Japan's Dual Civil Society: Members Without Advocates


This book provides an overview of the state of Japan's civil society and a new theory, based on political institutions, to explain why Japan differs so much from other industrialized democracies. It offers a new interpretation of why Japan's civil society has developed as it has, with many small, local groups but few large, professionally managed national organizations. The book further asks what the consequences of that pattern of development are for Japan's policy and politics. The author persuasively ...

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This book provides an overview of the state of Japan's civil society and a new theory, based on political institutions, to explain why Japan differs so much from other industrialized democracies. It offers a new interpretation of why Japan's civil society has developed as it has, with many small, local groups but few large, professionally managed national organizations. The book further asks what the consequences of that pattern of development are for Japan's policy and politics. The author persuasively demonstrates that political institutions—the regulatory framework, financial flows, and the political opportunity structure—are responsible for this pattern, with the result that civil groups have little chance of influencing national policy debates. The phenomenon of “members without advocates” thus has enormous implications for democratic participation in Japan.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Pekkanen begins to complement the type of structural analyses favored by political scientists and sociologists with findings on micro-level social relations coming from cultural anthropologists and social psychologists."—W. Lawrence Neuman, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Social Science Japan Journal

"Pekkanen's work is a must-read for all interested in questions of civil society, democracy, and social capital in Japan. It will also be enlightening for those who are not specialists on Japan but are eager to understand how political opportunity structures and institutions can shape the possibilities open to civil society groups. This is a well-researched and thoughtfully argued study with a wealth of data, historical examples, and comparative analysis."—Journal of Japanese Studies

"[Japan's Dual Civil Society is immensely readable and covers much ground. It also alleviates the void that exists in the study of civil associations in Japan. Pekkanen's book is highly recommended to the scholars and students of Japanese studies."—Japanese Studies

"The book is a significant contribution to the literature on civil society and productively directs attention to the role of the state."—Pacific Affairs

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Robert Pekkanen is Assistant Professor at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

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Read an Excerpt

Japan's Dual Civil Society


By Robert Pekkanen

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2006 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8047-5429-3



The largest antismoking organization in Japan, TOPIC, employs one person. Bungaku Watanabe, the lone employee, tells a story that illustrates the surprising influence government regulations can have on the development of civil society organizations. The organization regularly mails its newsletter to the membership. Mr. Watanabe confessed to me that he has, on occasion, found it cheaper to pack a suitcase full of mailings, fly to Korea, and mail them from Korea to Japan. This is because the international postage rate from Korea to Japan is less than the Japanese domestic rate, even with the additional expense of a plane ticket. I could not help but contrast the image of Mr. Watanabe laboring alone in his office with that of the plush office space of the American Cancer Society in midtown Manhattan, one of its 3,400 local units. The American Cancer Society, like other tax-exempt American groups, can send a piece of mail to your door for about a penny—barely over the cost of e-mail spam (U.S. Postal Service Publication 417). The influence of the state—including unexpected influences such as the postage-rate example—on the development of civil society organizations is the theme of this book.

Observers of Japan are so used to seeing only small civil society groups in the country that they have lost sight of the fact that the absence of large groups presents an analytical puzzle; familiarity with the empirical facts has lulled us into accepting this situation as natural. In fact, Japan's civil society is characterized by many small local groups, but few large professionalized groups—a pattern I term Japan's "dual civil society." However, from an international perspective, it is surprising that Japan's civil society organizations are so small. The two most reliable predictors of a nation's civil society, income and education, also predict which individuals volunteer. Japan is near the top of the world's league tables in both categories. Anecdotally, Japan is seen as rich in social capital. And Japan has a history of citizen activism, for example, the massive environmental movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the intense protests against the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty renewal in 1960. Therefore, it is not enough to take the lack of large civil society groups in Japan for granted; rather, the situation of Japan's civil society needs to be explained.

