Voluntarism in Japan: What is going on with Scouting here?

Having just gotten back from a weekend with the Scouts, I am once again thinking of what voluntarism and Scouting in particular mean to this country. I have been working with the Scouts here for a little over six years. I have worked as a leader for Cubs, Boys, and Ventures. This weekend there was a camping trip, and I went out the door Saturday morning and arrived back here this afternoon, leaving my wife to handle our three kids, who are not in Scouting right now, by herself. On returning our conversation turned to the sad state of voluntarism and Scouts in Japan.

I amazed at the general apathy shown by the majority of Japanese people toward Scouts. The country thrashes around creating school curricula to teach “patriotism” in schools, and I am out with a group of kids involved with an organizations whose foundation is based on loyalty to ones country. I teach kids how to handle their national flag, how to properly display and honor it, and it isn’t even my flag. Of course this is only one part of Scouting; the other pillars of Scouting is regard for self and others, so that is no problem for me. There should be people, especially the Scouts’ parents, lining up to volunteer. Nothing. The more I write, the more I am convinced I have to rethink my dedication to this group.

One of our conclusions yesterday is that volunteering is a higher-order behavior that some people are not ready to do. Giving blood goes against all biological instincts by donating essential body fluids for the sake of someone we do not even know, so I looked at blood donation as measure of altruistic behavoir and compared blood donorship in the US and Japan. According to a Japan Times article, 1.54 million Japanese people made 200-ml donations and 2.73 million made 400-ml donations in 2000 for a total of 4.27 million donations. According to the American Red Cross, 8 million donors gave 15 million donations in 2001. 

On 9/11 I was in sunny Arizona, getting ready to head back to Japan. My plane was canceled, and I had a strong feeling that I had to do something to help. I thought about getting in the car and driving to New York, but I had my very small son with me at the time, and rejected that idea. I decided to go give blood, so I found the nearest donation center and drove down. The line outside the building stretched for fifty yards in the 100 degree heat. I got in line, and then food and water started to arrive for the people in line. An empty shop next to the donation center was opened as an extra waiting room, and there was food and drink there for dozens of people, all donated by shops and individuals. I am type O, so they told me to come back the next day, but they sent everyone else home, because they had enough of all other types. I went back the next day, but was told to wait until they called me. They did call me two days later. That is how many people were giving.

The US has problems, but let me tell you, the willingness to line up and get to work when there is a need is not one of them. Japan has serious issues.


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