The Kobe earthquake and the Renaissance of Volunteerism in Japan@

(To Slide Show Presentation)


I am a veteran of the Kobe arthquake and I am going to talk about three topics in my presentation. The first topic is to provide you with an old veteran field story. And I know from my experience, that if you know what is happening and also you know what will happen next, you feel much more in control of your situation. I will talk about what volunteer management is like at a time of urban mega-disaster, which incapacitated the infrastructure of metropolitan areas in one of the most advanced industrialized societies on the glove. This compliments the topic that Prof. Tsutsui described.@

The second topic is an analysis of socio-economic context where the earthquake made a great impact upon the promotion of volunteerism in Japan. The earthquake literally changed the way people constructed the reality of the society. Mass media coined the term gThe Year One of Volunteerismh in order to describe this sudden emergence of a volunteer movement. I would argue, however, that 1995 was not the gYear Oneh, but the gRenaissanceh of volunteerism in Japanese society. This part is a rejoinder to Mr. Imadafs speech.@

The third topic that I would present will focus on the linkage management between the volunteer sector on one hand, and government and business sectors on the other during the disaster. This is a gMUSTh issue in a society, which is characterized by very strong government and business sectors, and, at the same time, a very weak independent social or voluntary sector.@

1. To retrospect what happened

Prof. Tsutsui vividly illustrated how imaginative and creative you have to be, and you can be, as a volunteer manager during a mega-disaster. You are flooded with literally tens and thousands of new comers everyday, who are so eager to help out the disaster victims. At the same time, you feel that you are hopelessly and constantly understaffed. However, the disaster or mega-disaster is a moment when you can cash in your vulnerability and reframe it into one of your strengths. If you have so many people lining up at the volunteer reception table, all that you have to do is to ask the first person in front of you to come around the table and sit besides you. You will teach how to register necessary information and to direct the applicant where to go next. During disaster, you cannot have a luxury of volunteer training. So you have to count on the maturity and self-sufficiency on the side of volunteering individuals. Mature and self-sufficient individuals can be delegated to manage other volunteering individuals.@

This is one of so-called Kobe-veteran know-hows, which were transferred two years after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, when a Russian oil tanker, Navotka, was wrecked in the Sea of Japan in January 1997. 19,000 tons of crude oil as well as the shipfs head were drifted to the coast of Mikuni township, Fukui Prefecture. During this time, members from a local Junior Chamber of Commerce or JC took a responsibility of disaster volunteer management. This happened thanks to suggestions made by a couple of Kobe veterans, who dashed to the disaster site as soon as a picture of the shipfs head off the coast of Mikuni appeared in the National news papers and television networks. These veterans foresaw that there would be a flood of clean-up volunteers from all across the country. They also foresaw that the sheer number of volunteers would paralyze local township officials. Just the number alone went way beyond the capacity of local volunteer coordinators. They knew it because they went through this once before. And they knew that volunteers could manage volunteers.@

As I said at the beginning, if you know exactly what is happening and also you know what will happen next, you feel much more in control of the situation. So let me share with you what we learned from the Kobe earthquake and I am talking about only one thing. There are phases in disaster. Those are namely, emergency, development, and ending phases. The tasks of volunteer managers are different at each stage. But what was the most important is that you have to prepare for the termination of disaster relief volunteering way before you even start it. This saves a lot of staff burnout, confusion, and a sense of powerlessness when you terminate the disaster relief operation.

(Next OHP: 2. Manpower Graph)

I will talk about each phase in a little more detail. This graph illustrates the number of relief volunteers managed by our university relief volunteer center between January 21 to April 6, 1995. In total, about 7,500 volunteers were managed in approximately three months period. This graph shows three phases clearly. The graph can be sliced into three parts; the first third is the emergency phase, which is characterized by a high manpower mobilization. About 200 volunteers on average engaged in supporting 14 evacuation shelters surrounding the university campus everyday in this phase. The middle third slice of the graph is development phase. Gradual decline of manpower mobilization characterizes this period. The last third is the termination phase, where you see that the manpower mobilization hit the bottom floor and remains low till the end.


