The Kobe earthquake and the Renaissance of Volunteerism in Japan (2nd Edition) (A paper presented at Colorado College on July 13, 1999)



I am a veteran of the Kobe earthquake 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 globe. 


The second topic is how the earthquake literally changed the way people constructed the reality of the society.  Faced with the sudden emergence of an extreme number of volunteers, the mass media coined the term gThe Year One of Volunteerismh.  I would argue, however, that 1995 was not the gYear Oneh, but the gRenaissanceh of volunteerism in Japanese society. 


The third part is an attempt to provide a historic account on socio-economic contexts where the earthquake made a great impact upon the transformation of Japan into a country that is empowered by a civil society.  I would hope to convey that although Japan is a non-Judeo-Christian nation, nevertheless it shares the common language of civil society, active citizenship and community involvement in preparation for the next millennium. 


1. A veteranfs story

You have to be, and you can be, imaginative and creative 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 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 as one of your strengths.   If you have so many people lining up at the volunteer reception table, all you have to do is ask the first person in front of you to come around the table and sit beside you.  You will teach that person how to register necessary information and how to direct the applicant where to go next.  During a disaster, you do not have the luxury of volunteer training.  So you have to count on the maturity and self-sufficiency of the volunteering individuals.  The job of managing other volunteer individuals can be delegated to mature and self-sufficient individuals.


This is the know-how of a Kobe-veteran, which was transferred to a town called Mikuni two years after the 1995 Kobe earthquake. 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 front section of the ship drifted to the coast of Mikuni township in Fukui Prefecture.  In response to the disaster, members from the local Junior Chamber of Commerce or JC took responsibility for 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 wreckage 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)


Here is an overview.  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 a three-month period.  This graph shows the 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 the development phase.  A gradual decline of manpower mobilization characterizes this period.  The last third is the termination phase, where you see that the manpower mobilization hit rock bottom and remained low till the end.   


I will describe each phase in a little more detail.


(Next OHP: 3. Emergency Phase)


The emergency phase is a time of excitement.  Peoplefs faces are all shining and everybody was sharing a hero-like feeling.  You feel good when you do the right things or act for a cause or belief.  Compassion and empathy to the disaster victims are key driving forces during this period.  There was also another factor that motivated our student volunteers.  In everyday life, students live in a world of grole playingh or grole takingh.  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 housed about 400 to 500 people, they could not be grole takersh, because managers or supervisors were too busy to give them detailed instructions of how to be a good helper in an emergency shelter.  You need to be a grole makerh during a disaster.  Once the students started making roles of their own, they began to realize that the 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 Instrumental Work.  Any disaster relief starts with an instrumental type of help.  What comes next is Interpersonal Work.  Our student volunteers organized a childrenfs playgroup, overnight camp trips, and bath taking tours for the elderly.  Bath-taking tours were most appreciated by the elderly because there was no gas service available for three months.  Besides, as you see from the many Japanese tourists who come to the Banff Hot Springs, bath taking is a national pass time for Japanese.  Those were some examples of interpersonal work that our student volunteers improvised as they sensed the needs of the victims. 


We found it effective to let the student volunteers be involved in instrumental work first. This gave them opportunities for rapport building with shelter residents.   Rapport is the 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)


A 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 populations 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 the gapple girlsh project.  One day, our center received a truck full of apples donated 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 gymnasiums.  We were afraid that those apples would go bad.  At that time, one of our volunteers suggested that if young co-ed students sit next to elderly and peel apples for them, the 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 peeled.  That was the end of the story.  Or at least that was how I felt that day.  


The next day after the apple girls attempt, I was called to the Kobe YMCA for a screening interview for possible financial donations from the International Rotary Club Kobe Disaster Relief Fund committee.  I had to sell our center activities in order to receive the donation.  Now, I myself was trained as a family therapist, not as a used car sales man. But I started explaining PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder and how our center was so specialized in dealing with PTSD prevention by introducing a 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 suspicions from the elderly that thanks to the apple girlfs story, our center received a quite sizable donation.


A few days later, however, I was shocked to learn that the name gapple girlsh appeared at the editorial page headline of a local Kobe newspaper.  The editorial article asserted the importance of PTSD prevention and used our gapple girl storyh as a prime example of how it can be done by volunteers.  I showed the editorial article to the center staff volunteers suggested that we needed 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 the 14 shelters that we supported. 


