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101. Symbols of hope – remembering Japan 1 year on

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Coop Name: Japan Worker's Cooperative Union N° of Employees: 12000
City: Tokyo N° of Members: 12000
Country: Japan Year of formation: 1979
Website: http://english.roukyou.gr.jp/index.html
About this coop:

JWCU represents and unites worker cooperatives throughout Japan. Each worker cooperative is owned and democratically controlled by the worker-members and dedicated to creating jobs to promote the well-being of communities through associated work of the members and community residents. Our businesses include: social services, building maintenance, environmental services, food and agriculture, inter-coop contracts. Since the beginning of 21st century, a growing number of social services have been outsourced to private and non-government sectors. Taking this opportunity, JWCU started to set up "Community Welfare Centers" to provide a new type of social services that involve citizens in management and activities in a co-operative style.

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The word for rice in Japanese is gohan. It’s also the word used in Japan for meal. The best reflection of rice’s value in Japanese society is that it was once used as a form of currency.

In their bid for greater self-sufficiency the members of the Hikari Jigyodan workers cooperative in the far south of Japan began to grow their own rice in 2009. Little were they to realise the value those grains would later come to hold. On March 11 2011 at a quarter to three in the afternoon one of the most powerful earthquakes to afflict Japan rocked the north-eastern part of its most populous island, Honshu. Buildings rocked in Tokyo 200 kilometres to the south of the epicentre. A seven metre-high tsunami followed, destroying villages, damaging the fishing industryand washing agricultural lands out to sea. Eight months later members of Hikari Jigyodan – part of the Japanese Worker’s Co-operative Union (JWCU) – made the day-long drive north. They were bringing 60 kilos of their rice to fellow JWCU members in the Ishinomaki Jigyodan worker’s cooperative. This cooperative’s office, and in some cases its members’ livelihoods, had been washed away by the tsunami. The sticky rice cakes they first prepared, then ate together, became the potent symbol of their cooperation.

IYC Yearbook feature: http://ica.coop/en/iycbook

Author of this story
Kate Askew
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