Early-Career Scholar Forum

The Emergence of Modern Humanitarian Activities: The Evolution of Japanese Red Cross Movement from Local to Global

Friday, 15 January 2021 | 12:15 - 13:00 (JST)
Zoom Meeting
  • Michiko Suzuki Project Researcher, Institute of Social Science, The University of Tokyo
  • Kenneth McElwain Professor, Institute of Social Science, The University of Tokyo
Event Description

The history of the founding and the early years of the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) revise the conventional and reductionist view of the Red Cross movement in Japan as simply a cultural import from the West and a top-down movement directed by the Meiji government.

This research argues that from the beginning, native Japanese traditions of humanitarianism expressed in the modern Japanese notion of humanitarianism (jindō: 人道), literally meaning ‘the way of humanity’ infused the ethos of the JRCS. It also argues that while at the national level the JRCS enjoyed the patronage of the Imperial Family, organizationally it developed into a strong grassroots movement that expanded its activities beyond the ICRC’s mission of providing medical aid to combatant in international conflicts. The rapid growth of the JRCS was made possible by the involvement of ordinary people in humanitarian activities in the form of self-reliant efforts to survive social uncertainties such as poverty, natural disasters, epidemic diseases, and civil wars brought about by the Meiji Restoration. By responding to local humanitarian crises as well as assisting the nation in Japan’s foreign wars, the JRCS tapped into ordinary Japanese people’s communitarianism and patriotism and the Society experienced a dramatic increase in the membership to more than 2 million members in 1920, emerging as by far the world’s largest National Red Cross Society.