International Environmental Negotiations, the State, and Environmental NGOs in Japan

Miranda A. Schreurs
Harrison Program on the Future Global Agenda
August 1996


A major difference among states in Europe and North America, on the one hand, and Japan (and many other Asian states), on the other, is the role played by environmental NGOs in the policy formation process. Whereas environmental NGOs and even Green Parties have been central players in environmental policy formation in the West, in Japan large environmental NGOs failed to become institutionalized. Even though citizens groups played a major role in pushing for the introduction of environmental laws in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, environmental NGOs played little role in the environmental policy changes in Japan in the 1990s. Instead, these changes came in response to the elevated levels of attention to environmental issues internationally. Policy change was initiated by Japan's political leadership and shaped by its economic and foreign ministries with some input by the Environment Agency. Japanese environmental policy formation has been dominated by the state.(1)

This paper addresses the question of how state-society relations in Japan are being influenced by the internationalization of environmental politics. An important aspect of this internationalization of environmental policy formation is the new role played by international organizations, multinational corporations, international environmental groups, international expert groups sometimes known as "epistemic communities," multilateral banks, and other governmental and non-governmental organizations. NGOs and INGOs have taken on an increasingly important and visible role in informal and formal aspects of international environmental politics. Some observers even have argued that the rise of these "non-state", "non-sovereign" actors is leading to a transformation in world politics. No longer is international relations simply a matter or inter-state diplomacy. Increasingly, international organizations and non-governmental organizations are influencing the direction of international politics.(2)

At the informal level, NGOs play an important role in environmental education and in focusing attention on particular environmental issues. While their actual impact on agenda setting and implementation remains a matter for empirical study, certainly NGOs have become a more accepted element of international negotiations. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 is symbolic of this transformation. Over 1500 accredited non-governmental organizations were present at this, the largest international conference in world history. During this conference, NGOs held their own much publicized negotiations to parallel and added a citizens' perspective to issues of environmental protection.

Today not only are NGOs an accepted element in international negotiating processes, their participation is now anticipated, even expected. In some cases, NGO representatives are invited to address international negotiations. In other cases, their opinions are solicited by national delegations. Some government delegations include NGO members. The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer states that "Any body or agency, whether national or international, governmental or non-governmental, qualified in fields relating to the protection of the ozone layer, which has informed the secretariat of its wishes to be represented at a meeting of the Parties as an observer may be admitted unless at least one third of the Parties present object."(3) Similar language exists in the Convention on Climate Change negotiated at the UNCED. NGOs are playing a growing role at the international level in agenda setting, policy formulation, and policy implementation.

This development has created an interesting dilemma for Japan, a country that desires a greater role in international environmental politics. Japan's environmental NGO community is extremely small and poorly financed. Few internationally-oriented environmental groups even existed before the late 1980s. If the Japanese state is to play a greater role in international environmental agenda setting, then it is increasingly recognized within the Japanese government and within Japanese industry, that Japan must also somehow play according to Western rules and foster an NGO community. For a strong state, this raises the intriguing question of how to foster an environmental NGO community that is "acceptable" to the state, that is, one that does not challenge the state too much from within.

The Importance of Domestic Institutions in International Environmental Politics

Domestic institutions matter in international environmental politics. This is apparent when one considers the different responses of states to the international attention accorded the environment in the early 1970s and again in the 1980s when global environmental issues hit the international agenda. There have been relatively few times in history when the environment has been big on domestic political agendas throughout the world. The years leading up to the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 was one such time. This was a period when there was a dramatic process of policy change and institution building for the environment in most of the advanced industrialized countries. Many states created environment bureaucracies. They passed more comprehensive laws to address air, water, and noise pollution problems. They strengthened measures to protect natural areas and plant and animal species. Writing about this period Harold Jacobson and David Kay write: "Public concern in other OECD countries about environmental issues developed at roughly the same time that it did in the United States, and in the early 1970s most of the major OECD countries adopted comprehensive environmental legislation and created environmental protection agencies." Still, they noted that, "Although many OECD countries began the environmental protection activities more or less simultaneously, the approaches they have taken have been far from uniform."(4)

Institutions are important for helping us to understand these differences among states in their approaches to environmental policy formation and who is involved in the process. Peter Hall defines institutions as the formal rules, compliance procedures, and standard operating practices that structure the relationship between individuals in various units of the polity and economy.(5) Institutions structure interactions among political actors, influence their goals, and in this way affect political outcomes. They can influence access to the formal policy formation process, mediate power relations among actors and establish certain political incentives and constraints. In other words, institutions are critical intervening variables that affect which voices have a say in policy formation. They do not of course, in themselves create policies, but rather they mediate the interactions among political actors involved in the policy making process.(6)

