In Tokyo in May, I went to visit people from two different development charities. They were both Christian charities because the contact that I found them through was Christian. However there isn’t a strong secular philanthropic tradition in Japan, as people are more inclined to let the government do everything.
Keep in mind that although these notes have come from Japanese people, they are quite Christian and American points of view. They may be unbalanced.
Religion and Communism
In communist Vietnam and Laos, I was told that the government is scared of religion. The staff of one of the Japanese Christian charities were followed and monitored closely, and they had great difficult renewing their visas every year. Eventually they had to close their local offices. Secular charities were left alone.
From the Christian point of view, this communist fear is because religious people “obey no earthly authority”. This is certainly true at the cutting edge of missionaries working in Asia (although in my experience believers are just as likely to obey authority when in the West). On the other hand, as someone who supports secular charities, I can imagine why a government might get frustrated by a ham-fisted linking of development aid with religious instruction. People should be free to explore whatever religion they like to try and understand what we are in this astonishing world, so it is a shame when the politicisation of religion from either direction causes such conflict.
It’s interesting that in Asia organisations like the Wycliffe bible translators, and Christian development missions seem to have far more difficulties than in Africa. I wonder whether this is because of the presence of an existing similarly structured religion (Buddhism) to compete with, because the African’s monotheistic animism is better tuned to Christianity, or some other historical reason?
Reliance on Government
I was told that Japanese people are very submissive these days. The older generation from just after the war were much more creative and active, but now people are more likely to just slot into their cog’s position in society. For example, there were demonstrations against the renewal of the Japan/US Security Treaty in the 1960s, but there are never large protests now.
This conformity is worrying from an economic point of view – that Japanese inventiveness may now decline – and also from the point of view of a charity looking for donations.
Once a charity takes too much government money, it can do less advocacy. One of the charities I visited refused any government money, to force themselves to try and make the rest of society care directly about poverty throughout the world. After WWII the Japanese had little and were helped. Some of the old people alive now remember this, and so in turn help those who are suffering in today’s world.
The government does do what would otherwise be charitable work. Often a welfare service started by Christians will be taken over and run by the government. On development, it is believed that although the Japanese government give aid, it does not really get to help the poorest of the people. NGO spending tends to be longer term than the short 1 or 3 year government projects.
Another problem that Japanese charities have is racism. There’s no feeling that you need to help people from another race. Black people are for some reason considered more alien than white. I didn’t manage to get a full understanding of how racist people in Japan are, but unlike the submissiveness problem, this one is on the decline. Japanese culture is becoming less racist.