Quite a broad question, and in a lot of ways almost impossible to answer. Volunteering, beyond the obvious dictionary meaning, can have very different meanings for everyone. To some, it may be a way to give back, for others it cannot be described as anything other than a calling, and there are those who may simply do it because their work offered them time off to do so. Japan, with a fairly long history of noteworthy natural disasters in comparison to it’s size, surprisingly has very little history of volunteerism prior to the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Before this point, it is almost impossible to discern any significant volunteer efforts. Aid to stricken areas was primarily limited to government assistance and monetary donations. While we can easily point to such factors as limited transportation for a lack of volunteerism after the Kanto earthquake of 1923, perhaps there is more to it than logistics. Through this blog I’d like to examine not only what motivates people to volunteer in Japan, but also why Japan experienced such a sudden shift in attitudes towards volunteering.
I will examine three of the largest natural disasters in recorded Japanese history, the Kanto, Kobe and Tohoku earthquakes. From these I’d like to look at more than just how volunteerism effected the event, but the context of the event in relation to the culture of volunteerism in Japan. In addition, I will be touching on the volunteers themselves, looking at personal accounts to better understand the motivations which drive volunteers, and how that may foster the spirit in future volunteers.