Once institutional arrangements are created, they tend to be persistent. Powerful interests may have an interest in supporting the status quo and preventing changes to institutional arrangements that will give other interests in society greater influence. At times, however, institutions do change. Institutional change may occur for a variety of reasons, but one reason for change is linked to ideas. When new issues get onto agendas and attract new supporters or when existing coalitions realign, institutions may be altered. A powerful new idea can lead to the establishment of new policies, new norms, or even efforts to alter state-society relations. Major crises or events may trigger the restructuring of old institutions. It is possible to view the influence of 1972 Stockholm Conference and the 1992 Rio Conference on domestic political institutions in this way.(7)

Stephen Krasner offers one influential approach to the question of change in institutions. His model of "punctuated equilibrium" is premised on the notion that institutions are relatively stable for long periods of time, but periods of crisis can cause a "punctuation" in the system that can lead to abrupt changes to existing institutions and set them on new trajectories. Kathleen Thelen and Sven Steinmo argue, however, that this approach tends to externalize politics and obscure "the dynamic interaction of political strategies and institutional constraints."(8) Politics can change institutions just as institutions can influence politics. Below we will see that the introduction of new international environmental norms is leading to such a restructuring of institutions in Japan for political reasons.

The International Environment Hits the Japanese Policy Agenda

In the last years of the Liberal Democratic Party's hold on power, the global environment became a major area of international and domestic policy concern. Much of this had to do with the "greening" of former Prime Minister Takeshita and his search for ways to respond to international criticism that Japan was not doing enough for the international community. As a result, in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Japan emerged as a primary financier of overseas environmental programs and an active player in international efforts to address global climate change problems. Heavily influenced by the concerns and interests of Japan's powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), in recent years, Japan has launched a one hundred year plan for the promotion of new environmental technologies and alternative energy sources entitled New Earth 21; initiated a Green Aid Plan to assist developing nations in adopting environmentally friendlier technology; and organized numerous regional and global conferences for the environment. At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, Japan promised to play a leading role in battling against pollution. While Diet deliberations over the Peace Keeping Operations prevented then Prime Minister Miyazawa from personally attending the conference, in a written speech he announced that Japan would largely stabilize its C02 emissions around 1990 levels by the year 2000 and that it would speed up the elimination of ozone depleting substances. In addition, he promised that over the five years beginning in 1992, Japan would spend between ¥900 million to ¥1 billion in bi-lateral and multi-lateral aid for the environment.(9)

Unlike in the early 1970s when the environment got onto the agenda in Japan as a result of grass roots pressures, global environmental issues were put onto the policy agenda largely as a result of top-down policy initiative. A general change in stance on the part of business, the LDP, and the economic ministries made environmental policy change possible on a scale not seen since the early 1970s. This meant that the Environment Agency found varying degrees of support for its policy ideas where before it had largely found only indifference or opposition.

The Japanese government's recent interest in becoming an international environmental leader stands in sharp contrast with the posture Japan took prior to 1988 to various environmental problems. Before 1988, the international environment received but minimal attention from the Japanese public, environmental groups, the media, or political parties. Japan's seeming lack of concern for the effects of its economic activities on the global environment led one major U.S. news magazine to charge Japan with committing "crimes against the earth."(10) This and other similar reports criticized Japan for contributing to tropical deforestation as the world's largest importer of tropical hardwoods and attacked its drift net fishing practices. They also strongly denounced Japan for its trade in endangered wildlife products and for exporting polluting industries to Southeast Asia. (11) While these reports skimmed over Japan's domestic environmental policy successes--its high energy efficiency, strong recycling record, and its control of certain air pollutants--they reflected the low priority that was given to environmental issues on a regional or international scale. Other than a small surge of interest in international environmental issues in the period immediately preceding the 10 year anniversary meeting of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Nairobi in 1982,(12) throughout most of the 1980s, neither domestic nor international environmental problems received much public or policy attention in Japan.

A major reason for Japan's reactive stance on many international environmental issues was that there were few domestic groups sponsoring policy change. There also were few groups policing the activities of the Japanese government and industry overseas. Without an active international environmental NGO community in Japan, there was little criticism of government policies (or lack thereof) in relation to tropical deforestation; the export of polluting industries to Southeast Asia; drift net fishing; ocean dumping; or a number of other international environmental concerns-- emanating from within the state.

