japan. “For instance, companies feel they have to give a little money, and then they’ve fulfilled their obligation,” he says.

He told Majirox News that the Japanese tend not to donate because they don’t know where the money goes. “They should disclose their financial information to the public and gain their trust.”

However, while the NPOs have gradually been changing in Japan, Daigo Sato, chairman of NPO Charity Platform, told the Asahi Shimbun that the problem is not that Japan is not a donation culture. “It’s not true, we just don’t have the infrastructure for donations,” he said.

The DPJ promised to make the certification criteria easier for NPOs and create an infrastructure. In their platform, they said they would support individuals, companies, and communities who assisted society.

The growth of Japanese NPOs is phenomenal and with it is a growing Japanese volunteerism. It’s a healthy trend and is a grass roots ground up growth that has nothing to do with the usual Japanese top down society control type of world view of a political elite.

Link to an earlier Tiger Mask story:

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2 Responses to Gov Looks to Spur Philanthropy

  1. mayuko on 01/26/2011 at 9:41 pm

    It is great to hear that Japan is growing when it comes to charities and NPOs. However, it is very apparent that a lot more involvement by the society and government is needed. Pleased that this article brings the issue to light!

  2. David C. Hulme on 01/27/2011 at 1:17 pm

    Good work, Catherine. When I researched this topic many years ago the biggest “cultural” issue was that businesses and citizens alike expected the government to take care of everything, as well as to define what needed taking care of. NPOs and NGOs will grow as people continue to grow.

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