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  • Civil Society in Japan: The Growing Role of NGOs in Tokyo's Aid Development Policy
  • Peng Er Lam (bio)
Civil Society in Japan: The Growing Role of NGOs in Tokyo's Aid Development Policy. By Keiko Hirata. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2002. xiii, 208 pages. $55.00.

Hirata has written a gem of a book. It is a pioneering and important work that highlights the role of Japanese civil society in international relations, a realm hitherto monopolized by the state. Although Hirata focuses on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)1 and their role in Japan's official development assistance (ODA), her book intersects with many issues at the heart of Japanese politics: the shifting relationship between state and society; the demise of the developmental state model; the impact of globalization on the Japanese state, corporations, and society; pluralism in decision making; and NGOs as agents of democratization in Japan. Hirata also made extensive field trips to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, and her findings there add substance, insights, and credibility to her analysis.

The role of NGOs in Tokyo's ODA is neither a quaint nor a peripheral issue. Foreign aid is a key instrument of the "soft" power of Japanese foreign policy, especially when Japan is reluctant to exercise military force in international relations. Hirata argues that there has been an "explosion" of NGOs in the last two decades in Japan. Their impact on policymaking, particularly within ODA, has been considerable. This trend reflects changing relations between the state and civil society in Japan. A large part of her book examines how political, economic, and cultural change has led to increased influence of NGOs and a shift in state-civil society relations in Japan.

In chapter one, Hirata gives a useful history of NGOs in Japan and their emergence. She argues that "no single factor or incident can explain the changing state-Japanese civil society relations; they involve processes of complex, incremental social transformation. To understand the growth of civil society, it is necessary to take into account a variety of factors related to economic, cultural and political changes in Japan and around the world" (p. 9). Her explanations include the erosion of the developmental state (which had earlier marginalized civil society) and the diffusion of global norms leading to value change and greater civil activism in Japan.

In the following chapter, Hirata further develops her theme of globalization by examining its impact on the state, NGOs, and the corporate sector. [End Page 547] She makes the interesting observation that the "impact of global norms on MOFA [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs] is significant. Based on the sustainable human development paradigm, MOFA has attempted to reform Japanese ODA programs by increasing grassroots aid and by working with NGOs" (p. 72). She notes that embracing the new aid paradigm is also in MOFA's self-interest: domestically, by working with NGOs, it garners popular appeal for its aid budget in its bureaucratic battles with other ministries; internationally, it enhances Japan's image as a leader in aid and underpins Tokyo's quest for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Hirata then focuses on domestic crises (which have weakened the state and the corporate sector and created space for the rise of NGOs) in chapter three. These crises include the recession after the bubble economy, fiscal deficits, and endemic corruption among politicians, bureaucrats, and business people. She notes: "people's confidence in the established political system has been declining but citizens' grassroots participation has been increasing" (p. 96). Moreover, many have also embraced postmaterial values in affluent Japan where their basic needs have already been met. A political manifestation of such postmaterial tendencies among individuals is participation in NGOs.

Chapter four offers three solid case studies that demonstrate the role of NGOs in Japan's ODA. In the first case, Japanese environmental NGOs blocked an ODA loan for the construction of a large-scale hydroelectric plant for the Sadar Sarovar Dam on India's Narmada River. In the second, pressure from NGOs forced MOFA to abandon efforts to provide pesticides to Cambodia that would have damaged its environment. In the third, NGOs successfully lobbied the Japanese government to sign a...


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