Stimulated by the apple girls, a couple of theology school professors started shelter visits carrying a coffee maker and china cups.  They called themselves gCoffee shop Shalomh.  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 a disaster, volunteer lay counselors emphasized that disaster stress related symptoms such as sleeplessness, irritability, jumpiness and flashbacks were simply normal responses to an abnormal situation.  The volunteers also emphasized the fact that the victims had managed to survive.  This is because they had activated their own strength, their 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 girlfs case, not so many shelter residents opted for professional services.  I think that receiving professional services means that you are admitting 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 a 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 a 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 is 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 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 it was not particular personalities but the nature of the ending phase itself that was causing in us a sense of loss and failure.  The meetings also reminded us that the end of the operation was near and we had to prepare for the re-entry into the world of ordinary life, a life of role taking.  I believe that discussions and sometimes open confrontations in full staff meetings defused the conflicts. 


In retrospect, a lot of management time and energy would have been saved if we decided on the conditions for the termination of 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 March of 1995, we could have spent the rest of our operation time in more imaginative and creative activities than we actually did.


(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.  I will talk about the socio-economic context in which the need of capacity building in the voluntary sector has become a major national concern after the Kobe earthquake.


Reuben Nelson, a Canadian Futurologist, in his keynote speech for the 1998 World Volunteer Conference, mentioned certain conditions that allow volunteerism to grow.  He mentioned the recognition of a person as an individual and open psychological space.  The western frontier is a good example of open space where a 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 experienced a modern day frontier in a metropolitan area.  Suddenly, we were put in a situation where we could not count on the city office to take care of all or even any public needs.  The city office itself became an earthquake victim.  We learned how hard it was to survive as an individual.  That is, if you were not connected to other people.  We then learned that people, not city officials, 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 the 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 the 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 the domain in which public needs are responded to by a non-governmental voluntary sector.  That is the people-based weaving of public interests.  This bottom right corner had 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 equated to private interests.  No wonder why we never thought about volunteerism seriously.  It is because the figure contains no domain for a people based weaving of public interests.  In our constructed reality, public needs had to be responded to by the statutory body, so that people could 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 its 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 the 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 the 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 Ashiya city office.  About a few months after the earthquake, Prof. Noriko Tsutsui  of Ryukoku University 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. Tsutsuifs 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, the 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.  The reality was that this particular volunteer leader on the OHP took the leadership of volunteer management for the city of Ashiya.


(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 peoplefs reality.  By now, you understand why the Japanese Mass media coined the term gThe Year One of Volunteerismh in order to describe this sudden emergence of a volunteer movement.  I would now argue, however, that 1995 was not the gYear Oneh, but the gRenaissanceh of volunteerism in Japanese society. 


It started with one phone call from a 93 year old retired school teacher, Mr. Okura, when we were running the 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 some other people from the western part of Japan escaped from Tokyo by boat and went to 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 clothes, food and transportation service to a downtown Kobe station.  He asked if our current relief activities were in any way related to the 1923 relief activities.  We later learned that our university students did organize a relief volunteer center in 1923 at the Kobe port.  The center even sent a group of volunteers to Tokyo. 


In the 1920fs, 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.  One of Dr. Batesf long lasting contributions to Kwansei Gakuin University, was our schoolfs mission statement, gMastery for Serviceh.  This mission statement was revived by 1995 Kobe earthquake.  About 2,300 students out of the 14,000 student body were registered at our volunteer center alone during the three month period.  A cumulative total of more than 7,500 students were involved in relief activities under our management.  I asked many who came to the volunteer center the same question, why did you come?  Almost unanimously, their answer was gMastery for Serviceh.  I was very much impressed to learn that it was not an economic interest but a mission statement that mobilized these many students during the 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 the OHP is a quote from the relief volunteer center leader at that time, Prof. Izutaro Suehiro.  He summarized studentsf 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 possible birthplace of the modern Japanese volunteerism movement.  This is why it is not correct to name the year 1995 the gYear Oneh 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.  I am now talking about the rejoinder to Mr. Imada, whose Alma Mater, Tokyo University, is the basis of my third point.  In 1938, the settlement house was banned due to the order from the then military government.  In the same year, the war with China started and the National Mobilization law was enacted.  This is the beginning of what recent economists and political commentators call gthe 1940 systemh.  The 1940 system is the Japanese counter part to that of Nazi Germany.  The system transformed Japan into a bureaucrat-controlled highly centralized society. 


