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Cooperatives in Japan (Article Series): Part 3/4 – The Japanese Social Economy, Policymaking, and Co-operative Governance

The “Third Sector” (Social Economy)

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

The “third sector,” or social economy, is the space of social issues that are left by government and private sector (corporate) failures. It is the arena in which the two actors after-negotiate how to share the burden to resolve the problems they feel could fire back if not addressed.


Japanese governmental statistics (SNA, System of National Account) defined ‘industry’ as for-profit businesses only until 1998, why there was no clear concept for a non-profit organization (NPO) [1]. Since then the NPO Law allows civil society organizations to easily acquire nonprofit corporation status [10]. The social sector represented by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), NPOs, and cooperatives is thought to cover social problems like community development, environmental protection, and social movements. Unlike informal associations, NGOs, and NPOs, cooperatives are the only organizational form that represents the ‘Institutionalized’ Social Economy. Therefore, the cooperatives should be assigned a leadership role in the social economy sector. In Japan, the caption NPO is more prominent than social economy [1].

Cooperatives are by definition only a resource for their members; they cannot take the place of the state as a universal provider, without having the responsibilities and resources of the state [14].

In East Asian countries state influence on social enterprises including cooperatives has been stronger than in other regions. This bears the risk for social organizations to lose independence from public agencies. Another threat is that businesses focusing on financial independence and market performance can lose sight of their social responsibility [2]. This might be less the case for cooperatives that are consequently governed of, by, and for their active members.

Positioning of social enterprise for three regions

Figure 1: Positioning of social enterprise for three regions [2]

The “ideal-type” social enterprise underlines a participatory dynamic in the governance structure [2].

As the social enterprise concept is starting to further develop in Eastern Asia, it is essential to answer the question about the most suitable governance model. It was found that in Eastern Asia, even more than in the US, a participatory governance model, and cooperative principles inspired organizational forms could represent the ideal-type of autonomous social organizations. More innovative and flexible types such as, for example, multi-stakeholder cooperative models require more research and experience [2].

Cooperatives are always “collectives” as they involve member participation in the governance structure. But “collectives” don’t necessarily provide for member ownership structures as inherent in the co-operative. The same is true for so-called buying (or other) clubs whose members carry out an activity together, whether organized as an NPO social club or as a cooperative.

There is simply no easy, legal way to organize worker co-operation in Japan yet, and this must surely be a barrier to their spread [3, p. 16].

Co-ops in Japan are traditionally regulated by sectors, e.g., the Consumer Co-operative Act (1948), The Agricultural Co-operative Act (1947), and the Fishery Co-operative Act (1948). Worker cooperatives are particularly promising to address inequality of income and opportunity, as well as for employee motivation, performance, and in-house innovation. However, in Japan, they lack legal recognition, why worker members often organize in organizations incorporated under the Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) Co-operative Act (1949) or the NPO Act [4]. In other words, it is not forbidden anymore for workers to cooperate for consumption, credit and marketing purposes, but there is also no law positively supporting such aspirations. That’s the reason why the Japan Institute for Cooperative Research (JICR) does promote a new worker law [3].

As discussed in the article “Japanese Cooperatives: Part 1 – Challenges” too, Stock Ownership Plans are not available in Japan to restructure ownership, and the requirements for establishing a joint stock corporation are difficult in Japan as elsewhere. An unusual but clever way went the Senior Cooperative “Koreikyo” that is a consumer co-operative assuming features of a worker co-operative. A currency-like ticketing system achieves the hybrid type of cooperative operation. Members buy books of tickets and use the tickets for paying for co-op services. The services providers redeem later the collected tickets to cover their compensation [3].

Policy Making in Japan

The labor market in Japan has become more challenging. Besides vocational education, career coaching, and traditional start-ups, a new system to incorporate NPOs and worker cooperatives should be prioritized by policy makers [5]. Other countries are also starting to invest more than ever into the development of worker cooperatives that foster dignity and wealth for all as the example of New York initiative for tripling the number of worker cooperatives shows [6]. Also, the conflict between fiscal policy constraints and social policy development can be best resolved by developing the social economy sector and mobilizing its resources and communities [1].

Contracted employees today in Japan don’t enjoy a legal basis that is protecting them as employees; the Civic Code needs still to be adjusted for protective provisions going beyond a service contract and including social welfare for contractors who in fact are engaged in work as employees [5].

The “iron triangle” of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians, bureaucratic ministries, and vested interest groups—still represents a formidable and functioning element of Japan’s central governing process [7].

