Social Enterprise in Japan

Yoshiba Hiroaki SJ
Jesuit Social Center staff

  Since “social enterprise” is not conspicuous in Japan the expression is not widely familiar. Nevertheless, there have been many experiments in the past and recently the name Komasaki Hiroki and the Florence NPO that conducts day nurseries for sick children are becoming more widely known for their connections with social enterprises.
  How is social enterprise run? I will report here on the main points of social enterprises and their possibilities by providing a definition of what they are about. I will also speak about an experiment that has been conducted in Japan.

1. Definition of “social enterprise”
  I will first try to give a clear definition of “social enterprise.” There are two main types.
  The first one is the American type. In the USA, official support for NPOs has been reduced and, as a result, in order to get financial support for sustainable activities, NPOs conduct social enterprises. This has been brought into the limelight. Within this American type, there are those that focus on financial funding as well as those that offer creative programs to solve social issues. In this way, there are two types of social enterprise.
  According to a 2011 report of the social business study group, by social business is meant the marketing of a variety of social issues, such as old age, ecology, the raising and education of children, and so forth. It is a business which aims at providing solutions. Three important conditions are required: sociability, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Their organizational structure is like other joint-stock corporations. They also accept social responsibility (CSR) like other businesses. Thus, social enterprise can be taken here as one type of social business.
  On the other hand, according to professor Fujii (2013), the European type—economic activities that include a relationship of mutual solidarity and democratic participation—has economic solidarity at its root. Due to the business recession, the number of long-term unemployed has increased, the socially excluded have become a serious burden, social services for children and the elderly are scarce, and local small-scale private enterprises created to help young people find jobs have proliferated. As a result, Europe attaches great importance to economic solidarity. Professor Fujii explains that this economic model is not going to be buried under market competition. On the contrary, it gives great importance to solidarity and democratic participation in companies, aiming simultaneously at the public profit of local regions.
  Such social enterprise is known as the EMES approach or Social Economic School (Yonezawa 2013). This means: ① Business zones aim at the reintegration of labor with society and offer productive opportunities for those suffering multiple disadvantages from the labor market. (This is called WISE, or Work Integration Social Employment). ② Due to the fact that the conventional welfare state is not able to answer such diverse needs, social services rooted in local communities were created, such as welfare for the aged and disabled and for child nursing.

2. The management of Japanese social enterprise
The activities of “the Community Bakery, Wind Hangout” (Kaze no Sumika)

(1) Historical background
  I will concentrate here on the definition of WISE given above. I present the model of “the Community Bakery, Wind Hangout” (Kaze no Sumika), an NPO Cooperative network for cultural projects located in the City of Mitaka (Tokyo).
  This NPO organization began its activities during the 1970s. As a result of the revision of curriculum guidance, the fact that children were behind in their studies became a clear social problem at that time. Cram schools, overflooded in numbers, exposed the pitiful situation of strict entrance examinations. On the other hand, the above NPO, taking a different approach from cram school businesses, directed its efforts to a cram school managed by the children’s parents. Later, it set up a place for children refusing to go to school and opened a “Community Bakery” so that these children could have a job once they finished their studies. Actually, it has extended its activities to running a “Support Station” for local young people entrusted by the Ministry of Welfare and Labor and a project for children of families receiving welfare assistance.

(2) The “Community Bakery, Kaze no Sumika”
  This bakery, founded 10 years ago, uses safe materials and is always alert to answer the needs of the residents where is located in producing and selling bread. The bread is made only with natural yeast and most of the ingredients are produced at a farm run by the institution. At the beginning, the residents and local businesses assisted financially with the establishment of the bakery because no public help was available.
  It should be noted that the local residents lent money to the institution to make the first payments. The links between the children’s growth and the region are essential and, since support for the children’s development was established, local financial assistance could also be received.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  One of the goals of the bakery is to establish a business training oriented toward people who, due to various reasons, step away from social life. The production of bread together with its sale in shops, day nurseries, public offices and companies, and the improvement in the running of shops and new establishments create implementable ideas. At the same time, mutual relationships with classmate trainees and supporters provide opportunities to reflect on labor and personal lives. There are 4 full-timers and 7 part-timers assisting with trainees, with production, and with the running of the shops. Among these, 2 full-timers are former trainees and 3 are part-timers.

(3) Training programs
  Actually, 7 young people in their late twenties and early thirties receive six months of intensive training, three to four days a week. That is one activity of the ‘Support Station.’ Young people 15 to 39 years of age looking for jobs receive factory and team work training. Such programs are conducted at 160 places all over Japan. The trainees do not receive any payment, but the training is free of charge. Most of the trainees have been school dropouts or socially secluded. Cut off from all social relationships, they have experienced deep wounds to their self-esteem and are thus hindered from becoming immediately employed. According to Ms. Hirose, director of the programs, the trainees are quite sensitive to human relationships and thus become easily wounded. They find difficulties in building links with others and as a result, the training they need is not for sending them into the labor market but for building their confidence in dealing with others.
  After their 6-month training the trainees are employed in various places. Some might enter the bakery staff, but usually they will get a job somewhere in food production or sales business as office clerks or cleaning staff, in some youth support institution, IT businesses, flower shops, etc. Actually, about 87% of former trainees have jobs either as full-timers or in part-time work.

(4) Working with Trainees
  With regard to those socially secluded, there is said to be a strong constraint on what they can do. Being sensitive, they keep their feelings to themselves so as to avoid confrontation and are often easily stressed. At the bakery there is a friendly atmosphere where employees can expose their opinions even if they do not feel so competent.
  Trainees who did not study together previously in the same schools have the opportunity to plan together with other trainees and work with them. In spite of various failures, such experiences offer them valuable experience. Follow-up activities continue after the training, so that if any incident hurting them occurs at the work site, they can be healed by seeking the advice of former companions and superiors. In this way they can then confront further difficulties.

3. The role of social enterprise from the point of view of the Bakery
  One characteristic of social enterprises is the assumption that there are people on the social periphery. I feel that, because they attempt to solve social problems by their awareness of social justice, they play a significant role.
  As mentioned above, most of the trainees at the bakery tend to escape from society because of the difficulties they find in life or because they are anxious about their paucity of talent. In other words, we may say they feel excluded from all social frames. Through their work, they recover human relationships and rediscover their own talents. Thus, accompanying them in the process of obtaining human and labor values is extraordinarily meaningful.
  There is need for broad-ranging criteria in order to evaluate social enterprises. Merely to evaluate intensive training programs by the rate of employment obtained loses sight of the significance of a business aiming at social transformation. As social welfare endeavors become problematic, focusing only upon effectiveness excludes the people in most dire need. Without aiming at obtaining a large profit, there is need to fix a frame so that financing and healthy management are secured in order to make social contributions.
  Such social enterprise, working in solidarity with local communities in democratic ways, has for its basis the public common good, and because of the main tendency of modern businesses to get swept away, its existence is important.


“Community Bakery Kaze no Sumika”
Tokyo-to, Mitaka-shi, Shimorenjaku, 1-14-3
☎ 0422-49-0466


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