I will describe each phase in a little more detail.@

(Next OHP: 3. Emergency Phase)

Emergency phase is a time of excitement. Peoplefs faces are all shining and everybody was sharing a hero-like feeling. You feel good when you do the right things or act on the cause or belief. Compassion and empathy to the disaster victims were key driving forces during this period. There is also another factor that motivated our student volunteers. In everyday life, students live in a world of grole playingh or grole takingh. In this world, roles are already prescribed and you are expected to follow them. However, in order to help run the evacuation shelters, each of which houses about 400 to 500 people, you cannot be a grole takerh, because managers or supervisors are too busy to give detailed instruction of how to be a good helper in an emergency shelter. You need to be a grole makerh during the disaster. Once students start making roles of their own, they have began thinking that those rules and regulations in every day life are just the product of fellow human beings. If so, then those rules can be changed also by fellow human beings. This is a powerful feeling. You feel that you can be in charge of making changes in a society. You feel connected to the society. You feel that you are the main stream of the society. Compassion, empathy, and a sense of role making, those were the driving forces during the emergency phase.@

During the emergency phase, survival, safety, and security were the main goals for relief assistance. Accordingly, providing food, relief materials and a night watch were the three major activities that our student volunteers engaged in. I call these activities as Instrumental Work. Any disaster relief starts with instrumental type of help. What comes next is Interpersonal Work. Our student volunteers organized childrenfs playgroup, overnight camp trips, and bath taking tour for the elderly. Bath-taking tours were most appreciated among elderly because there was no gas service available for three months. Besides, as you see many Japanese tourists come to the Banff Hot Spring, bath taking is a national pass time for Japanese. Those were some examples of interpersonal work that our student volunteers improvised as they saw the needs of the victims@

We found it effective to let the student volunteers involved in instrumental work first. This gave them opportunities for rapport building with shelter residents. Rapport is a basis of any type of interpersonal work. Therefore, once a student is assigned to one shelter, we encouraged him or her to go back to the same shelter for the second and the third time. In doing so, volunteers were gradually building rapport and initiating interpersonal type of work with residents.@

(Next OHP: Development Phase)

Gradual decline of manpower mobilization characterizes the development phase. The number of volunteers declined mainly because the city office recovered from the initial state of shock and established channels to provide relief materials to temporary shelters. Accordingly, we sensed that the need of the victims for volunteers changed from material relief assistance to interpersonal care and informational provision. Thanks to the Instrumental work that the center provided for the preceding emergency phase, our volunteers were already well accepted by the shelter residents. We focused our activities on children and elderly during the development phase. Those two were the major vulnerable population that requested volunteer help the most at the shelters. For children, our volunteers started shelter-based playgroups.@

For stress care for the elderly, we started gapple girlsh project. One day, our center received a track full of apple donation from northern prefecture producers. Those apples were sent to shelters but we found that not so many people were keen about apples in cold school gyms. We were afraid that those apples went bad. At that time, one of our volunteers suggested that if young co-ed students sit next to elderly and peal apples for them, apples would be consumed fast. So we send apple girls to shelters. However, we learned later that day, that those Northern apples were too hard for the elderly to eat even they were pealed. That was the end of story. Or at least that was how I felt that day.@

The next day after the apple girls attempt, I was called to Kobe YMCA for a screening interview for possible financial donation from the International Rotary Club Kobe Disaster Relief Fund committee. I had to sell our center activities in order to receive the donation. I myself as a trained family therapist, not an old car sales man, started explaining PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorders and how our center is so specialized in dealing with PTSD prevention by introducing special project team called apple girls. The committee members were so impressed by the story of indigenous lay counselors who use apples as a means to initiate conversation and to avoid the suspicions from the elderly. Thanks to the apple girlfs story, our center received a quite sizable donation.@

A few days later, however, I was so shocked to learn that the name gapple girlsh appeared at the editorial page headline of local Kobe newspaper. The editorial article asserted the importance of PTSD prevention and used our gapple girl storyh as a prime example of how it can be done by volunteers. I showed the editorial article to the center staff volunteers that we need to start the lay counselor project as described in the article. The staff recruited educational psychology and social work major students and a social work professor provided a half-day training session for the apple girls. Thus, a few days after the editorial article, the apple girls turned into reality. For about six weeks until the end of March, they offered lay counseling services at each of 14 shelters that we supported.@