Let me spend the last remaining few minutes to describe the nature of the wartime socio-economic structure, which had been binding peoplefs construction of reality until the 1995 earthquake.  It took 50 years after the last war until people in Japan re-discovered the existence of people-based voluntary weaving of public interests outside of the control of governments. 


(Next OHP: Welfare State & the 1940 System)


At the onset of war with China, the National Mobilization Law was enacted.  The spirit of this wartime emergency law was very clear.  In order to execute the war against China and later against Allied Powers, all resources and manpower had to be tightly controlled by the state. 


In 1941, the National School Ordinance was enacted.  This was the governmentfs attempt to place the educational system tightly under state control.  The system was modeled after that of Nazi Germany.  The name, national school was even a direct translation of Volksschule.  Since then, school has become an ideological incubator for totalitarian government administrators of the 1940 system. 


In the field of social welfare, a similar transformation occurred.  Until 1938, the state never showed much interest in charity, philanthropy or social services.  These were considered to be in the domain of a then existing voluntary sector.  However, after the Social Service Law, charity and philanthropy came under the strict control of the state.  The main thrust to this move was for the state to take care of disabled soldiers, the wartime widows and their children. 


The transformation in economy, politics, education, and social services dated back to the 1940fs.  My point here is that this 1940 system still survived even after the war was ended in 1945.  As a matter of fact, 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. 


(Next OHP: Article 89 of the Constitution)


You may wonder why it is possible for Japan to maintain wartime socio-economic measures after the new democratic constitution was inaugurated.  In the case of the disappearance of volunteerism for fifty years after the war, this was possible not despite the new Constitution, but because of the new Constitution.  Article 89 of the Constitution states that gpublic money and other public equity shall not be spent or used for charity, education of philanthropic services that are not under the state control.h  This section was included because social services were used in order to assist the execution of war.  The occupation forces did not wish the same thing to happen again.  Thus, the principle of the division of public and private institutions was introduced.


Article 89 shocked many social service administrators.  This principle threatened to force most social service institutions into chronic financial instabilities after Japan lost most of its economic infrastructure for industrial recovery because social service administrators could not count for much help from the business sector.  After the occupation forces left Japan, a new interpretation of article 89 appeared.  If the state cannot support any social service institutions that are not under state control, let those social institutions be under the state supervision.  Thus special social welfare corporations were formed.  Those corporations were strictly controlled and supervised by the state.  In return, they were able to receive government subsidies and grants to run standardized services.  As a result, bureaucratsf dream of a coherent, systematized, and standardized social welfare services were maintained after the war.  The motive for the state control was of course different in the postwar time, but the centralized structure to govern the system of serving public interests remained just like old times.


More detailed discussions on the 1940 system,  why and how 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.


The above hypothesis was supported by the recent random sample survey that Dr. Haruo Hayashi of Kyoto University and I conducted in March of 1999.  We sent 3,300 questionnaires to earthquake survivors asking their views of society, family, themselves, and their relationship to individual recovery from the disaster. 993 questionnaires were returned and responses from 623 In-Hyogo (25.7%) and 292 Out-of-Hyogo residents (37.1%) were valid.  One of the variables that we examined in this survey was a level of civic-mindedness.  Reflection on pre- to post-earthquake changes in civic-mindedness revealed that self-governance and a solidarity orientation increased while conformity/obedience to preexisting morality decreased.  Furthermore, those who are high on the self-governance and solidarity formation orientation scale tended to be better-adjusted four years after the earthquake than those who were low.


(OHP:Interrelationship of Disaster, Civic-mindedness, and Recovery)


Many lives and valuable things were lost in the 1995 Kobe earthquake.  But, at the same time, a new reality of the society emerged as a response to this mega disaster.  This new reality empowered people.  The new reality was consisted of two dimensions.  One dimension was a dimension of self-governance.  Emerging sense of self-governance, rather than conforming to the outside morality enabled people to think and act on his or her own.  The other dimension was a dimension of community solidarity.  Rather than pursuing narrow self-interests, people became motivated to solve community issues by forming coalition and pursuing a collective action.   Stronger sense of self-governance and community solidarity became a basis to promote a civil society in Japan.  It is my hope that this trend continues into the next millennium. 





All Rights Reserved. COPYRIGHT(C) 1998-2018, Shigeo TATSUKI

Department of Sociology, Doshisha University

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