Japan's Environmental NGOs

It is important to step back and ask why Japan's environmental NGO community was so small. In the 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of locally-based environmental citizens' groups emerged in protest to Minamata mercury poisoning; Itai-itai disease (from cadmium poisoning); Yokkaichi asthma; severe air, water, and noise pollution; and many other pollution problems. Japan had among the strongest grass roots environmental movements in the world. The literature that analyzes this period in Japanese environmental history argues that strong grass roots pressures were behind policy change. Citizens' movements, Opposition parties, local and prefectural governments, and the Courts emerged to challenge the government's failure to recognize and respond to the environmental crisis in Japan.(13) These works suggest that it took the emergence of a highly pluralistic policy community to force the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) into passing what was at the time one of the world's most comprehensive set of environmental regulations.

In contrast, twenty years later grass roots pressures played little role in getting the international environment onto the Japanese policy agenda. Instead, the environment was put onto the policy agenda as a result of top-down decision making at a time when the environment was a popular international issue. Environmental NGOs played little part in the process because they had little awareness of international environmental issues. Frank Upham has persuasively argued that one reason the NGO community in Japan is so weak is that the state essentially coopted the environmental movement in the 1970s by responding to its demands. Concerned with the power that citizens' movements were obtaining and their use of the courts, the Japanese state felt a threat to its power from below. Upham argues that as a result, the Japanese government introduced and implemented tough new environmental laws--a process which others referred to as efforts by the LDP to become a catch-all-interests party.(14)

Unfortunately, there is no available data on the actual number of citizens' movements that still existed in Japan at the end of the 1970s. Still, there are many accounts that argue that the importance of citizens' movements in Japan declined as various groups disbanded or shifted their attention to other concerns.(15) Of course some groups remained, but they were primarily Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) groups. Citizens' movements continued to push local recycling efforts or to call for the greening of local environs. New citizens' movements emerged to protest developments that threatened their living environment or their health. One citizens' movement, for example, emerged to preserve their urban environment by protecting a canal from being built over.(16) Others remained active in pursuing issues that had not been adequately resolved; like those which continued to raise demands on behalf of Minamata and other pollution disease victims.(17) There also was local opposition to the siting of nuclear power plants--a policy priority for MITI.(18) Still, the anti-nuclear movement remained a NIMBY phenomena. Anti-nuclear activities rarely moved outside of the towns and villages where nuclear power plants were to be located. MITI's and industries' decision to site plants in remote coastal regions with small populations and low agricultural and economic productivity, moreover, weakened the likelihood for intense opposition.(19)

Thus, despite the continued presence of a scattering of environmental citizens' movements and anti-nuclear groups in the late-1970s and thereafter, they had no where near the same force that they had in the early 1970s. Furthermore, in sharp contrast with the situation in many Western European and North American countries, Japan's citizens' movements failed to organize into broader networks or to create major national environmental groups. While there may be some cultural factors that explain this, I argue that in fact the state created sufficient institutional barriers to effectively prohibit the institutionalization of the environmental movement in Japan in a Western-style NGO community.

Resource Mobilization Theories and the State

Early work on social movements assumed that there was a close link between the grievances of a movement and its growth and decline. Motivated by shared grievances and an underlying belief about structural causes and possible modes of redress, social movements emerged.(20) It follows therefore that the achievement of success or changing events have the potential to reduce the salience of the issue around which citizens mobilize. Mayer Zald and Roberta Ash, for instance, argued that under such conditions certain kinds of movements--particularly those that were open in recruitment and heterogeneous in membership and relatively specific in their goals--have a high probability of either disappearing or transforming themselves into conventional, bureaucratic organizations.(21)

Proponents of a grievance model of social movements might argue that the decline in Japan's environmental movement occurred because the wind was taken out of its sails. There is some validity to this argument. As a result of policy changes made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Japan achieved one of the world's most rapid and successful air pollution control programs. By the late 1980s, Japan's total SOx emission level was 43% that of West Germany's. Total NOx emissions were 48% that of West Germany.(22) A 1977 OECD report suggested that Japan was an example of how environmental regulation could be successfully integrated into a growing economy.(23) Supporting the grievance model, Miyamoto Kenichi, a harsh critic of Japanese environmental policies suggested that this favorable report triggered a retreat in Japan's environmental policies. According to Miyamoto, the Environment Agency took the OECD report to mean that the battle against industrial pollution was over and that now attention was to be turned to urban amenities and parks, since these were areas for which the OECD report criticized Japan.(24)

The idea that environmental problems were solved in Japan, however, overlooks the many serious environmental problems that remained. There were still thousands of people waiting for certification as pollution victims in the late 1970s. Water pollution was a serious problem both because of a low percentage of homes having modern sewerage facilities and contamination of drinking water. Japan's urban areas suffered from very low ratios of green areas. Japan's national parks were sorely strained from heavy use and inadequate efforts devoted to preserving pristine areas. Wildlife and fragile coastal areas continued to be threatened by industrial expansion and the building of new roads and airports, including those in Osaka, Narita, and on Ishigaki Island. Asbestos regulations remained weak and illegal toxic dumping a serious problem. Moreover, as in Germany, an ambitious nuclear energy program was being pushed by the state. Thus, the potential for citizens with grievances or those interested in preventative action to mobilize was still there.