No explanation of Japan's civil society that ignores the role of the state can be considered complete. I define civil society as the organized nonstate, nonmarket sector, as elaborated in the next section. Political institutions, including the regulatory framework constructed by the state, directly and indirectly structure the development of civil society. Using the political institutional argument, I also explain why Japan's civil society can encompass both a history of widespread activism and few large organizations.

At a conceptual level, no one would doubt that a concerted effort by the state to smash a civil society group—think of Solidarity in Poland in the 1980s or Falun Gong in China two decades later—could have serious repercussions on how the group develops, whether or not the state's efforts are ultimately successful. Sensational as they are, overt attempts at suppression are not the only way in which states can influence the development of civil society organizations. However, the importance of other elements of a regulatory framework is less obvious.

What is the role of the state in the development of civil society? As Bob Edwards and Michael Foley provocatively remark in the introduction to a collection of the most influential recent essays on civil society and social capital, "The civil society argument focuses on the ways in which society organizes itself independently of the state or over against the state. But states arguably shape their societies as profoundly as the reverse. They provide the constitutional, legal, political, and even moral framework within which social organizations arise and operate" (Edwards and Foley 2001, p. 13, their emphasis).

In fact, through its direct and indirect structuring of incentives, the state promotes a particular pattern of civil society organization and structures the "rules of the game," which in part determine who plays and who flourishes. At the center of this book is a causal argument: state structuring of incentives accounts for the pattern of civil society development. As the sole non-Western industrialized democracy, Japan is clearly an important case for students of civil society, and I draw much of the evidence for my argument from the Japanese case. In the context of Japan, the argument is that the pattern of dual civil society organization that we see in Japan today—a plethora of small, local groups (such as nearly 300,000 neighborhood associations) and a dearth of large, professionalized, independent organizations (such as Greenpeace)—is explained by Japan's political institutions.

A strict legal framework, limited funding pattern, indirect regulations (such as postal regulations), and the profile of opportunities that a state's political structure creates for influencing policy—all these factors profoundly affect the development of civil society in Japan. The regulatory framework—rules concerning what kind of groups are allowed to form and state funding for groups—has clear implications, but less obvious are the implications of such incentives as bulk-mailing discounts for nonprofit organizations, which promote mass memberships, or differential access to the policy-making process by interest groups.

Overtly and subtly, these measures have had an effect: this is the central argument of this book. My core argument, which I term the "political institutional" argument, is that the Japanese state's influence has shaped the dual civil society pattern of development. However, I also propound three other important, related arguments about the state and civil society in Japan. My second argument is that the postwar history of Japan's civil society is likewise illuminated by a focus on the power of the regulatory framework. This is the "ice age" argument that explains the retreat of citizen activism from the heady days of the late 1960s and early 1970s.2 My third, or "regulatory contestation," argument contends that the regulatory framework itself is the product of political contestation and can change. My fourth argument is that Japan's dual civil society supports democracy through social capital generation and community building, but largely lacks sizable professional groups that influence the public sphere or policymaking. Thus, Japan's civil society can be characterized as "members without advocates," my fourth and final argument.

The remainder of this chapter is structured as follows: The next section sketches out my definition of "civil society." The same section situates this study in the context of other analyses of interest groups and civil society that have also found a powerful role of the state in shaping the dimensions of organizational life. Following this review, I move on to a fuller preview of the four main arguments of this book just delineated. After this preview, I first consider a pair of rival explanations before returning to the political institutional argument in somewhat more detail by breaking it into the parts that compose it: regulatory framework, political opportunity structure, and other indirect influences. The final section of the chapter provides a road map for the remaining chapters in the book, tying them to the development of the four main arguments.

