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Japanese nonprofits tie relief and peace work

Nonprofits don't enjoy the tax benefits their U.S. counterparts do, but they are a growing force.

Japan's nonprofit groups tends to be perpetually stretched, well beyond what the often-struggling charity sector faces in this country. The laws there don't do much to encourage philanthropic donations, although there is a proposal from the government that would be markedly more generous in how  donors' contributions are treated.

While I was in Japan in 2009 (doing interviews related to the legacies of the atomic bombings), I was struck by how, whatever the difficulties, people associated with peace groups had managed to create at least some organizational momentum, often in a very grassroots way. And, contrary to an impression that is often spread in this country, their attitudes were neither insular nor focused on Japan's own victimhood. Whatever truth such stereotypes might have once held, people in the peace movement focused very forcefully on taking lessons from Japan's own aggression in World War II, using Japan's relative wealth to help others, and addressing the needs of all countries for peace.

I had a chance to learn a little about two nonprofit peace groups in particular, both of  whom, as it happens, are now collecting donations to carry out relief efforts in the hardhit Tohoku region. As Japan's government acknowledged, Japan hasn't seen destruction like that brought by the earthquake and tsunami since the end of World War II. And that comparison seems to resonate with those who saw their own cities destroyed in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the blog of one of the peace groups, ANT-Hiroshima, director Tomoko Watanabe noted the government statement in appealing for relief donations.

In the most recent English-language posting about the relief (March 16), Watanabe said ANT-Hiroshima hadn't yet figured out how to get aid workers into the Tohoku region but was working with other Hiroshima nonprofits on next steps. Since Watanabe amazed me with her tale of leading ANT-Hiroshima in helping earthquake victims and establishing a health center in a remote area of Pakistan, I'm quite confident that will get resolved, if it hasn't been already. But it also does reflect a good point made by Crosscut's Judy Lightfoot the other day: that the speediest way to get help to the needy is often through large, established organizations. There's information on how to donate to ANT-Hiroshima via Paypal here.

A larger anti-war group is Peace Boat, which does quite a lot of work on nuclear issues, including taking atomic-bombing survivors on voyages to visit neighboring countries, as well as addressing sustainability and other issues. The assertively independent and idealistic group says, "Peace Boat's first voyage was organized in 1983 by a group of Japanese university students as a creative response to government censorship regarding Japan's past military aggression in the Asia-Pacific. They chartered a ship to visit neighboring countries with the aim of learning first-hand about the war from those who experienced it and initiating people-to-people exchange."

Peace Boat was just two days from holding a Tokyo fundraiser for victims of February's Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquake when Japan's giant quake and tsunami hit (the Christchurch event was postponed). Peace Boat almost immediately began raising Tohoku-relief money within Japan and then set up a way to donate online internationally. On Monday (March 21), Peace Boat said it had had advance teams in the disaster area since March 16 and had started to distribute supplies. That update and information on how to donate are here. The group says its New York-based affiliate has IRS status as a nonprofit that can accept tax-deductible donations.

Peace Boat also has set up a Facebook page on the Tohoku Kanto disaster, as it's called in Japan, which has frequent updates on the relief effort (in a mix of Japanese and English). 

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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