Another possible explanation for the decline of the environmental movement in Japan focuses attention on the role of the state and the resources it makes available to social movements. Resource mobilization theorists have argued that while grievances may be important to social movement formation, grievances are an ever present part of society. Proponents of a resource mobilization approach argue that grievances are not necessarily a sufficient explanation for the rise or maintenance of social movements. Rather, they point to the importance of resources that movements attract from constituent or non-constituent supporters. These resources might include information, media coverage, financial donations, leadership, or time-- the elements necessary for movements to carry out their goals.(25) Adding to this list of resources, Jack Walker pointed to the important of institutional factors and in particular, the role of the tax system, government grants and contracts, and foundation support in supporting interest group formation in the United States.(26) One can hypothesize that in systems where such support is lacking, social movements or interest groups that challenge the state are likely to fail in the long run.

It is extremely difficult to gain tax exempt status in Japan--considered almost a prerequisite to a group's survival in the U.S. and Germany. In Japan it is necessary to obtain approval from the "competent authorities" before an NGO can obtain non-profit status. The "competent authorities" are those local or national level government offices with some jurisdiction over an issue area. Obtaining approval from national ministries has proved a tremendous barrier of entry for national level environmental groups. Nancy London argues that "(t)he lack of predictability in the incorporation process often has a debilitating effect on smaller, private nonprofit initiatives.... (S)maller endeavors are often stymied at the start, not knowing where or how to begin and not able to commit time and money to a process whose outcome is so uncertain."(27) Yukio Tanaka, the founder of Friends of the Earth Japan, noted that when he set up office in 1979 he did not even try to get approval from a ministry because he did not want the kind of control that would give the ministry over the organization. Nor did he think that he would receive approval. Instead the group has operated without non-profit status.(28) Greenpeace Japan has had to operate with primary financing from Greenpeace International.

In an article describing the difficulties of achieving non-profit status, Matsubara Akira of the Research Institute of Civil Systems wrote:

    It is highly troublesome for an NGO to acquire the status of juridical person....(T)here is a problem that the minimum fund required to establish a public interest organization is not officially defined. Some 30 million yen is said to be necessary for an incorporated association to operate, and 500 million is said necessary for an incorporated foundation (zaidan hôjin) to start with, but the true figures remain unclear. It sounds quite unfair, compared with the fact that a profit corporation can obtain the status of juridical person with only 3 million yen in capital....(29)

This may explain why informally organized citizens' groups in Japan were reluctant or unwilling to consider establishing more formal organizations.(30) Of the 187 NGOs listed in the Japanese NGO Center for International Cooperation's directory, only 25 had achieved incorporation and thus, tax-free status. The majority of NGOs in this listing supported the bulk of their activities through membership donations.(31) Given the small size of the average NGO, this suggests that there are sizable financial constraints on Japanese NGOs. The small size in terms of membership and budget of most NGOs has meant that they simply have not had the resources necessary to tackle more than one or two environmental issues at a time.

Data compiled from a directory of NGOs in Japan with at least some environmental interests, confirm that NGOs tended to remain local in their focus and were typically very small. The main exceptions were World Wide Fund for Nature Japan which was established in 1971, and had a membership of 37,370 in 1992; the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, which was established in 1951, and had a membership of 25,000 in 1992; and the Wild Bird Society of Japan, which was established in 1934 and has sustained the largest membership of any environmental group in Japan. Its membership stood at 45,000 in 1992. Based on figures in JANIC's Environmental NGO directory I estimate that the combined membership of Japan's environmental NGO community conducting some international environmental activities (even if this was not their main focus) was about 170,000 in 1992. This figure assumes no overlapping membership and is therefore probably too large. Eighty percent of the NGOs that conducted at least some international environmental activities had combined individual and organizational memberships of under 2000.(32) While this figure excludes groups with a purely domestic environmental focus, it is safe to say that even in the early 1990s Japan's NGO community was extremely small for a country with a population of over 125 million.

Of the other internationally oriented environmental groups only a small handful had activities even remotely related to stratospheric ozone depletion, global warming, desertification, or tropical rainforest destruction. These were Friends of the Earth, Japan (founded in 1979); the Osaka Association of Consumer Groups (out of which formed the Citizens Alliance for Saving the Atmosphere and the Earth in 1988); OISCA International, which among its technical training activities, promotes afforestation in Asia (founded 1961), the Sumiyaki no Kai, founded in 1985 to promote traditional Japanese charcoal making techniques abroad, and Defense of Green Earth, which tackles problems of desertification (founded in 1982). Most of the groups most visible today, like Greenpeace and Japan Tropical Forest Action Network, were not founded until 1987 or later.

