The universality of philanthropy


Masayuki Deguchi


Japan has the fastest modernized country in Asia, and the concept of ‘philanthropy’ was born in the 1970s. This term has gained overwhelming support from some limited experts, and the Japan Foundation Center was established in 1985. It is four years earlier than the establishment of the European Foundation Centre (EFC) and 25 years earlier than the Chinese Foundation Center. However, the term of philanthropy has not generally prevailed in Japan, and activities by Japanese foundation have stagnated for a long time.

Japanese experts including myself believe that philanthropy is universal value, but it is difficult for all the Japanese to think so. Although philanthropy in Japan was not so different as that in Europe thirty years ago, current philanthropy in Japan has not developed. Because of the collapse of the so-called ‘bubble economy’, long-term low interest rates, and regulations on investment of the foundation’s assets, foundations in Japan has been deceived as ‘only a tomb guard’ to protect property.

With Havens and Schervish saying we’re in , ‘a golden age of philanthropy’, 191 billionaires in 22 countries declared thr ‘Giving Pledge’ under the influence by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. But, surprisingly, there is no Japanese in this giving circle. In order to overcome such crisis, Osaka issued the ‘City Declaration of philanthropy’ in 2018, because Osaka has a richer history of philanthropy than that of Tokyo, and encourages the Osaka people to be aware of importance of philanthropy. It might, however, take a lot of time, because many Japanese do not know the terminology.

Behind these feelings is the idea that philanthropy is ‘something American’, or that it does not fit non-American culture. So to speak, it is believed that the large number of Japanese who questioned the universality of philanthropy has hindered the development of philanthropy in Japan.

On the other hand, Japan has embraced Western enlightenment as a universal value. The values of’Liberté, égalité, fraternité!’ ​​are good examples. The concepts that were born in France revolution have been accepted even by many non-European countries with the universality of democracy. The EFC conference entitled ‘Liberté, égalité, philanthropie’ in France, in which the term of Mécénat is used more often, proclaimed that ‘philanthropy’ had universality for 21st century democracy.

Not only in Japan but also in many countries where philanthropy is misunderstood as being specific to the United States, I think that this conference was truly significant that ‘philanthropy’ is universal. For example, I met many non-European people including delegates American philanthropy, African philanthropy and Asian philanthropy. Most attendees from France said that there were very little differences between fraternity and philanthropy. But the implication is much more different for non-European. The thirtieth anniversary of the EFC declared the universality of philanthropy.

Masayuki Deguchi is Professor, MINPAKU and Commissioner at the Japan Foundation Center

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