Cooperatives in Japan (Article Series): Part 2/4 – Cooperative Advantages

Overview and Conclusion article for Part 1 – Part 4, please see here.

To make it clear right up front: cooperation isn’t just an idea; it is instead a universal need and natural law for human thriving, be it in one’s spiritual connections, interpersonal relations, or business matters. Member-owned cooperative organizations as they are institutionalized are not only an alternative to shareholder directed corporations; they are necessary for a fairer working world. The cooperative values and principles have the potential to let the pendulum switch from the pure capitalist to the cooperative inclusive side. Just, the few powerful and wealthy who are profiting so immensely from the current system won’t give up their privileges for the benefit of more people. However, there are so many reasons why co-operatives are the better way for all to organize any endeavor and business. Once the movement gained traction, people will wonder how it was at all possible to accept undemocratic, inequitable and unsustainable practices around the world that caused so much injustice and destruction for such a long time. Therefore, the shift will mark a real evolutionary step. Now that the digital age is at a cross-road how to be organized in the future (see Platform Cooperativism), we have an opportunity to decide on the overall direction of society, not only in the virtual world. The following article outlines some main points that make the fairer co-operative way preferable to the extractive capitalist system from both economic, social, and environmental perspectives.

Socio-ecological integration enhances not only the long-term sustainability of businesses but also supports environmentally conscious consumption. [1]

“Sato” in Japanese means the area where people live, and “umi” means the sea. ‘Sato-umi’ describes a holistic approach that fosters sustainable and competitive human-ecosystem interaction with the result, as demonstrated by the Fisheries Cooperative Associations (FCAs), of increased biodiversity and productivity and consequently a healthier environment and economic ecosystem. Sato-umi may be unique in how established the practices are: therefore, ready to be further spread in Japan and promoted globally [1]. Many of the advantages of the cooperative way presented in this article may be linked or linkable to Sato-umi. It seems most important to further seek a best of all approach by building on existing (Japan specific) strengths and mitigating weaknesses to elevate the cooperative movement to the next level.



Satoumi-related activities promote lifelong learning opportunities, social and economic inclusion, and equality within communities and countries. Long-term involvement nourishes the desire to protect and promote through innovation, and harmony between human and ecosystem factors foster collaboration [1].

Acting as a rural development agency, the government makes loans to the farmers at a low interest rate through the cooperatives, which is called a ‘system loan’ [2, p. 512].

One of the primary services of agricultural co-ops in Japan is mutual credit and insurance that helps develop agrarian projects and the industry overall. Cooperatives can stimulate the cooperative sector by providing low-interest rate system loans [2]. Such investments may bear lower profits in the short term, but cooperatives have proven that, by benefitting their members instead of their investors, they are fitter for the long-term survival of the business [3].

Cooperatives continued to extend their successful operations even 30 years in business in highly competitive service industries through times of stagnation in Japan’s national economy [5].

Locally anchored participatory businesses demonstrate sustainable productivity through a combination of traditional knowledge and innovation [1]. The instability that is all too often a tendency of new and small businesses can be mitigated by a cooperative working style. For example, the Seikatsu Club Consumer Co-operative grew their services sustainably from the 1980s to over a quarter of a million members already in 2006. Among the members mostly women who otherwise have difficulties to find suitable work (see article “Japanese Cooperatives Part 1 – Challenges“), against all the adverse economic conditions that caused other businesses to stagnate or even collapse in the same competitive sectors [4]. Evidence shows that firms which combine employee ownership and participatory governance outperform other companies [5].

mathias-sager about seikatsu club japan.png

How to build the necessary new extensive welfare services while keeping corporations unaccountable and taxations low? 

Where the government nor the private sector want to compensate for welfare services, cooperatives (besides various private firms and NPOs) fill gaps by establishing flexible strategies such as ‘registered helpers’ who are rendering services as paid volunteers, ‘mutual assistance schemes,’ and ‘welfare clubs’ [6].

To stay competitive against increased globalization, e.g., cheap import of rice, policies to professionalize and scale agricultural businesses were implemented by the government through the promotion of cooperatives. While the co-ops fulfill the government’s New Institutional Economics requirements of relevance, appropriateness, durability, and fairness, cooperative farming did not meet the normed expectations of efficiency, profitability, and competitiveness, which led to some drawbacks in the plan [7].

Market power and asymmetric information appear less influential in the formation of food processing cooperatives [8].

It might be the right direction to start with fairness and then make the business a profitable one too. Agricultural cooperatives operate food processing businesses that are more transparent to the consumer, also regarding the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. People have become more sensitive to food security and request symmetric information distribution between the farmers and the buyers. This is best possible if the food producer (farm) and the food processing businesses controlled by the same owners, respectively cooperatives [8]. Organic farming and food processing have become a business model allowing for attractive premiums. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster was very harmful to organic farmers in the region though. Teikei consumer groups (consumers buying directly from farmers) and small cooperatives practicing “teikei” found a way to inspect radiation contamination independently to restore trust in food security [9].

Finally, it is all about solidarity between the people, which is contrary to neo-liberalism as the most extreme form of capitalism that is seeking to maximize profits through large corporations and financial institutions instead of protecting also the environment, human rights, and discriminated workers [10] (see article “Japanese Cooperatives Part 1 – Challenges“).



[1] Mizuta, D. D., & Vlachopoulou, E. I. (2017). Satoumi concept illustrated by sustainable bottom-up initiatives of Japanese Fisheries Cooperative Associations. Marine Policy, 78143-149. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2017.01.020

[2] Klinedinst, M., & Sato, H. (1994). The Japanese Cooperative Sector. Journal Of Economic Issues (Association For Evolutionary Economics), 28(2), 509.

[3] Chesnick, D. S., & Liebrand, C. B. (2007). Global 300 list reveals world’s largest cooperatives. Rural Cooperatives, 74(1), 28-31.

[4] Marshall, B. (2006). Japan’s worker co-operative movement into the 21st century. Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, (23),

[5] Marshall, R. C. (2003). The culture of cooperation in three Japanese worker cooperatives. Economic And Industrial Democracy, 24(4), 543-572.

[6] Lord, A., & Mellor, M. (1996). Women and the cooperative provision of care: the example of the ‘Fukushi Club’ in Japan. Economic And Industrial Democracy, 17(2), 199-220.

[7] Yoshitaka, M. (2016). The Failure of Cooperative Farming Development Policies in Tōhoku, Japan. Journal Of Resources & Ecology, 7(2), 137-143. doi:10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2016.02.009

[8] Mikami, K., & Tanaka, S. (2008). Food processing business and agriculture cooperatives in Japan: market power and asymmetric information. Asian Economic Journal, 22(1), 83-107.

[9] Kondoh, K. (2015). The Alternative Food Movement in Japan: Challenges, Limits, and Resilience of the Teikei System. c(1), 143-153.

[10] Kitazawa, Y. (2010). Japan’s lost decades and a women-led socio-solidarity economy. Development, 53(3), 416-420. doi:10.1057/dev.2010.46