Large NGOs are noticeably absent from most areas of politics in Japan with the exception of labor. Members of NGOs are often viewed with a certain degree of suspicion. Many Japanese consider environmental NGO activists to be on the fringe of society. NGOs, moreover, have had little access to the formal policy formation process.

One way that different groups can participate in this process is by serving on advisory committees (shingikai) to the ministries. The ministries, however, have the right to select who will sit on these committees. This means that there is little place for NGOs which may be critical of government actions to formally participate in the policy formation process. They simply will not be asked to participate.

Another serious problem for environmental NGOs in Japan is that there is no equivalent to the US Freedom of Information Act. NGOs and even the Environment Agency have argued that they are at a strong disadvantage in influencing policy in Japan because of this. The Environment Agency and NGOs, for instance, are left in the dark as to how MITI establishes its long-term energy supply and demand forecast. Since energy policy is closely tied to global climate change response options, this has put the Environment Agency at a strong disadvantage in establishing its own proposals for action. Protesting the lack of a freedom of information act in Japan, in 1994 the Citizens' Energy Research Institute produced a book that uses the figures released by MITI to work backwards in trying to figure out what kind of model must have been used in coming up with Japan's long term energy supply and demand forecast. The book's introduction begins, "it is also a problem that the basis upon and process by which the forecast is established is not made open to the public. It should cause surprise that something as important as the long term energy forecast is decided upon by the energy industry-- one section of the population, without adequate debate or reliance on a democratic decision process and behind a wall of secrecy."(33)

Compare this with the situation in Germany which also had a major citizens' movement in the early 1970s. German citizens' initiatives were in a better position than their Japanese counterparts to organize nationally for a number of reasons. In Germany, there was more organizational know-how stemming from a long history of conservation groups. Tax laws were not an obstacle to group formation as they were for the movements in Japan. Non-governmental organizations can relatively easily gain status as a charitable or voluntary organization (Gemeinnutzigkeit). In addition, the government provides support to some non-governmental organizations, like the Deutscher Naturschutzring, an umbrella organization of conservation-oriented environmental groups. Membership fees to NGOs also are tax deductible.(34)

Generous public financing of political parties, moreover, provided Green lists with the resources necessary for mobilization and since the electoral system demanded that new parties obtain at least 5% of the vote to win parliamentary representation, there was considerable incentive for the diverse elements that merged to form the Green Party-- the ecologists, socialists, and New Leftists-- to work together to achieve their goals.(35) The ability or inability of local citizens' movements to reorganize at the national level is tied to the resources that the state makes available to them. Of course, other factors are involved, including cultural factors and levels of environmental education. Still, the state has considerable ability to influence the levels of activity of NGOs through the institutional incentives or barriers it establishes.

The size of Japan's NGO community pales in comparison to Germany's. In Germany, where it is relatively easy to obtain tax free status as an environmental group, the Deutscher Naturschutzring had a membership in 1985 of 95 groups and 3.3 million individuals. The Bund für Vogelschutz had a membership of 140,000; the BBU had a membership of 350 groups and 150,000 members; and Greenpeace had a membership of 75,000.(36)

In recent years, the number of internationally-oriented environmental NGOs in Japan has actually grown substantially, and these groups are trying to play a more active role in promoting environmental policy change. A handful of these groups have started to produce position papers and to advise ministries, agencies, and political parties in an attempt to make them more aware of environmental issues and to provide them with different viewpoints. Kurosaka Miwako, who represents World Resources Institute Japan, sits on numerous environmental advisory committees.(37) Iwasaki Shunsuke, President of the Japan International Volunteer Center, was instrumental in organizing Japanese NGOs into the People's Forum for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The aim of this umbrella organization was to bring Japan's community of environmental activists together in order to present a united voice at the UNCED. The NGO People's Forum represented consumer groups, rainforest activists, lawyers, Minamata victims, climate experts, and many others. They produced an alternative national report to UNCED which provided a different perspective on Japan's past progress and future plans for the environment than the one presented by the government's report. The NGO report argued that Japanese corporations and official development aid have had a negative impact on the global environment and also discussed the important role that grass roots movements can play in changing Japan into a more environmentally friendly society.(38) Still, because of their small size, these groups have been limited in the impact that they can have on policies that have been formulated largely within the bureaucracy.

