To understand what makes a person volunteer, whether for a day, a week, or a year, is a difficult task. You cannot simply look at the days or weeks before a person volunteers to understand why they do it, it is often a decision deeply rooted in emotion and cultural background. Yet, Japan is a country that has developed it’s volunteerism tradition comparatively recently. By analyzing what drives Japanese volunteers, and the context in which they volunteer, perhaps we can better understand how the culture has shifted in order to enable this renaissance of volunteerism.
A 2011 study by a group of researchers (Grönlund, H., Holmes, K., Kang, C., Cnaan, R., Handy, F., Brudney, J., Haski-Leventhal, D., Hustinx, L., Kassam, M., Meijs, L., Pessi, A., Ranade, B., Smith, K., Yamauchi, N., Zrinščak, S.) on the motivations of volunteers looked at students from 13 different countries, including Japan. This study attempted to quantify the motivations for volunteering across five categories, resume, social, hedonistic, learning and altruistic. Japan, with 1052 students surveyed (Of which 411 had experience volunteering, the lowest ratio in the group), scored lower than the average in every single category. This only serves to further muddy the waters of understanding what motivates the people of Japan to volunteer. Despite the results of Grönlund’s group’s research, it’s limited sample size prevents it from being more than a curious piece of data to view in comparison.
Given the short history of volunteerism in Japan, there are is not enough time to see any trend in volunteerism besides growth. As Kobe essentially opened the country up to the concept only twenty years ago, we are only now seeing a generation of volunteers who have grown up with the concept as part of their culture. Those who grew up with this have had it reinforced by the Tohoku earthquake, and should there be another major event in 10 years, there will be two full generations who have seen firsthand not only the power of volunteerism, but the accessibility of it. People will have lived through a time where millions of people volunteered, where it is likely someone they know can guide them in how to act if they haven’t already. Once the concept has had time to become fully adopted in the country, it will be much easier to step back and see whether volunteerism has grown only in response to disasters, or if it has become ingrained in the society as a whole.