While the concept of SSE is not widely used in Japan, other terms that describe core SSE values and practices have a long history. Importantly, they have been assimilated into contemporary public policy discourse and institutions.
SSE practices and organizations existed over several centuries for the management of common-pool resources, to provide financial support through rotating credit schemes, and to defend and promote the interests of specific groups by forming intermediary organizations. With the establishment of the modern state system in the latter half of the 19th century, these organizations either declined or were fundamentally transformed. Within policy and academic discourse, however, they are considered part of the cultural background of SSE.
Various concepts shape contemporary SSE and public policy in Japan. Hieiri, which refers to non-profit activity, was inserted in the Civil Code enacted in 1896 and was subsequently recognized as the basic guiding principle of citizens’ social and service activities. Machizukuri appeared in the 1960s to describe various local civic organizations working autonomously for the cultural, social and economic development of a community; participating actively in local governance; and living harmoniously with the surrounding ecosystem. Kyodo (translated as ‘co-production’) was introduced to Japan in the early 1980s and spread rapidly to refer to civic participation and effective cooperation between local or central government and other actors.
These three concepts are central to a strategic change in the nature of the public-private relationship that was introduced in 2010. Known as “New Public Commons”, this reform sought to give more weight to non-state entities operating in the public interest, including newly recognized civic organizations which, operating voluntarily and autonomously, contributed to resolving economic and social problems.