International Environmental Leadership and the Need for NGOs

The Japanese government's interest in having Japan emerge as an international leader in the areas of ODA and the environment is closely tied to Japanese economic and foreign policy interests. The environment appeared to be a relatively easy and non-controversial area for the Japanese state to step into. Thus, it came as something of a surprise to Japanese policy makers when their rapid increases in expenditures for environmental ODA, for example, were criticized internationally as possibly causing more harm than good to the environment. The international community was skeptical of environmental policies which emanated from the Japanese ministries with little citizen input and little NGO policing. In particular, strong doubts have been raised internationally about Japan's desire to be an international environmental leader when Japan has no major environmental NGO community watching and critiquing the actions of the state.

An unintended and unexpected consequence of the Japanese leadership's decision to play a more proactive role on international environmental issues is that international norms are now pressuring it to enhance the role of NGOs in society. This lies contrary to the efforts the state has made in the past to create a "harmonious" and relatively "conflict-free" society. International participation requires a certain degree of conformity to international norms and rules of behavior. Essentially, the presence of a strong NGO community has become a norm for advanced industrialized states. NGO representatives are expected to play an important role in agenda setting, policy formation, and policy appraisal in international environmental protection. Because of the small size of Japan's NGO community, however, this has been difficult for Japan.

Initially, the Japanese government paid little attention to the NGO issue. In 1989, for example, in an effort to enhance its visibility in international environmental politics, the Japanese government hosted the Tokyo Conference on Global Environmental Protection. While the meeting itself was a success, Japan was heavily criticized for excluding NGOs from the meeting. Because the government refused to allow environmental activists from Asia, Africa or South America to participate, the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network, the Japan International Volunteer Center, Greenpeace Japan, and the Japanese Consumers' League reacted by holding their own international conference on the environment. The three-day conference attracted over 1500 people and considerable international attention.(39)

The Japanese government found itself facing something of an uphill battle in winning international recognition of its plans to play a more proactive role in environmental protection efforts. Declarations by political leaders of Japan's intention to take on a more active international environmental protection role initially were treated with considerable skepticism. In a major report prepared by a study commission for the German Bundestag, entitled, "Protecting the Earth: A Status Report with Recommendations for a New Energy Policy," it is written: "Japan's Government and public are well aware of the risks involved in a warming of the Earth's atmosphere and the need for a global environmental policy....Occasionally, however, one cannot help thinking that many announcements fall into the category of "global warming" rhetoric, i.e. not in all cases are such announcements accompanied by a real desire to make adjustments and implement them."(40) This was a sharp criticism of Japanese performance in international environmental negotiations by the government of another powerful state.

To address these image problems, the Japanese government has had to build-up its domestic environmental research capacities and to strengthen the position of the Environment Agency in relation to international environmental issues. In addition, the Japanese government has been forced to confront the question of whether or not to promote the existence of NGOs in society.

As a result of influence on international norms and ideas (which are strongly supported by Japanese NGOs which would like to see institutional obstacles to their maintenance removed), the Japanese state has initiated some institutional changes. The internationalization of environmental politics and the Japanese leadership's' decision that the environment is an important foreign policy area has essentially forced the Japanese state to reconsider the role of NGOs in society.

Institutional changes to remove some of the barriers to NGO formation and maintenance in Japan are also being considered. In the interest of enhancing its international image, for example, in 1991 industry made the surprising suggestion of working together with environmental groups and even offered to fund their activities. To this end they organized a meeting to which they invited several of the more "accepted" environmental groups in Japan. Their proposal intrigued many of these groups, but in the end it was eventually voted down by the NGO Forum Japan, a newly organized body representing approximately 100 non-governmental organizations ranging from anti-pollution movements to international NGOs.(41) Wary of being corporatized by industry, their traditional target of criticism, the majority of NGOs resisted this unprecedented offer.

Although this effort failed, other steps have been taken. The Japanese government, for example, created the Japan Fund for the Global Environment. Run by the Japan Environment Corporation, a governmental entity under the Environment Agency, the aim of the semi-private, semi-public fund was to promote NGO activities in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development. With an initial endowment of ¥1 billion and a ¥500 million grant for fiscal 1993 operations, the fund now supports 47 Japanese NGOs working on domestic environmental issues, 3 overseas NGOs and 54 Japanese NGOs working on environmental protection in developing countries.(42)

Another important change has been the formation of a system that was set up to allow depositors in Japan's Postal Savings system, which accounts for a huge percentage of private savings accounts in Japan, to donate the interest from their accounts--tax exempt-- to NGOs. Finally, there is currently a bill under consideration to reform the tax system in Japan to make it easier for groups to obtain non-profit status. The debate surrounding this bill's formation speaks both to the changing attitudes towards NGOs in Japan and the continued distrust of their activities.