Regarding policy making it was found to be challenging to get access to locked circles of party-bureaucracy-interest-group policymaking in economic and social sectors. This situation stemmed mainly from the example of closed-door decision making in the agricultural policy triangle. The Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) reform intended to no longer view the JA as the sole voice of the farming sector and to reduce JA’s most dominant position as a pressure group. The reform is considered to be radical, but ultimately also quite limited in its effect [8]. The differing interests of large international corporations and the local small-scale businesses (farmers) have slowed down (agricultural) policy reforms. Therefore, the JA-Zenchu will likely remain the most powerful and influential interest group in Japanese politics [9]. However, the autonomy of JA is limited too because of its traditional receipt of state donations [1].

Co-operative Governance

Cooperatives are guided by their identity, values, and principles.

Co-operative Identity: A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise [10].

Co-operative Values: Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

Co-operative principles: 1. Voluntary and Open Membership, 2. Democratic Member Control, 3. Member Economic Participation, 4. Autonomy and Independence, 5. Education, Training and Information, 6. Co-operation among Co-operatives, 7. Concern for Community

In general, cooperative governance can be clarified with a model of four pillars.

TeamingSuccessfully working together to achieve common purpose
Accountable EmpowermentSuccessfully empowering people while at the same time holding them accountable for the power granted.
Strategic LeadershipSuccessfully articulating the cooperative’s direction/purpose and setting the organization up for movement in this direction.
DemocracySuccessfully sustaining a culture in which people choose meaningful ways to participate for both individual and common good.

Table 1. The four pillars of cooperative governance [11]

When a co-operative bank acts as “community organizer”, undertaking tasks which are outside its usual sphere of activities as financier, and its board includes members of the social enterprise sector, its positive impact on community development is more effective [13, p. 162].

Capable management is important. Some literature from Japan reports on the need in different sectors for cooperatives to upgrade their management methods [1]. According to research in 2006, 63% of past co-operative bankruptcies were due to management problems. It was also found that the presence of outside director on the board of directors had a positive influence on management performance. However, there is usually no pressure from the membership to require outside directors. Therefore, some suggest that authorities such as the Financial Services Agency (FSA) shall stress this need [12].

To make raising equity for cooperatives easier, it appears to be important to understand the nature of the transferable membership capital method [15].

In general, it is known that cooperatives have it harder to get funding as compared to traditional capitalist businesses [15], although there are signs that social impact capital, or purpose capital, is on the rise. Indeed, co-op member’s favorite survey response to work at a co-operative was the one of seeking “ikigai”, i.e., “a purpose in life” [3]. It might be, as a general pattern, that where the money can come from, capitalist monetary values predominate social considerations. Therefore, due to limited profit maximization for single individuals, limited financing is a significant growth limitation for the cooperative economy, although a membership market could provide for the same economic potential. To solve this problem, some cooperatives have resorted to the method of issuing transferable membership capital, e.g., a housing cooperative raising equity capital by issuing shares and investing it in the construction projects, and after that trading the shares on the open market [15]. It is also necessary to create financial mutual aid systems in the social economy such as initiatives started by the Eitai Credit Union in Tokio [1].

How independent are SME’s in Japan?

Japanese SME’s for their survival need to form alliances with major firms that are dominating the markets. Subcontracting is so extensive in Japan that SME’s independence needs to be questioned. Such domestic loyalty networks often served as de facto trade barriers [16] and also need to be taken into account by any new co-operative businesses.

What is needed for the solidarity economy in Japan is to form loose networks, like the Atsugi Human Support Network, at the regional, national and global levels, and to engage in political action to fight against neo-liberalism [17].

Often genuinely collaborative loose networks do, tragically, not evolve without exceptional circumstances. For example, The Emergency Job Creation (EJC) program as a response to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake disaster achieved the collaboration among stakeholders as diverse as NPOs, NGOs, social welfare corporations, and other companies [18]. It is to hope that the solidarity economy can be more successfully promoted in the future on local, regional, and global level [17]. Ways must be found how to convince also private corporations who currently value monetary profit instead of social orientation to contribute to solidarity more consequently [1].