Reconceptualizing Civil Society

Discussions of civil society are too often plagued by vagueness. To make clear my causal claims about the patterning of civil society development in Japan, we must define "civil society." As above, this book defines civil society as the organized, nonstate, nonmarket sector. This definition encompasses voluntary groups of all kinds, such as nonprofit foundations, charities, think tanks, and choral societies. It includes nonprofit organizations (NPOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other voluntary or tertiary associations. It is larger in scope than civic groups alone, which more narrowly incorporate participatory organizations. It is also larger than the nonprofit sector, which excludes unincorporated voluntary groups and which is also sometimes limited to groups performing public purposes (Hall 1987). On the other hand, civil society does not include labor unions, trade associations, professional associations, companies, or other market sector groups. It also excludes government bureaucracy, parastatal organizations, and political parties—as well as the family.

This definition has some virtues, not the least of which is that it is concise. In addition, because it specifies "organized," it points to countable groups. It also contains the key common elements of most definitions and authors. It excludes market organizations, which feature prominently in some contemporary analyses and in the writings of G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Adam Smith. Neither does it attempt to delineate a public sphere. Rather, the presumption is that such a sphere requires and is sustained by these kinds of organized groups. This definition also brings into focus the totality of Japan's civil society, including the understudied local groups. Its chief demerit is that it is essentially a negative definition for what is a positive, vibrant sector.

Under this definition, it is precisely within this sector that patterns emerge. Civil society is not a dichotomous variable. Rather, attention should be paid to both the number of and participation in organizations and to the type of organizations that exist. Civil society can vary in level and composition from time to time and from place to place. Besides the content of the organization or its aims, civil society organizations in one state might be predominantly affiliated with religious organizations, for example, while in another they might be strictly secular. Some current analysts point to falling participation in civic organizations to argue that American civil society is declining, while others cite the increasing number of foundations, NGOs, and NPOs to make the opposite argument (Putnam 2000; Salamon et al. 1999). Rather than viewing this as a paradox, we should analyze this trend (if it is a trend—the dispute still burns hot) as a change in the pattern of civil society. And, of course, under this definition, the Japanese pattern of few large professionalized nonprofit organizations and many smaller, grassroots organizations snaps into focus.

In fact, the political institutional explanation advanced in this book helps us understand the three perhaps most important characteristics of Japan's civil society: its small professional and advocacy sector, its significant local and grassroots component, and its recent increase in size.

Theoretical Background

The state shapes civil society everywhere, not just in Japan. Examining France, Jonah Levy writes, "the organizational dimensions (of civil society) are politically mediated and changeable" (Levy 1999, p. 8), while Cecilia Chessa, looking at Germany, argues, "the state utilizes active and interventionist policies in order to manipulate the entire spectrum of interest representation" (Chessa 2000, p. 12). Sometimes, as in the Middle East and socialist Eastern Europe, the state can suppress civil society to a great degree or limit it to the option of social movements (Carapico 1998; Howard 1999). In countries where the state is too weak, as in several African cases, the legal infrastructure and other guarantees for civil society are also too fragile for civil society to blossom. However, even when the state does not fall into one of these two extreme categories, we should pay careful attention to how the state shapes civil society, for it does not simply force or raise civil society to a certain level. Rather, the institutions of the state shape the pattern in which civil society itself develops. In nations with a more developed civil society, however, the importance of the state is no less.

In so many ways, institutions and how they structure incentives are widely recognized as critical to group formation and operation. This logic applies equally to civil society. In political science, it is not problematic to claim that state actions and institutions, such as legal frameworks, powerfully shape the kinds of interest groups, corporatist arrangements, or labor unions that form in a nation. Many attempts to form labor unions in the United States failed until the federal government recognized their right to organize and provided a framework for peaceful organization drives (Forbath [1989] 1991; Walker 1991). It is also a widely held concept that the regulatory environment provided by the state affects the economic development of a nation by providing incentives for the formation and operation of companies and corporations.