Stimulated by apple girls, a couple of theology school professors started shelter visits carrying a coffee maker and china cups. They called themselves gCoffee shop Shalomh. They practiced preventative counseling mainly to house wives and unemployed men.@

I believe now that those indigenous helpers really alleviated the incidence of PTSD among those sheltered people. During the development phase of disaster, volunteer lay counselors emphasized that disaster stress related symptoms such as sleeplessness, irritability, jumpiness and flashbacks were simply normal response to an abnormal situation. The volunteers also emphasized the fact that the victims have managed to survive. This is because they have activated their own strength, so called internal and external coping resources. This approach contrasted to volunteer professional counselors and clinical psychologist that visited many of the same shelters. Unlike the apple girlfs case, not so many shelter residents opted for professional services. I think that receiving professional services means that you admit your own vulnerability. Well-informed lay volunteer counselors overcame the obstacles of using outside help during the disaster.@

(Next OHP: Ending Phase)

I always feel tempted to dash out to the new disaster whenever I learn the news. This is because of the high spirit and heroic feelings that I remember from the emergency phase. Then, I have a second thought and talk to myself; gDo I really want to go through the ending phase again?h The ending phase is characterized by further decline of manpower. You are at the rock bottom in terms of volunteers who are still willing to come back to work. The work at the shelter was not so exciting as it used to be. For example, shelter managers and residents kept requesting for night watch volunteers till the very end of our operation. The residents felt safer in the night if they knew that there was some one to watch over them. In other words, not the action but sheer presence was needed from a volunteer.@

Once a low volunteer turn out became a reality, some staff volunteers at our center started feeling a sense of loss and failure. Physical and mental exhaustion was added to this. It was obviously a time to quit. But we did not know when or how to quit our center operation. Internal conflicts arose with regard to if or when we should stop our operation. The majority of management time and energy was spent to deal with these conflicts. We learned that the best way to deal with staff-to-staff conflicts was to disclose and admit the differences in our views of relief work at full staff meetings. In retrospect, open discussions and sometimes confrontations served as a debriefing of staff feelings. The whole staff meetings revealed the fact that not particular personality but the nature of ending phase was causing us a sense of loss and failure. The meetings also reminded us that the end of the operation is near and we have to prepare for the re-entry to a world of ordinary life, a life of role taking. I believe that discussions and sometimes open confrontation in full staff meetings defused the conflicts.@

From a retrospect, a lot of management time and energy would have been saved if we decided the conditions of terminating our operation way before we started the relief volunteer center. For example, a low volunteer turn out could be viewed as a sign of ending rather than viewed as a sign of failure and powerlessness. If we knew about this during the March of 1995, we could have spent the rest of our operation time for more imaginative and creative activities that I wished to do but could not afford at that time.@

(Next OHP: The Renaissance of Volunteerism in Japan)

2. The Renaissance of Volunteerism

Now, I am going to talk about the second topic. That is what we really learned from the Kobe earthquake big volunteer turn out. I am going to talk about the Renaissance of volunteerism in Japan. And this is a rejoinder to Mr. Imadafs speech. I will talk about the socio-economic context why the need of capacity building in the voluntary sector has become major national interests after the Kobe earthquake.@

Reuben Nelson at the opening keynote speech on Sunday night mentioned about the certain conditions that allow volunteerism to grow. He mentioned about the recognition of a person as individual and open psychological space. Western frontier is a good example of open space where sense of individuality exceeds the values of tradition, authority and regulations. At the same time, the harsh environment of the frontier made individuals become inter-dependent. Here arises the sense of volunteerism.@

For three months after the Kobe earthquake, we have experienced a modern day frontier in metropolitan areas. Suddenly, we were put in a situation where we cannot count on the city office to take care of all public needs or any public needs. The city office itself became the earthquake victim. We learned how hard it is to survive as an individual. That is, if you were not connected to other people. We then learned that not the city officials but people can respond to public needs and people can weave public interests. Those three months were days of no law. That is, no law prescribed by the authority. Instead, people became law. People were able to and had to govern their community during those three months by themselves. In other words, people exercised role making at a very large scale during this period.@