As per the co-operative governance principle of cooperation among cooperatives, it is critical to act on this aspect more intensively. Shared interests and synergies can be used better to intensify inter-cooperative cooperation. For example, all forestry, agriculture, consumer, and fisheries have been concerned about improved water environments. Similarly, any cooperative as connected to the member-community can facilitate access to and provision of in-home services such as healthcare together with other cooperatives [1].

the extension of the coop movement.png

The Japanese Cooperative Council (JCC) links to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), a similar systematic national connector is missing [1]. For the cooperatives and related organizations in the broader digital economy, the Platform Cooperativism Japan (PCJ) Consortium has started to assume such a role. There is the risk that cooperatives appear old-fashioned in the eyes of the younger generations. Increased openness, exciting and influential networks of co-operatives might be a means to rejuvenate and strengthen the movement. Academia and national innovation networks that dare to learn from and promote to an also international dimension [19] may play a vital role in that journey too.



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

[2] Defourny, J., & Kim, S. (2011). Emerging models of social enterprise in Eastern Asia: a cross-country analysis. Social Enterprise Journal, 7(1), 86. doi:10.1108/17508611111130176

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

[4] Kurimoto, A. )., & Kumakura, Y. ). (2016). Emergence and evolution of co-operatives for elderly care in Japan. International Review Of Sociology, 26(1), 48-68. doi:10.1080/03906701.2016.1148341

[5] Nogawa, S. (2012). The Great East Japan Earthquake and a Future Vision for Labor Law in Japan. Japan Labor Review, 9(4), 105-123.

[6] Abello, O.P. (2016, January). NYC Set to Triple Number of Worker Cooperatives. Retrieved from https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/nyc-worker-cooperatives-jobs-increase

[7] Mulgan, A. G. (2016). Loosening the ties that bind: Japan’s agricultural policy triangle and reform of cooperatives (JA). Journal Of Japanese Studies, 42(2), 221-246.

[8] Mulgan, A. G. (2016). Much ado about something? The Abe government’s reform of Japan’s agricultural cooperatives (JA). Japanese Studies, 36(1), 83-103.

[9] Jamitzky, U. (2015). The TPP Debate in Japan: Reasons for a Failed Protest Campaign. Asia Pacific Perspectives, 13(1), 79.

[10] International Co-operative Alliance (n.d.). Co-operative identity, values & principles. Retrieved from https://ica.coop/en/whats-co-op/co-operative-identity-values-principles

[11] CDS Consulting Co-op (n.d.). Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance. Retrieved from http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/cooperative_governance/4pcg/

[12] Yamori, N., Harimaya, K., & Tomimura, K. (2011). The Roles of Outside Directors in Cooperative Financial Institutions: The Case of Japan. Banks And Bank Systems, 6(4), 11-14.

[13] Chris, M., & Sachiko, N. (2010). How can co-operative banks spread the spirit of co-operation in deprived communities?. Social Enterprise Journal, (2), 162. doi:10.1108/17508611011069284

[14] 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.

[15] Mikami, K. (2015). Raising Capital by Issuing Transferable Membership in a Consumer Cooperative. International Journal Of Social Economics, 42(2), 132-142.

[16] Dana, L. P. (1998). Small but Not Independent: SMEs in Japan. Journal Of Small Business Management, 36(4), 73-76.

[17] 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

[18] Nagamatsu, S., & Ono, A. (2017). Job Creation after Catastrophic Events: Lessons from the Emergency Job Creation Program after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Japan Labor Review, 14(1), 112-131.

[19] Miotti, L., & Sachwald, F. (2003). Co-operative R&D: Why and with Whom? An Integrated Framework of Analysis. Research Policy, 32(8), 1481-1499. doi:http://dx.doi.org.liverpool.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/S0048-7333(02)00159-2

[20] About NPO Law (n.d.). How the NPO Law came about and why it is important. Retrieved from http://www.jnpoc.ne.jp/en/nonprofits-in-japan/about-npo-law/

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.


Source: satoumi.net

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

Cooperatives in Japan (Article Series): Part 1/4 – Challenges and the Necessity for Cooperatives

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

The article presents Japan-specific details related to economic, demographic, and cultural challenges that can potentially be addressed by a more cooperative economy. Despite national peculiarities and unique cultural phenomena, the background against which the issues have to be seen should not be forgotten. When analyzing why social and environmental problems cannot be improved, one will always be led back to the observation of excesses that are caused by the capitalist economy’s ultimate fight for maximum profits. Where is the limit between acting responsible and exploiting natural resources and workers? Unfortunately, the answer is that there will never be a healthy balance resulting from a system that seeks maximization of monetary profits for a small elite above anything else.

