Community initiative for safe and welfare town
– case study of Heiancho, Yokohama city
Heian-cho in Yokohama
Heiancho is a residential area inside Yokohama city (one of the largest port cities in Japan) with total 3,500 households living near “Tsurumi-ichiba” station of Keikyu railway. This area was developed before the WWII by reclaiming canals near the sea, and during the era of rapid economic growth (1960s) many apartment houses were constructed for the employees who worked in large factories near the area. Now, it looks calm residential area similar to the other ones around Tokyo. The residents can reach Tokyo city center within 40 minutes if they take Keikyu line, and it takes only 16 minutes ride on a train to arrive at Yokohama station where you can find variety of shopping and amusement facilities. Recently, several high-rise apartment buildings were constructed, so the number of younger families and unmarried people increased in the area, whereas among the old residents there increased aged population as their sons and daughters had grown up and live separately outside the area. In short, Heian-cho is one of the ordinary residential towns around Tokyo with a mixture of new young comers and old residents of aged families.
Activities of Neighborhood Association
In Japan, at most of residential areas, neighborhood associations (chonai-kai or jichi-kai in Japanese words) are organized among the residents. The neighborhood associations in Japan are basically voluntary organizations spontaneously established by the residents to implement community activities such as disaster preparedness, crime prevention, welfare activities, and mutual friendship events. The neighborhood association usually covers several hundred to several thousand households depending upon the size of the area, and although it is considered as a voluntary association, most of the residents feel it obliged to become members and pay annual membership fee and other donation when requested. Throughout Japan, there said to be around three hundred thousand neighborhood associations. Some of them are active, but others are not so. Especially in the city area such as Yokohama or Tokyo, as most of the residents are so busy in their own business or family matters, and human relationship among the community members become much weakened as a result, many neighborhood associations can not attract most of their residents to the activities, and have become less active.
However, it is not the case of Heian-cho chokai (neighborhood association). The association is still much active to implement various social activities and many residents participate actively in those activities and events. It has 2,800 households as members, and it is divided into eight issue-wise divisions and 15 area-wise sections. The followings are the examples of activities or events taken by each divisions;
1) Welfare division: visiting the aged families, long life celebration events for the aged,
2) Environment division: green campaign, measure for abandoned bicycles, measure for illegal advertisement boards, beautification of parks and flower beds
3) Transportation division: traffic safety education and campaign, traffic control at the time of events
4) Fire and Crime Prevention division: patrolling at the time pupils getting out of school, emergency training exercises, management of equipments for disaster and emergency
5) Outdoor light division: maintenance of outdoor security lights
6) Youth division: management of sports day, bringing up boys and girls in a healthy way
7) Women division: management of own activities, supporting activities of other divisions
8) Administration division: management of meetings, public relations, overall management of various events or training
In addition to the above activities by the divisions, the association also implements several events such as Heian Shinto-shrine festival, garbage recycling, great sports festival, walking festival, ball-game festival, bus trip, celebrating the aged persons, and “Sawayaka campaign” (encouraging voluntary actions such as cleaning the area).
Welfare supporting association
The uniqueness and activeness of Heian-cho is symbolized not only by the various activities implemented, but also by the presence of “Heiancho Fukushi-Sanjokai (welfare supporting association)” organized by some of the active residents.
The Fukushi-Sanjokai was established in 1991 and consists of 40 members and 150 volunteers. The primary objective of the organization is to promote social welfare activities in the area. As the neighborhood association has a limitation to provide services only within the members themselves, it was necessary to establish another voluntary organization that can promote self-help activities among all the residents of the area and volunteers coming from outside as well.
At first, the Sanjokai started lunch delivery activity for the aged families in 1992. Once a week, the volunteer staff of Sanjokai prepare lunch box and deliver to the aged or the handicapped who have difficulty to cook. Around 20 to 30 residents are getting the service, and there are 22 volunteer staff. Besides the weekly delivery activity, “eating together” events are also held several times a year.
As the service for the aged residents, the Sanjokai also provides volunteers to the aged people who needs support of gardening, repairing electric appliances, shopping or other everyday necessities. Video-theater events that show old cinemas are also held.
The Sanjokai also implements several activities to support small children and their parents. Once a week, “Heian kids room” is held in a meeting room of “Heiancho community center” constructed by the Heiancho chokai. Puppet show, parent and child physical exercises, free style games, and consultation services for the parents are held for children under school age and their parents. Measuring height and weight of the children by a public health nurse, is also implemented occasionally. Moreover, twice a month on Saturdays, “Heian Video Theater” is held in the community center and sometimes more than hundred children gather.
Apart from safety activities of Heiancho chokai, the Sanjokai also implements crime prevention activities through organizing “Heiancho security network” among the residents and volunteers. They regularly patrol around the area by walk or bicycle, and also watch the street when the pupils finish school and return to their home every afternoon. Besides, they construct information network through telephone among the residents in order to prepare for emergency situation such as natural disaster or severe crimes.
The Sanjokai also coordinates volunteers not only from the area but from outside Heiancho who want to participate in volunteer activities such as helping “Lunch Heian”, “Heian kids room”, or cleaning and maintaining flower gardens in the parks nearby.
Leadership and involvement
Mr. Hidehiko Kasai, the chairperson of both Heiancho chokai and Heiancho Fukushi Sanjokai, explains key principles of their activities.
“In the past, all the community people helped each other for their everyday life. Then, the government (central and local) took the responsibility to provide all the services, and the community people started to misunderstand that they did not have to help the neighbors. However, as the economy of Japan suffers difficulties, the government can not afford to provide all the necessary services to the people. Now, it is necessary for us to take initiatives for protecting our life by ourselves. We can not wait for the government to do something for us. It is not difficult for us to start something new that has not been done by others. Our motto is running at the front. It is necessary to start actions timely. In order to implement various actions required in the community, it is important to find out leaders among the community members and entrust them to manage the activities.”
By Rie Yamada & M. Nagahata (i-i-Network)