Institutions structure which groups form and how successful they are. As Suzanne Berger writes in the introduction to an important collection of essays, "Among the specificities of national experience that have shaped interest group formation, one stands out in the essays as particularly important: the timing and characteristics of state intervention" (Berger 1981, p. 14). Many of the interest groups referred to were economic interests, so her argument parallels the concerns of this book and also shares a common logic. Claus Offe adds in the same volume that the concrete shape and content of organized interest representation is always a result of interest plus opportunity plus institutional status (Offe 1981). Groups organize in response to state policies, either defensively to protect themselves or proactively to gain access to new advantages that require lobbying the state. State intervention affects the interests around which groups organize, as well as the strategies that the groups subsequently adopt, and thus helps to bring about a distinctive pattern of interest groups in each West European nation.

In the American context, observers have pointed out that institutional structures created incentives for ambitious civil servants to organize associations for senior citizens three decades before groups designed to enlist the elderly themselves arrived; that the National Rifle Association was launched in close consultation with the Department of the Army in the nineteenth century (to familiarize citizens, as potential soldiers, with arms); that the American Legion was begun during World War I with government support; that the American Farm Bureau Federation started as a collection of advisory committees to county agents organized by the Department of Agriculture; and that modern feminist organizations in their early years received millions of dollars of support from the Kennedy administration before creating a mass membership base (Walker 1991).

Indeed, nothing is more central to the development of civil society than the framework of order provided by the state. Our attention should be focused on how the state, directly and indirectly, structures the organization of civil society. Some object to the claim that the state structures the organization of civil society. Perhaps based on the experiences of Eastern European countries in the 1980s and 1990s, many observers see the state and civil society as necessarily in opposition or at least hold that the state can play no useful role in promoting the spread of civil society (Miller 1992; Rau 1991; Tismaneanu 1990). This view finds an echo in the position of American conservatives. The state has a kind of reverse Midas touch; wherever it touches, civil society withers (Beito 2000; Salamon and Anheier 1996; Schambra 1997). Yet the relationship between civil society and the state is not one of pure opposition. This seems clearly true when we consider how many elements of social order, from property rights to infrastructure, that the state provides and that civil society needs to flourish. Michael Walzer goes so far as to identify the catch-22 of a democratic civil society requiring a strong civil society and a strong civil society requiring a strong and responsive state as "the paradox of the civil society argument" (Walzer 1992, p. 102). As it turns out, evidence from this study sheds some light on this paradox by carefully breaking down the constituent elements of a "strong civil society."

Studies of the nonprofit sector and civil society portray three conceptions of the relationship between the state and civil society. First is civil society versus the state, or civil society in place of the state, as mentioned above. Second is civil society portrayed as the independent sector or "partner in public service" with the state, in which civil society is another actor with public aims often cooperating with the state in service provision (Salamon 1995; Smith and Lipsky 1993). Third is civil society viewed as a source of social capital and civic engagement (Putnam 1993). Chapter 4 of this book examines neighborhood associations—voluntary groups whose membership is drawn from a small, geographically delimited and exclusive area (a neighborhood) and whose activities are multiple and centered on that same area—as a source of social capital and civic engagement, but also frequently "partnering" with the state in some activities. However, the perspective of this book is distinct from these three conceptions and closer to that suggested in studies by Alagappa (2004a, 2004b, 2004c), Berger (1981), Carapico (1998), Forbath ([1989] 1991), Levy (1999), Pharr (2003), and Walker (1991).

Excerpted from Japan's Dual Civil Society by Robert Pekkanen. Copyright © 2006 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Figures....................     xi     

List of Tables....................     xiii     

Acknowledgments....................     xv     

1. Introduction....................     1     

2. Japan's Civil Society in Comparative Perspective....................     27     

3. The Regulatory Framework....................     47     

4. Neighborhood Associations and Local Civil Society....................     85     

5. The Politics of Regulating Civil Society....................     130     

6. Conclusion: Members Without Advocates....................     159     

Appendix....................     191     

Notes....................     205     

Bibliography....................     221     

Index....................     239     

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