“Japan has experienced ‘two lost decades,’ with zero or minus growth (Gross Domestic Product (GDP)) and price deflation (Consumer Price Index (CPI)).” [1, p. 416] 

minus growth and price deflation.jpg

Figure 1. Minus growth and price deflation [10]

After the burst of the economic bubble in 1991, many of the small and medium-sized enterprises have gone bankrupt, and consumers’ buying power declined. The big corporations haven’t maintained the diverse vitality and innovation of the SME’s [1], despite the continuous pressure to innovate and create new markets in Japan, especially in information and communication technology sectors [2].

The real winner of the 2014 reform package (deregulation of farmland) could be land-hungry companies with little or no interest in the future of Japanese agriculture [5]. 

land-hungry companies Japan.jpg

The political system is considered to be in need of further procedural and methodological upgrades, especially on local levels [3]. For example, there exist unresolved conflicting goals related to the aspired consolidation of farmland (respectively enlargement of farms for increased productivity) by the local actors and regarding the deregulation of farmland, which makes it accessible to corporations [4]. The essential Japanese cooperative sector for agriculture is threatened by recession, deregulation, and ease of trade barriers [5].

Japan is one of the largest importers of farm products, and its record-low food self-sufficiency contradicts the many agricultural fields that lay idle [13]. More local sourcing through cooperatives would be beneficial.

“The most important and useful alternative to resolve a deadlock of fiscal policy and social policy by the governments is to develop the social economy sector” [3, p.263]

 social economy.jpeg

“The humanization of labor also is considered as the way toward the self-realization of individuals.” [3, p. 262]

Japanese culture includes a strong sense of mutual obligation and loyalty and a collectivist way of relating to others. Even for small and usually, in Westerner contexts, independent small businesses, there exist most often some business alliances (Dana, 1998). These cultural specifics may speak for a naturalness of cooperation to Japanese individuals and organizations. On the other side, also in Japan, there are tendencies towards more individual lifestyles and the desire for improved work-life balance (Ishizuka, 2002). The former possibly a negative aspect for community building, the latter speaking for more co-operatively organized work.

“It is ironic that the countries who have fared best in industrial and economic development are now facing a crisis in personal care, particularly for the elderly.” [7, p. 199]

 elderly care

Japan’s care situation is worse than in comparably wealthy nations, for example in Europe. Governments’ positions are still referring to welfare to be provided by the family, private employers, and today increasingly also by voluntary organizations. However, the daughters who used to care for their parents are entering the corporate workforce too, and only one-third of the corporate workforce is having access to the system. Japan faces the challenge of a high need for welfare services while keeping low taxation rates. The relegation of welfare services to non-profit organizations (NPO) and cooperatives is one strategy taken [7].

The capitalist economy is increasingly using women in its drive for profits but chooses to ignore the burden of reproductive work which they carry. [7] 


In fact, the super-aging Japanese society has an aging rate of more than 25% (i.e., every fourth person is 65 years or older, with most extreme situations in rural farming communities [13]). Japan lacks enough doctors [8] while the hidden asset of family welfare is not available anymore as women are absorbed by their work life and corporate careers [9].

“It is deeply worrying that youth are unable to find regular jobs for decades after graduating from school. They are called the lost generation, and many call themselves freeters (‘free part-timers’), as they look for miscellaneous part-time jobs.” [1]

youth unemployment

Although criticized by neo-liberal voices, the Japanese lifetime employment has led to comparatively low unemployment rates: while for heads of households it was 3%, for the rest of the family it was more than 8%, and unemployed people are increasingly becoming more extended term cases. Long-term employment offers are decreasing while non-standard jobs are on the rise [11]. More than half of all female workers of any age were already in 2009 non-regular workers, usually cheap part-timers, which is a peculiar characteristic of the Japanese labor market [1].

Women call for more “independence” and “self-reliance” and therefore decry the discriminating Million Yen Wall that is incentivizing women staying at home. [12]

Care cooperatives such as the Fukushi Club are often the only possibility for women with elderly parents to find some work [7]. Another reason for women being forced to work part-time is the fact that few jobs are paying more than $20,000 to woman over 35. And, a tax wall set at $10,000 means that it financially doesn’t pay off to earn $20,000 because all earnings above $10,000 are going to taxes of some form. There seems to be nothing on the Equal Employment Opportunity legal horizon that is likely to change the wide salary differentials between men and women of the same age and education level [12].