Let me explain the OHP figure. This is an attempt to make sense out of volunteerism in our daily lives. This is a two dimensional map of social institutions. On top, you have statutory or the government body. On the bottom, you have non-governmental or voluntary body. From right to left, you have public interests on your right and private interests on left. The top right is where the government responds to public needs by collecting tax and spending it for public interests. If we go counter clock wise, the top left is where the government takes care of private interests by providing a social security and social welfare net. The next, bottom left is where market behavior takes place. It deals with private interests by non-governmental business sector. And finally, the bottom right corner is where volunteerism, non-governmental and non-profit organization activities, and philanthropy take place. This is a domain where public needs are responded by non-governmental voluntary sector. That is people-based weaving of public interests. This bottom right corner has been a blind spot for lots of Japanese people until the Kobe earthquake.@

(Next OHP: The view of Public Interests Prior to the Earthquake)

The earthquake literally changed the way people constructed the reality of the society. This OHP illustrates how we used to think prior to the earthquake. Public interests were equated to government and people were only to private interests. No wonder why we used not to think about volunteerism seriously. It is because the figure contains no domain of people based weaving of public interests. Our reality was constructed that public needs had to be responded by the statutory body, so that people can concentrate all their energy for profit making.


(Next OHP: People-based Public Interests Weaving)

The earthquake caused a shift in our view of society, simply because the government also became a victim and it functions were paralyzed for about three months. What happened during this time was the emergence of volunteerism all over the earthquake disaster hit frontier. The OHP shows a quote from a volunteer manager who ran the relief volunteer operation for the neighboring city of Ashiya.@

For many years, the government-led efforts to promote volunteerism were very active in Japan, especially in a field of social welfare. Each locality has this type of social welfare oriented volunteer centers. But this volunteer leader found that gthe government-led volunteer centers were so overwhelmed at the time of disaster and could not respond to the unpredictable situations.h Therefore, he himself as a volunteer took over the leadership of managing volunteers who come to the city of Ashiya. Prof. Tsutsui also conducted a survey of the disaster hit 10 cities about which departments of the city office was responsible for coordinating relief volunteers. She found that only one city, the city of Takarazuka, delegated the relief volunteer management to this type of government-led volunteer center. According to Prof. Tsutsuifs survey, the responsible department for the other cities varied from the general affairs department, personnel department, accounting department, to even the international exchange department. By the way, Ashiya city office responded to her survey answering that the international exchange department was responsible for the volunteer coordination. But as you may suspect, these arrangements were just on a sheet of paper. And reality was that this particular volunteer leader on the OHP took the leadership of volunteer management for the city of Ashiya.@

By the way, this quote came from my Not-for-profit cable television program called gPeoplefs Channelh. Peoplefs Channel started as a project of our university relief volunteer center. After the closure of the center, the project continued thanks to the financial support provided by the International Rotary Club Kobe Earthquake Relief Fund and partly thanks to apple girls. The program also later received the generous support from the Panasonic Corporation. The program was on air for one year and a half after the earthquake and broadcasted many interviews and exterior field productions of relief volunteer leaders. One special series of Peoplefs Channel did documentary of Canadafs volunteerism. And guess where I came to shoot dedicated volunteers. The Province of Alberta. Five half-hour shows were later satellite broadcast besides twelve cable stations and it is now available commercially in a digital versatile disk or DVD video from the Panasonic Corporation. Peoplefs Channel was the first public broadcast program that was directed professionally but produced solely by volunteers. I can go on about the Peoplefs Channel for hours, but I will now come back to the Volunteer Renaissance.@

(Next OHP: The 1923 Tokyo Earthquake Volunteers)

I talked about the phenomenon that the earthquake literally changed the way people constructed the reality of the society. Suddenly emerged was the domain of volunteerism in peoplefs reality. By Now, you understand why Japanese Mass media coined the term gThe Year One of Volunteerismh in order to describe this sudden emergence of a volunteer movement. I would now argue, however, that 1995 was not the gYear Oneh, but the gRenaissanceh of volunteerism in Japanese society.

