Fifteen Years of Disaster Volunteers in Japan: A Longitudinal Fieldwork Assessment of a Disaster Non-Profit Organization

March 2014 (VOL. 32, NO. 1)

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Since the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji (Kobe) Earthquake, Japanese society has become accustomed to the presence of volunteers in the pre- and post-disaster environments, more specifically, in preparedness, response and recovery. The present study draws on the disaster research literature in exploring the social contexts in which groups of Kobe earthquake volunteers converged in January 1995 and formed organizations that continued to respond to national and international disasters during the 15 years that followed the 1995 earthquake. Based on the first author’s own longitudinal participant observation at a non-profit organization, the Nippon Volunteer Network Active in Disaster (NVNAD), the present study traces the development of the NVNAD over the last 15 years. The study’s basic conclusion is that, over the years, organized volunteerism in Japan has witnessed a struggle between the development of formal organizations emphasizing interagency cooperation and coordination of volunteers on one hand and the maintenance of a more affective social support-oriented approach with volunteers being physically and emotionally present to disaster survivors on the other.