“Japanese company-ism has been destroying gradually the relations among persons in the family and the community by obliging adult males to spend most of their waking hours at work.” [3]


Company-ism on the one hand side and contract work on the other have led to decreased job satisfaction [11]. Employee participation program intended to address that problem were far from enabling more democratic working environments and are already outdated again [3]. Worker cooperatives can be an excellent answer to the call for a system that makes it easier to establish businesses responsive to the needs of citizens.

Acting on symbols like ‘help’ without their being explicitly differentiated from the work itself is a condition of smooth cooperative operation. [14]

Leadership issues have harmed cooperatives and their reputation overall. For example, there were legitimate accusations of management incompetence [3]. It is vital to manage cooperatives well and to foster full democracy in the organization [5]. If the democratic decision and economic participation right is seen as a common good that cannot be taken away, for example, even not in case of fluctuating performance, there the behavioral problem of free-riding arises. Therefore, proper management of cooperatives includes leadership using symbols such as ‘help’ instead of monitoring methods that are often rejected by the employees, and which is building the moral community with perpetuating pro-social values enabling cooperation [14].



[1] 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

[2] Knowledge-based view of corporate strategy. (2007). Strategic Direction, (5), doi:10.1108/sd.2007.05623ead.003

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

[4] Jentzsch, H. (2017). Abandoned land, corporate farming, and farmland banks: a local perspective on the process of deregulating and redistributing farmland in Japan. Contemporary Japan – Journal Of The German Institute For Japanese Studies, Tokyo, 29(1), 31-46. doi:10.1080/18692729.2017.1256977

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

[6] Dana, L. P. (1998). Small but Not Independent: SMEs in Japan. Journal Of Small Business Management, 36(4), 73-76.

[7] 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.

[8] Iguchi, S., Niwayama, M., & Takahashi, H. E. (2015). A conference report of the interprofessional satellite symposium in Uonuma, Japan: an international exchange on the future of community care. Journal Of Interprofessional Care, 29(3), 284-287. doi:10.3109/13561820.2014.966541

[9] Kurimoto, A. )., & Kumakura, Y. ). (2016). Emergence and evolution of co-operatives for elderly care in Japan. International Review Of Sociology, 26(1), 48-68. doi:10.1080/03906701.2016.1148341

[10] Market Monetarist. (2017). The scary difference between the GDP deflator and CPI – the case of Japan. Retrieved from https://marketmonetarist.com/2012/11/06/the-scary-difference-between-the-gdp-deflator-and-cpi-the-case-of-japan/

[11] Nogawa, S. (2012). The Great East Japan Earthquake and a Future Vision for Labor Law in Japan. Japan Labor Review, 9(4), 105-123.

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

[13] Kimura, A. H., & Nishiyama, M. (2008). The Chisan-Chisho Movement: Japanese Local Food Movement and Its Challenges. Agriculture And Human Values, 25(1), 49-64. doi:http://dx.doi.org.liverpool.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10460-007-9077-x

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

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.

Integrating Eastern Philosophies, Transpersonal Theories, and Phenomenological Approaches into Developmental Lifespan Psychology



  • Universalities and Cultural Differences.
  • Closing Holes in West-centric Researches.
  • Eastern Philosophies and Transpersonal Psychology.
  • Expanding Consciousness and Phenomenological Ways of Knowing.

Continue reading Integrating Eastern Philosophies, Transpersonal Theories, and Phenomenological Approaches into Developmental Lifespan Psychology

Psychological Interactions between Personality and Culture


Individual differences that determine one’s attitudes and behavior may not all be the same across cultures. Although culture is shaping an individual, e.g., through social learning, individual emotional processes remain, which lead people to adapt to and influence their respective cultures differently. For specific and holistic psychological approaches to personality, Western and Eastern (Buddhist) contrasting concepts of the self could be further integrated: Why not argue that “the self needs to be strengthened before it can be abandoned (Mosig, 2016)?”

Culture is determining individual personality dispositions

Some individual differences in people are stemming from inborn characteristics. But social learning is determining personality dispositions too, and like behavior, attitudes (e.g., towards a societal issue or political position) are not traits of a particular breed of people but rather a personal disposition developed through cultural context (Wasserman, Aghababaei, & Nannini, 2016). Therefore, personality factors cannot be fully generalized/standardized across cultures and culture specific inventories may provide for an additional predictive explanation for individual cross-cultural behavior (Wasserman et al., 2016). Tamir et al. (2016) found that for people with different cultural or societal backgrounds, the desired feelings they wished to experience did differ too. Beyond a simplifying pleasure-only-principle, negative feelings may be chosen nonetheless if believed to serve the achievement of goals (Tamir et al., 2016).