It started with one phone call from a 93 years old retired school teacher, Mr. Okura, when we were running Kwansei Gakuin University Relief Volunteer Center. Mr. Okura introduced himself as a victim of the 1923 Tokyo earthquake. He was a college student in Tokyo at the time of the disaster. He and other westerners opted for a boat leaving Tokyo for Kobe. When he arrived at the Kyobashi pier in Kobe port, Mr. Okura was welcomed by Kwansei Gakuin University Relief volunteer center volunteers and was given cloth, food and transportation service to a downtown Kobe station. He asked if our current relief activities are somewhat related to the 1923 relief activities. We later learned that our university students did organize relief volunteer center at that time in Kobe port. The center even sent a group of volunteers to Tokyo.@

In 1920fs, the fourth Chancellor, Dr. Bates, a Canadian Methodist Missionary, was very active and he made a considerable moral impact upon our university students at the time. Let me talk about one of Dr. Batesf long lasting contributions to Kwansei Gakuin University, which started as a Methodist mission school and whose relationship with Canada far exceeds that of the formal diplomatic relations between the two countries. Dr. Bates clarified our schoolfs mission statement in a very simple word, gMastery for Serviceh. This mission statement was revived in 1995 Kobe earthquake. About 2,300 students out of the 14,000 student body were registered at our volunteer center alone during the three months period. Cumulative total of more than 7,500 students were involved in relief activities under our management. I asked to many of them who came to the volunteer center the same question, why you came? Almost unanimously, their answer was gthe Mastery for Serviceh. I was very much impressed to learn that not an economic interest but a mission statement mobilized these many students during crisis.@

Kwansei Gakuin University was not alone in organizing relief volunteers during the 1923 Tokyo earthquake. Students from Tokyo Imperial University, now University of Tokyo, were very active in responding to public need in 1923. What you see on an OHP is a quote from the relief volunteer center leader at that time, Prof. Izutaro Suehiro. He summarized studentsf efforts as follows.@

It is my great pleasure as an advocate for young students to observe that those who have been often criticized for selfish conduct and Epicurean inclinations by older generations, have united their efforts, to the point of selflessness, and have been able to make considerable achievement in response to public need (Suehiro, 1923).

There existed a wide array of volunteers to help out people during the 1923 Tokyo earthquake. As a matter of fact, those Tokyo Imperial University Students along with the dedicated assistance from Prof. Suehiro and Prof. Shigeto Hozumi, later founded the University settlement house in a neighboring slum district of Honjo in 1924. This settlement house is considered to be a birthplace of modern Japanese volunteerism movement. This is the reason why it is not correct to name the year 1995 the gYear Oneh of Japanese volunteerism. Then you may ask why there was not much public consciousness about people-based public interest weaving for the past few decades.@

(Next OHP: The Kobe Earthquake & Post-War Japanese Society)

The answer to this question can be found in the history of Tokyo Imperial University Settlement House. In 1938, the settlement house was banned due to the order from then military government. At the same year, war with China started and National Mobilization law was enacted. This is the beginning of what recent economists and political commentators call gthe 1940 systemh. The 1940 system is a Japanese counter part of Nazi Germany. The system transformed Japan into a bureaucrats controlled highly centralized society.@

You may wonder why it is possible for Japan to maintain wartime socio-economic measures after the new democratic constitution was inaugurated. I will point out the consensual conclusion among historians that this was possible not despite the new Constitution, but because of the new Constitution.

Detailed discussions on the 1940 system and why it survived after the introduction of the new Constitution go beyond the scope of this presentation. But, my point here is that the new post war government and business sectors maintained the spirit of this system so that all societal energies and resources were efficiently planned and concentrated solely for economic recovery of the nation.

The 1995 Kobe earthquake really changed the mindset of Japanese people. The earthquake created an open psychological space in post-war Japanese society. It opened a new frontier. The social construction of reality drastically shifted from a one dimensional public interest model to a two dimensional model. This shift allowed us to share the common language of civil society, active citizenship and community involvement with the rest of the world. I have noticed that the Japanese delegation is the second largest at IAVE '98, after Canada. It is my hope that this trend continues into the next millennium.

To The Tatsuki Lab Top (English)


All Rights Reserved. COPYRIGHT(C) 1998-99, Shigeo TATSUKI

Department of Social Work, School of Sociology, Kwansei Gakuin University