It remains to be seen what the long-term impact of these institutional changes will be for state-society relations in Japan and whether or not a strong Western-style NGO community can emerge in Japan. Still, it is clear that attitudes towards NGOs are slowly changing on the part of citizens and the state. On this point, a Greenpeace member remarked that in the past, at international conferences she would rarely get a chance to talk directly with officials from MITI, the Environment Agency, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She explained that, at first, Foreign Ministry officials use to "run away" when she introduced herself as a representative of Greenpeace. This she attributed to the negative association Greenpeace had with the whaling issue. But now, officials from the ministries know her by name and they even ask her what she thinks about some issues. "That may be just diplomatic, but it still suggests a change."(43)

Implications for Japanese Policy Making

Japanese politics are in a period of transition. The end of the Liberal Democratic Party's 38-year hold on the reigns of government was accompanied by a splintering of this party and a major drop in electoral support for its old rival, the Japan Socialist Party. New political parties have emerged. Furthermore, in the next election a new electoral system will be put into operation which will bring yet further changes to Japanese politics.

These changes to Japanese politics come from within. But there are also forces that are altering Japanese politics from without. Ironically, the desire of the government to play a more visible role in international environmental politics has meant that the Japanese state has had to find ways to support Japan's NGO community. The internationalization of environmental politics has pushed the Japanese state to make important institutional changes that in the long-run could reduce its power in policy formation vis-a-vis internationally-linked NGOs.

It will take a long time for the impact of these changes to be fully appreciated in Japan. In the future, however, Japanese citizens should have a greater direct voice in international environmental policy formation. Already in international negotiations, Japanese NGOs are playing an important role as they critique government policies. Although still small at home, their presence in international fora gives them added political clout since their viewpoints are often picked up by delegations from other countries and the foreign media.


1. This argument is presented in much more detail in Miranda A. Schreurs, "Domestic Institutions, International Agendas, and Global Environmental Protection in Japan and Germany," Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan, 1996.

2. James Rosenau, Turbulence in World Politics: A Theory of Change and Continuity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

3. Montreal Protocol, Article 11:5, quoted in Kal Raustiala, "Non-Governmental Organizations and International Environmental Governance," Paper prepared for presentation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, April 8-10, 1994, p. 9.

4. David Kay and Harold Jacobson, eds., Environmental Protection: The International Dimension, (Totowa, NJ: Allanheld, Osmun, & Co., 1983), p. 6.

5. Peter Hall, Governing the Economy: The Politics of State Intervention in Britain and France (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

6. For a related discussion see John Ikenberry, Reasons of State: Oil Politics and the Capacities of American Government (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988).

7. Peter Gourevitch's second-image reversed suggests a similar possibility. Domestic structures themselves may derive from the exigencies of the international system. In order to participate at the international bargaining table in a period when international environmental issues were gaining increasing prominence, it could be argued that states found it necessary to develop new environmental institutions to legitimize their participation and strengthen their position in international negotiations. Peter Gourevitch, "The Second Image Reversed: The International Sources of Domestic Politics," International Organization, Vol. 32, No. 4, 1978, pp. 881-911.

8. Kathleen Thelen and Sven Steinmo, "Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics," in Sven Steinmo, Kathleen Thelen, and Frank Longstreth, eds., Agendas and Instability in American Politics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 15.

9. Unable to attend UNCED because of domestic political problems, Prime Minister Miyazawa prepared a video recorded speech. U.N. General-Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali, however, refused to allow the video presentation for fear that it would set a bad precedent for future summit meetings. Thus, the speech was distributed in written form by the 100 strong delegation of Japanese government officials present at the conference. A transcript of the speech is reprinted in Asahi Shimbun, June 14, 1992, p. 3.

10. "Charging Japan with Crimes Against the Earth," Business Week, October 9, 1989.

11. See for instance, "Putting the Heat on Japan," Time , July 10, 1989, pp. 50-52; "Tokyo Nods its Head Toward the Environment," New Scientist, September 16, 1989, p. 24; "A New Item on the Agenda," Time, October 23, 1989, pp. 58-60; and, The New York Times, July 31, 1992, p. A7. It should be noted that since the time of publication of these various reports Japan has stopped drift net fishing and has agreed to bans on the import of ivory and hawksbill turtle shells. In addition, in 1992 MITI announced plans to tighten its controls on trade in internationally designated species of endangered wildlife.

12. In the early 1980s, Japan became signator to several international environmental agreements for the protection of wild plants and animals. Of particular importance are the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wil Fauna and Flora. Japan, moreover, proposed the establishment of the World Commission on Environment and Development as part of the United Nations Environmental Program.