Individual personality dispositions are determining cultural coping strategies

On the other side, within a cultural environment, there may be different motivations for the same behavior (Barrett et al., 2004), although this individual difference often might remain covert. Lechuga and Fernandez (2011) studied factors influencing acculturation strategies and concluded that besides external factors in the target culture, individual emotional processes do impact the chosen acculturation strategy. According to Tamir et al. (2016), emotions may represent universal human aspects that exist across cultures, although they may be differently pronounced in different cultures. The tendency to comply with cultural values may seem typical rather for a collectivist than individualist context, but interestingly, “individualists, just as much as collectivist, adhere to what they perceive to be consensual or common sense in their culture” (Zou et al., 2009, p. 591).

Bridging Western and Eastern (Buddhist) concepts of the self

Without concluding on whether personal or societal factors are more important, what may be more specifically a situational question, it seems to be clear that culture and individuals are defined by the continuous and bi-directional communication and regulation of values and emotions between individual personality traits and societal customs and conventions at the same time. However, how far a person’s self is seen to be existent and relevant constitutes a significant difference between Eastern and Western concepts of the self. Western psychological therapies may emphasize the increase of one’s confidence, while Buddhism promotes the detachment from the ego as the way for relieving selfish cravings that are considered to be the cause of all suffering (Mosig, 2006). Mosig (2006) concludes with pointing to the necessity and possibility of integrated approaches to psychotherapy in the sense that the (Western) establishment of a strong self may be the basis for its self-transcendence and capability to relate to others, a course for which the interaction with culture would be a crucial part.

Photo credit: samara34 (pixabay.com) 


Barrett, D. W., Wosinska, W., Butner, J., Petrova, P., Gornik-Durose, M., & Cialdini, R. B. (2004). Individual differences in the motivation to comply across cultures: the impact of social obligation. Personality & Individual Differences, 37(1), 19-31. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2003.08.024

Lechuga, J., & Fernandez, N. (2011). Assimilation and individual differences in emotion: The dynamics of anger and approach motivation. International Journal Of Intercultural Relations, 35(2), 196-204.

Mosig, Y. D. (2006). Conceptions of the self in Western and Eastern psychology. Journal Of Theoretical And Philosophical Psychology, 26(1-2), 39-50. doi:10.1037/h0091266

Tamir, M., Schwartz, S. H., Cieciuch, J., Riediger, M., Torres, C., Scollon, C., & … Vishkin, A. (2016). Desired emotions across cultures: A value-based account. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 111(1), 67-82. doi:10.1037/pspp0000072

Wasserman, J. A., Aghababaei, N., & Nannini, D. (2016). Culture, Personality, and Attitudes Toward Euthanasia. Omega: Journal Of Death & Dying, 72(3), 247-270. doi:10.1177/0030222815575280

Zou, X., Tam, K., Morris, M. W., Lee, S., Lau, I. Y., & Chiu, C. (2009). Culture as common sense: Perceived consensus versus personal beliefs as mechanisms of cultural influence. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 97(4), 579-597. doi:10.1037/a0016399

Current ‘Happy Colorful Growth’ painting

1. Thought on art/painting

Art can express the inexplicable. That’s  a remarkable potential we have because we still can’t explain the most important things, such as why there are ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ and what to do about it. Limitations in expression are limiting the thinking (yes, also this way round). We feel that there is something, somewhere in us, that holds more answers than we can explain with words. Art/painting is a key to the next human breakthrough in consciousness.

2. Most recent paintings


#76 Lake bed (Life water painting series,

Mathias Sager, oil on wood panel, F10 530 x 455)

Continue reading Current ‘Happy Colorful Growth’ painting

Research Ethics: Cultural Context and Influences

Thanks to ninocare (pixabay.com)

International research made progress over the past years to reduce the so-called 10:90 gap in health research by shifting some of the majority of resources put into a small selection of problems (Benatar & Singer, 2010) into other research areas. Nevertheless, one of Benatar and Singer’s (2010) conclusions remains to increase the capability of conducting research on culturally diverse populations. Jerzi (2016) is seeing the psychological body of knowledge being based mainly on an American and European point of view and suggests improving research validity by including more varied cultural settings.

