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The year 1843 is the generally accepted date for the start of the Japanese cooperative movement, with the inauguration of Hotokusha, a farmers’ and handicraft workers’ collective. However, it was not until the 1870s that there began a proliferation of cooperative societies, both in number and in type—for example, a salt marketing society in Hiroshima, consumer societies in various cities, a farmers’ association of former samurai, farmers’ marketing societies and the beginnings of credit societies. Silk production and processing societies as well as those for fisheries, industries and students were next to emerge. By 1900, after several abortive efforts, general cooperative legislation had been adopted and growth was in full swing, augmented by a growing network of cooperative unions. By 1912 there were 9,683 cooperative societies functioning mainly in the areas of credit, production and marketing (farm and industrial), with 34 unions and a membership exceeding 1,000,000. Ten years later, in 1922, these numbers had increased to 14,047 cooperatives, 191 unions and 2,734,695 members. Japanese cooperatives emerged in 1923 on the international scene as members of the ICA. By the 1930s, Japanese cooperative structures had grown to where they were perceived as a threat by other economic interests in the country. An anti-cooperative campaign was organized by chambers of commerce and resulted in repressive legislation adopted by the Japanese Parliament. By the end of the decade this effort had been blunted by the cooperatives, and Japanese attention was diverted by a second Sino Japanese War, strongly supported by the Japanese cooperative movement. Such support attracted criticism from the international movement and ultimately, in reaction, led to the Japanese withdrawal from ICA. World War II soon followed, and after the Japanese defeat the cooperative movement attracted the attention of the American occupation forces, which brought in American cooperators to help in the restructuring of the Japanese movement. The result was new legislation and a network of new national federations and related structures, which recast the various sectors of the cooperative movement. Growth and progress have been continuous since then, with consolidation of smaller groups into larger societies. The Japanese cooperatives rejoined the ICA in 1952. By 1972 the ILO reported that Japanese cooperative membership had risen to 21,600,000 (19.9% of the population). Japanese status in the worldwide movement was reflected in the fact that the ICA’s 30th Congress met in Tokyo in 1992. The following year the ICA regional office reported that Japanese cooperative societies then totaled 9,688 with a combined membership of 57,527,085 in the following sectors: agriculture—3,204 societies/with 8,843,705 members; consumer—663/16,252,375; fisheries— 3,894/836,403; housing—48/1,076,832 insurance—55/12,000,000; services—117/1,618,823; worker productive—113/5,947 an others— 1,594/16,893,000. Cooperative membership was 45.9% of the national population.

Jack Shaffer, Historical Dictionary of the Cooperative Movement, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Lanham, Md., & London 1999

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