Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In Japan, Western-Style Charity Is, Well, Foreign

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In Japan, Western-Style Charity Is, Well, Foreign

Article excerpt

THE BLEAT OF Christmas carols from Salvation Army trumpets floats on crisp winter breezes, as pedestrians dart past the glitzy department stores of the Ginza, some dropping as much as $20 or $30 in the shakai nabe - the society pot, as the Army's trademark kettle is known here.

But the donors are few and far between.

For all Japan's immense wealth, for all the Santas and stockings and snow scenes that adorn the windows of department stores and designer shops, one tradition of the Western Christmas season has failed to take hold in Japan - the Japanese are not big givers, at this or any other season.

Contributions to the kettle will be less than $500,000 this year from a nation of 126 million people, according to Salvation Army estimates. That's about half what Globe Santa is expected to raise in New England alone.

Giving to the Community Chest, an affiliate here of United Way International that was introduced to Japan during the American Occupation that followed World War II, runs about one-eighth the rate in the United States.

"Japanese people are very helpful to people they know," says Yoko Takahashi, secretary general of the Japan Philanthropic Assn. "The idea of philanthropy or charity has not become part of the culture yet."

There is, in fact, no exact equivalent in Japanese of the English word charity. The closest word - jizen - carries a strong implication of a gesture the wealthy upper class is obligated to make toward poor people. It is not something middle-class people do.

There are several charities in Tokyo which raise substantial funds and have no precise equivalent in the West. By November, nearly 19 million Japanese had enrolled in an International Volunteer Savings program at the post office. Twenty percent of the interest on deposits is donated to social programs in developing countries; that amounted to $30 million in 1994.

Japanese this year have also bought more than 500 million New Year's post cards that are sold for the benefit of disaster victims, medical research and other causes. And the Japanese Red Cross estimates that about half the households in the country have at least one member in that organization. …

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