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Face Situations in Contemporary Japan (A Qualitative Research)



Self-esteem seems to play a significant role in one’s quality of life. A key factor positively influencing self-esteem is the possibility to freely choose one’s relationships. Japanese tend to report comparatively low self-esteem levels, what may be due to modesty considerations though too. The prevalent East Asian concept of ‘face’ reflects one’s evaluation of how the self is seen by others, while the concept of self-esteem represents the own notion of the self. This article did qualitatively investigate what current and emerging situations in Japan are that require (new) responses from Japanese to maintain their face and to positively cultivate self-esteem. The interviews conducted revealed that losing face seems to involve a shame creating publication of a person’s inadequacy to meet social expectations that are formally or informally agreed respectively ingrained in the culture. Participants expressed some difficulties even for Japanese to interpret what in a particular relationship would be considered common sense and what adequate communication styles are. Social status and seniority are increasing one’s face value. Such value can be lent to others in the form of shared reputation and trust. The concept of face, rather than about self-esteem, seems to be about the maintenance or increase of social relational value. In conclusion, the learning and application of well adaptive communication and coping styles are required to successfully manage mixed low and high contexts in changing private and workplace situations in Japan.

Continue reading Face Situations in Contemporary Japan (A Qualitative Research)

Power harassment and implications (not only) from and for the Japanese “corporate warriors”


This article discusses the definition of harassment as a form of bullying, then goes into further detail regarding power harassment, and adds specific experiences from Japan before the article concludes with possible interventions to be taken by organizational leadership. Workplace harassment seems to be especially important also in Japan as most extremely put, the Japanese “corporate warriors […] have considered their corporate affiliation as their real family” (Adams, 2012).

Continue reading Power harassment and implications (not only) from and for the Japanese “corporate warriors”

Letter home: From a world citizen who doesn’t feel any worse

#008 Culture Lake II (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 41.1×31.8×0.4 cm (16.2″x12.5″x0.16″))

Thank you very much for your rich and engaging letter. I would also like to stress that I love you, unconditionally.

Please take care and follow your heart, no matter what others are saying. Even if criticism between people can lead to counter criticism, I believe that “the world” in the actual/wider sense is waiting for each of us equally. I want no one to think she/he is less valuable than anyone else because there is absolutely no reason for that.

Continue reading Letter home: From a world citizen who doesn’t feel any worse

Cultural effect on persuasion


Does the culture we are living in shape the way we get persuaded? I think the mindset may be determining proneness to messages. Indeed, for example Paek, Lee, and Hove (n.d.) found the possibility that East Asians are more receptive to norm messages for reasons of their habit to seek social conformity.

Continue reading Cultural effect on persuasion

Solving the “everybody’s problem becomes nobody’s responsibility” issue


Predominance of responsibility at the individual level rather than at the societal-level

Floridi (2016) is pointedly describing the issue around the distribution respectively diffusion of responsibility as “everybody’s problem becomes nobody’s responsibility” (p. 11). He suggests a framework that is recommitting responsibility for any action of a collective back to the individual by rejecting the concept of faultless responsibility, i.e., even when an individual would lack intention or information regarding the immorality of his action (Floridi, 2016). Ralston et al. (2014) found that the individual level determines ethical behavior rather than the societal level. This may be surprising when considering, for many psychological explanations often defining, the influence of culture and society. One possible explanation could be that there is an increasing variety of values within a single culture (Ralston et al., 2014). One type of collectivist setting, however, was found to be influencing ethical behavior, namely institutional collectivism (Ralston et al., 2014).

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Evaluation of social psychology as a science


Characteristics of social behavior

Social psychology is studying a wide range of complex social behavior regarding, e.g., aggression, attitudes, attribution, gender roles, group processes, health and helping behavior, intergroup relations, leadership and motivation, personality, relationships, and social influences (Richard, Bond, and Stokes-Zoota, 2003), just to name a few. It is key that “Humans are a cultural species,” as Heine and Norenzayan (2006) aptly put it.

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Language nomad

#012 Playful Kanji (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 46x53x0.4 cm (18.1″20.8″x0.16″))

In Deutscher Muttersprache
Ond uf Schwiizerdütsch
Interrotto le lezioni di italiano
Etudié la langue française
Worked in Business English

Und jetzt?
Ond jetz?
E adesso?
Et maintenant?
And now?

Living as a language nomad …

All the Best from the Future

#043 Colours of 2050 (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, F6 41.1×31.8×0.4 cm (16.2″x12.5″x0.16″)

New Year Greetings
East to West

It has just turned midnight
Time travelled from daylight
In the land of the rising sun
That’s where I have gone
On the pursuit of meaning
Challenging, but interesting
No fear, positive posture
All the best from the future


Leaders are Learners


Topic presented and discussed at the J-Global HR Forum (Tue. 12/20):

Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other. CEO’s rate learning as a top priority in their companies. However, the same executives are worried and have doubts about whether their learning leaders can help them close existing skill gaps for the future. What’s wrong then?

