Cooperatives in Japan (Article Series): Overview


English articles about different types and industry sectors of cooperative organizations in Japan remain somewhat limited and represent scattered knowledge that would benefit from interlinkage. The series of articles in hand that I have published to the Platform Cooperativism Japan (PCJ) Consortium builds on a literature review that has proven useful in contributing to the creation of a holistic contemporary picture of the cooperative landscape in Japan.

Japan is known for its cooperative tradition. Indeed, roughly one-third of Japanese households belong to co-op’s [1]. The articles in this series aim to distill the lessons learned from this success, but also to identify further potential to grow the historically relatively very small market share of cooperative enterprises. The article series comprises of 4 parts that are logically sequenced, and each is covering one of the following topics:

The articles always put the situation of the Japanese co-ops back into the broader context. Cooperatives are part of the social economy (if that should be a meaningful definition at all) and overall market and society in large. Especially worker cooperatives provide for a fairer system through democratic values at the workplace, and it is essential to look for ways how to increase the influence on not only the social agenda but also on the progress of a State and economic future that cares for all [2].


After the study of cooperative examples in Japan in the context of identifying success factors for promoting the co-operative organizational form for a fairer future of work, the following points seem important to keep in mind for future efforts to advance the cooperative and social economy overall:

  • Worker co-operatives need to get a clear and supportive legal basis in Japan, and themselves need to develop strategies to gain influence on the social agenda [5].
  • I think it should be more clearly distinguished when using the term co-operative, as in cases of so-called big Japanese co-ops that do not grant member’s a voice in the leadership of the organization. One member one vote is, however, the most vital element of cooperative governance as only ownership and decision rights are effectively empowering the contributing citizen members.
  • Although the young people are primarily affected by the challenging labor market, they don’t seem to be connected to the worker cooperative movement. Some few examples constitute JWCU worker groups consisting of primarily young people [4]. For co-operatives to be successful, they need to be able to speak to the youth not only as volunteering organization but as a competitive better alternative to the neo-liberal capitalist economy.
  • Increasing the awareness about co-operatives should be a priority as often the young people just don’t know about its possibilities [4].
  • Millennials may appreciate opportunities for work-life balance. Co-operatives might be able to provide such a balance in addition to purpose and identification. Furthermore, co-operative governance can be designed to reward performance, therefore supporting personal growth in any ways.
  • Solidarity between older and younger generation should also enable financing of co-operative start-ups of young people by the member funding of older more affluent people. Social impact investment should account for such opportunities.
  • While grass-roots efforts are essential, the co-operative way should also be supported top-down as a political priority. A co-operative economy can not only be profitable but by not passing excess profits to just a few it is also able to provide for welfare benefits and community development where often tax paid government efforts failed in demonstrating sufficiently sustainable effects.
  • All the co-operative seeds should be honored, but it has to be stated that the co-operative economy is negligible and toothless compared to the overall economy. There is no reason for the co-operative movement to rest on its laurels.
  • Implementing democracy in organizations by giving the member-owners (and employees) a voice and a share are just natural. Therefore, the co-operative way, rather than being an extreme alternative movement, has the potential to be common sense across many political directions.
  • Inter-cooperative cooperation is crucial to bundle the efforts for maximum effect on the growth of the movement. While modest scale for NPOs in welfare services and the solidarity economy is a positive feature, big-scale commercial markets have to be given back from shareholder exploitation to the citizens. Any business can be organized co-operatively.



[1] David, D. (2012). Toward Contemporary Co-operative Studies: Perspectives from Japan’s Consumer Co-ops. Canadian Journal Of Nonprofit And Social Economy Research, Vol 3, Iss 2, Pp 104-105 (2012), (2), 104.

[2] Ishizuka, H. (2002). The Social Economy Sector in Japan. Annals Of Public & Cooperative Economics, 73(2), 241.

  • “be designed to reward performance, therefore supporting personal growth in any ways.”
    Not sure if this is what you meant, but a reward/bonus system seems to put people under extra stress. “If I don’t fulfill the expectations, I don’t get rewarded and everyone will know”. Not good for self-esteem.
    It’s in a way the same as with the system many schools have; a child get reworded with a sticker each time it has completed a task. Children often take this not as intended and feel hurt, because they weren’t capable of completing the task, even they tried very hard and did there best.
    As adults we seem to take those kind of feelings with us in the work environment.
    Or, what also happens…there are people who only focus at the ‘amount’ of the reward. So, to me rewarding performance ‘extra’, backfires…
    Again..not sure if I understood the paragraph correct.

    • Hi, Patty. Thanks for your comment. Great! Yes, rewards are an essential means of motivation. The problem is that we are conditioned to think about rewards only/mainly from a status/power (like grades putting one above others) and material wealth perspective. Why do we give for all types of performances the same rewards? I intentionally said “supporting personal growth in any ways” instead of listing the traditional corporate work compensations such as salary, financial bonus, pension plans, paid vacation, paid education, etc.). In a system that is about capital rather than human beings (the system is capitalism and not humanism:-), we often forget to value human such as emotional rewards. Of course, first we need to have satisfied our existential needs. But then, social recognition, exciting and fulfilling work, and the possibility for individual self-actualization (the upper levels of the Maslowian Pyramide) are most motivational. We could learn to appreciate our unique talents rather than being dependent on standard comparisons/competitions with others. As cooperativism is about equality between co-operators and inclusiveness rather than exclusion and capitalist domination, a shift in values would occur.