13. Some of the best English language works on this period include: Julian Gresser, Koichiro Fujikura, and Akio Morishima, Environmental Law in Japan, (Cambridge, MA; MIT Press, 1981); Norie Huddle, Michael Reich, and Nahum Stiskin, Island of Dreams, (New York: Autumn Press, 1975); Helmut Weidner and Shigeto Tsuru, eds., Environmental Policy in Japan, (Berlin: Ed. Sigma Bohn, 1989); Margaret McKean, Environmental Protest and Citizen Politics in Japan, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Susan Pharr and Joseph Badarracco, "Coping With Crisis: Environmental Regulation," in Thomas K. McCraw, ed., America vs. Japan, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1986); Michael Reich, Toxic Politics: Responding to Chemical Disasters; (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991); Steven Reed, Japanese Prefectures and Policymaking, (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986); and, Frank Upham, Law and Social Change in Postwar Japan, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987).

14. Frank Upham, Law and Social Change in Postwar Japan, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 28-67.

15. See for example Ellis Krauss and Bradford Simcock, "Citizens' Movements: The Growth and Impact of Environmental Protest in Japan," in Kurt Steiner, Ellis S. Krauss, and Scott C. Flanagan, eds., Political Opposition and Local Politics in Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).

16. On this subject see for example, Saburo Horikawa, "Townscape Conservation as an Agendum of Urban-oriented Environmental Sociology in Japan: A Study from the Otaru Canal Conservation Case, 1973-1991," presented at the ISA, Zeist, the Netherlands, June 17-21, 1992.

17. Reich (1991), op. cit.

18. On issues related to nuclear plant siting see Hayden Lesbirel, "Implementing Nuclear Energy Policy in Japan: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Perspectives," Energy Policy, April 1990, pp. 267-282.

19. Hasegawa Koichi, "A Comparative Study of Social Movements for a Post-Nuclear Energy Era in Japan and the United States," paper presented at the XXIII World Congress of Sociology of the International Sociological Association, July 18-23, 1994, Bielefed, Germany.

20. Ted Gurr, Why Men Rebel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970). Ralph Turner and Lewis M. Killian, Collective Behavior (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1987).

21. Mayer N. Zald and Roberta Ash, "Social Movement Organizations: Growth, Decay, and Change," Social Forces ,Vol. 44, 1966.

22. OECD, The State of the Environment, (Paris: OECD, 1991). Japanese data is for 1986; other data is for 1987.

23. OECD, Environmental Politics in Japan, (Paris: OECD, 1977).

24. Miyamoto Kenichi, Nihon no Kankyô Seisaku (Tokyo: Ohtsuki Shoten), p. 33.

25. John D. McCarthy and Mayer N. Zald, "Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 82, 1977, pp. 1212-1241.

26. Jack Walker, Mobilizing Interest Groups in America: Patrons, Professions, and Social Movements, (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1991).

27. Nancy London, Japanese Corporate Philanthropy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 39.

28. Interview with Yukio Tanaka, April 1994.

29. Matsubara Akira, "NGOs in Japan: Problems of Legal Framework and Management Issues," Research Institution of Civil Systems paper.

30. McCarthy and Zald, op. cit.

31. This data was compiled from Japanese NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC), NGO DAIREKUTORI, 1994 (Tokyo: JANIC, 1994). The data is based on a 1992 survey conducted by JANIC.

32. Ibid.

33. 2010 Nen, Nihon Enerugi Keikaku, p. 1.

34. My thanks to Jeaninne Cavendar-Bares for agreeing to conduct an interview for me to obtain this information. Interview with Reinhard Loske, April 1994.

35. E. Gene Frankland and Donald Schoonmaker, Between Protest and Power: The Green Party in Germany, (Boulder, San Francisco, and Oxford: Westview Press, 1992).

36. Dieter Rucht, "Von der Bewegung zur Institution? Organisationsstrukturen der Ökologiebewegung," in Roland Roth and Dieter Rucht, eds., Neue soziale Bewegungen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1987).

37. From numerous discussions with Miwako Kurosaka 1991-1994.

38. For a discussion of the NGO People's Forum and other NGO activities and environmental developments in Japan see an interview with Iwasaki published in Rick Davis and Maggie Suzuki, eds., The Japan Environment Monitor. See also Asahi Shimbun, January 23, 1992, p. 17.

39. New Scientist, September 16, 1989.

40. German Bundestag, ed., Protecting the Earth: A Status Report with Recommendations for a New Energy Policy (Bonn, 1991), p. 826.

41. The Japan Times, May 20, 1992, p. 3.

42. Japan Environment Corporation, "Chikyû Kankyô Kikin Tayori," 1994.

43. Interview with Yasuko Matsumoto, April 1991.

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