More than ever, today’s leaders need to approach learning & development (L&D) in order to spark inspiration and engage employees for better results. The L&D cycle as a strategic process enables new strategies, high performance and employee motivation for increased (international) competitive advantage.

For employees it is important to be realistic about the match of personal and corporate goals and their own responsibility for multifaceted learning. Are the evolving learning environments and people engagement strategies meeting your professional (and personal) needs?

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Japan is eating itself. – An analyzis and recommendation for vitalization


Extremely homogeneous society, almost full employment, low criminality, high suicide rate due to depression, fastest aging society and declining population, unique way of doing business, and economic growth of 0%. How to vitalize Japan?

Continue reading Japan is eating itself. – An analyzis and recommendation for vitalization

Japan – Switzerland painting series

#081 United Colors of Humanity (Mathias Sager, oil on wood panel, F8, 455×380)

mathias-sager-culture-shock-201704#75 Culture shock (Mathias Sager, oil on wood panel, M10 530 x 333)

mathias-sager-broken-culture-painting-201703#73 Broken Cultures (Mathias Sager, oil on wood panel, F10, 530 x 450)

mathias-sager-lost-city-painting-20161224#71 Lost city (Mathias Sager, oil on wood panel, P10 530 x 410)

mathias-sager-red-ladder-facade-painting-20161130#70 Red ladder facade (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil color on wood panel, M12 606 X 410)

mathias-sager-samurai-make-up-painting-20161112#65 Samurai Make-up (Mathias Sager, oil colours water mixable on wood panel (F10 530 x 455)

mathias-sager-facade-painting-20161105#64 Facade (Mathias Sager, Oil colours water mixable, 3 wood panels each 33.3 x 19.0 x 1.2 cm)

#54 Osaka (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 8F 46.7×38.1×0.4 cm (18.4″x15″x0.16″)
#51 Yoyogi Park II (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 53x46x0.4 cm (20.8″x18.1″x0.16″)
#048 Land of the Rising Sun (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 53x46x0.4 cm (20.8″x18.1″x0.16″))
#039 Alp village (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 46.7×38.1×0.4 cm (18.4″x15″x0.16″)
#035 No radiation (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 27.5×22.1×0.4 cm (10.6″x8.7″x0.16″))
#034 No littering (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 27.5×22.1×0.4 cm (10.6″x8.7″x0.16″))
#031 Yoyogi park (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 53x46x0.4 cm (20.8″x18.1″x0.16″))
#028 Never again Fukushima (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 46.7×38.1×0.4 cm (18.4″x15″x0.16″))
#026 Tomigaya / Uehara hills (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board (53x46x0.4 cm (20.8″x18.1″x0.16″))
#025 Kanji II (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 53x46x0.4 cm (20.8″x18.1″x0.16″))
#024 Shinjuki construction site (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 46.7×38.1×0.4 cm (18.4″x15″x0.16″)). Given away.
#022 Old bridge in Kyoto (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 33.5×24.3×0.4 cm (13.2″x9.6″x0.16″))
#019 Kanji I (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 53x46x0.4 cm (20.8″x18.1″x0.16″))
#018 Wakkanai fish market (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil painting on canvas board, 46.7×38.1×0.4 cm (18.4″x15″x0.16″))
#017 Shiatsu (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 27.5×22.1×0.4 cm (10.6″x8.7″x0.16″)). Given away.
#014 Happy Japanese dinner (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 46x53x0.4 cm (18.1″x20.8″x0.16″))
#012 Playful Kanji (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 46x53x0.4 cm (18.1″20.8″x0.16″))
#004 Homey Japanese village (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 41.1×31.8×0.4 cm (16.2″x12.5″x0.16″))
#002 Sapporo-Pontresina (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 46.7×38.1×0.4 cm (18.4″x15″x0.16″))

Yoga in Yoyogi park

Yoyogi park II (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 53x46x0.4 cm (20.8″x18.1″x0.16″))

Beetles visiting nearby balcony
There I’m breathing, seeking harmony

Sing cicades’ and black crows’ voices
Drowned out by the crowds percussions

Dog runs, barbeque, photography
Calm and loud with friends and family

Nature culture, symbiosis to immerse in
Listen paint it, Yoga in the morning

Tokyo Yoyogi park in the morning