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Monday, Jan. 17, 2011
A new culture of giving
The year of the rabbit has just begun, but in the first few weeks of 2011, it has been the tiger gaining all the attention. In a spontaneous Tiger Mask movement, anonymous citizens throughout Japan have been donating school backpacks and other items to orphanages and child welfare centers in the name of Naoto Date, the hero of the "Tiger Mask" manga and anime popular some 40 years ago. Date, a wrestler who wore a tiger mask in the ring, secretly donated his fight winnings to the orphanage where he was raised.
This nationwide movement was sparked by the news of 10 brand-new backpacks left Christmas morning at the door of a child welfare facility in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, under the name "Naoto Date." Since then knapsacks, cash, gift cards, rice, and even a thousand disposable diapers (to the "baby post," where unwanted babies can be left in Kumamoto city) have been given — in the name of Tiger Mask and other cartoon characters — to at least 70 facilities.
Such an outpouring of good will points to a latent generosity among the Japanese, despite their lack of a tradition of giving to strangers. It is to be hoped that such a movement can lead to less haphazard efforts to help the more than 30,000 children living in less than optimal conditions in some 580 children's homes in Japan, and not just end as a momentary burst of good feeling.
One hopeful sign is Japan's growing civil society, as nonprofit organizations and volunteers play an increasing role in lending a helping hand to less fortunate members of society, whether they are children, or hikikomori recluses, or those contemplating suicide.
Now, the national government is moving to support such activities by increasing the deduction for charitable contributions to NPOs in its tax reform outline for fiscal 2011 to 50 percent of donations, that are each over ¥2,000.
If the Democratic Party of Japan follows through on its pledge to ease the process for NPOs to receive tax-deductible status from the National Tax Agency, and for taxpayers to claim the deduction, perhaps we will see the growth of a "charity culture" in Japan beyond anonymously dropping off gifts in the name of cartoon characters.