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The Initiation of Modern Social Work in Japan

The beginning of a modern concept of social work in Japan can be traced to 1874, when the Jiukyu Kisoku2 was implemented. The implementation of the Jiukyu Kisoku, on the one hand, was a symbol of the centralization of political power from local governments to the central government. Meanwhile, welfare administration could be formalized and institutionalized. Although the Japanese central government intentionally circumscribed its role and function in the poor relief system, Jiukyu Kisoku clearly showed the responsibility of poor relief was shared by both local governments and voluntary organizations. In general, Jiukyu Kisoku is compared with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 (New Poor Law) because they shared the same concepts, including the emphasis on families' responsibility, division of service districts, and some parts of government's finances. But still, Jiukyu Kisoku was essentially different from the New Poor Law in many ways.

Firstly, instead of the institution-based relief provided under the New Poor Law in Britain or America, voluntary organizations took responsibility. Regarding residential care, the mechanism of co-dependence between the statutory sector and voluntary sector was clearly shown (Ito, 1995). In this sense, the government mandated the voluntary organizations delivering welfare services, whereas the voluntary organizations could be legitimized by the government's authority.

Secondly, the original concepts of poor relief were different from the Jiukyu Kisoku. The New Poor Law resulted from the tradition of the sixteenth century whereby, due to the Reformation, conflicts between the state and religion also expanded to the realm of social welfare. Conventionally, particularly in Britain, the Church took the main role in providing social welfare or poor relief. The Poor Law of 1601 (43 Elizabeth) was the first legislation that made the state officially involved

2 Jiukyu Kisoku means that a social system controls the poor people. As the original concept of social welfare, Jiukyu Kisoku categorized the poor into 'deserving' and 'undeserving'. Public relief mainly focuses on the deserving poor, including the handicapped, the elderly, children, etc. But social controls accompanied public relief to the 'deserving' poor. In brief, the Jiukyu Kisoku system inherits the idea that the causes of poverty have to be imputed to individual problems rather than social problems. in social welfare. But the Jiukyu Kisoku was not a product of conflicts between state and religion. Rather, the Jiukyu Kisoku can be seen as an approach wherein the state cooperated with voluntary organizations in providing welfare services.

In Japan, the spirit of cooperation between the government sector and the voluntary sector cannot only be seen in the social welfare legislation, but the social work services. The Japanese Homen-Iin system was a typical model of cooperation between the government and voluntary organizations for providing social welfare services. Unlike the Elberfeld system,3 where voluntary citizens cooperated with the statutory service provisions under the Poor Law in terms of service effectiveness, the Homen-Iin provided services directly from donations (Ito, 1995); however, the Homen-Iin system was also different from the Charity Organization Society (COS).

COS adopted scientific methods to categorize paupers into 'deserving poor' and 'undeserving poor', but the Homen-Iin system did not attribute the cause of poverty to the individuals' responsibility but rather to 'fate', and approached the poor in a paternalistic way (Ito, 1995). The Homen-Iin system was not only employed in the Japanese motherland, but also eventually expanded to Taiwan to enhance Japanese power in its colonies (Liu, 2011).

Given the fact that Japanese social work was not completely similar to that in Western countries, modern social work in Japan was recommended by the West and in order to explain the causes resulting in the uniqueness of social work in Japan, it is necessary to examine the development of Japanese social work in terms of a longitudinal viewpoint. Table 2.1 shows the predominant Japanese social work legislation and relevant social welfare policies before World War II .

Table 2.1 Japanese Social Welfare Policies and Legislations before World War II


Social Welfare Legislations and Relevant Policies

Effects or Features


The Jiukyu Kisoku system was implemented

Modern social work was introduced

into Japan


The first settlement was built

The public relief expanded to in-door relief, which required the recipients entering a settlement (workhouse).


The Central Council for Charity was established.

A semi-government organization, which concerns the charity affairs for the public with its semi-official

functions. This mechanism firmed the structure of public-private cooperation for providing welfare services in Japan.


Homen-Iin system spread all over Japan

Homen-Iin system was deemed an innovation of social services.

3 The Elberfeld system was a plan for poor relief that originated in 1800 in Elberfeld, Germany. This system divided a city into several districts for effectively conveying poor relief.


Social Welfare Legislations and Relevant Policies

Effects or Features


The Central Council for Charity changed its name to the Central Council for Social Work

The beginning of the training courses for adult students to conduct social work services.


The first national congress of the

Homen-Iin was held.

More than 15,000 members participated in the system in Japan, and proactively participated in the enactment of the Poor Relief Law in 1929.


The Relief and Protection Law was


Japan took the first steps towards an institutionalized welfare state, yet this social legislation was mainly meant to stabilize society during the war.

Ito (1995) states that social work development in Japan came to a halt in 1933 when the Japanese invasion of Manchuria took place. Because of militarism, social work was suppressed and the function of the Homen-Iin system was changed in order to support nationalism and colonial governance. Moreover, social workers were seen as associates of the communists because of their left-wing political inclinations. The Japanese militarist powers regarded the profession of social work as a herald of communism, which threatened the ruling power of the Japanese Empire. Therefore, the Japanese nationalists suppressed the development of social work during World War II.

During the time of imperial expansion, Schaede and Nemoto (2006) argued that the main focus of social welfare was on supporting soldiers and their families, rather than the poverty issue per se. The function of social work was changed to motivate the morale of the military, and welfare benefits to the public became an exchange for obtaining Japanese people's allegiance to the Japanese royalty. Consequently, the profession of social work in Japan could not be regenerated until its surrender in 1945.

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