Neighborhood Associations in Japan: A Primer for Foreign Residents

Neighborhood Associations in Japan: A Primer for Foreign Residents

Buying property or moving to Japan for the foreseeable future? What should you know about neighborhood associations in Japan? 

We cover the pros and cons of jichikai, what to consider if your house or an apartment has a neighborhood association in the area, and your rights as a renter or property owner. 

An overview of neighborhood associations in Japan

In Japanese, neighborhood associations are known as chounaikai (町内会) or jichikai (自治会). These resident-run voluntary organizations aim to improve the lives of the residents within their designated community. 

Historically, Japan’s neighborhood associations have roots in Japan’s wartime past and played such roles as air raid damage control. After the war, chounaikai activities were banned on the grounds that they provided grassroots support for the war effort. In 1952, the ban was lifted, and neighborhood associations were once again allowed.  

In a 2017 book on the topic of Japan’s neighborhood associations, author Minoru Nakata proposes the following five characteristics of neighborhood associations in Japan. 

  1. The association is divided into certain areas, and these areas do not overlap each other.

  2. The association is composed of households as a unit.

  3. In principle, all households (units) are considered to be members.

  4. They are involved in various local issues in a comprehensive manner.

  5. Thus, the association represents the community to the government and outside third parties.

If you are a resident of an area with a neighborhood association, you will be asked to join and pay a monthly membership fee. Activities are funded through monthly membership fees (between ¥300 and ¥600) and through fundraising activities conducted by the neighborhood association.

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What’s the difference between chounaikai and jichikai

The names for neighborhood associations in Japan differ from area to area but this does not change the general purpose nor makeup of these associations. According to a 2003 survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the majority of neighborhood associations (at 42.8%) referred to themselves as jichikai.Chounaikai came in second place (24.6%).

What type of activities do neighborhood associations in Japan perform? 

Activities are self-selected, so the actions of each neighborhood association in Japan will differ from place to place. In general, however, activities are related to crime prevention, fire prevention, traffic safety, disaster prevention, cleaning of garbage disposal locations, fundraising for maintenance costs, maintenance of security lights, hosting festivals, and various recreational activities.

On a more visible basis, individuals residing in an area with an active chounaikai or jichikai will see a clipboard (回覧板 = kairanban) visit their mailbox periodically. The kairanban circulates through all the houses on a street, passing on local news and information.

According to Minato City (Japanese guidebook), the neighborhood associations within Minato conduct the following activities throughout the year for their communities: 

  • Crime prevention patrol

  • Cleaning activities

  • Cleaning of graffiti

  • Celebration of school enrollment

  • Sakura viewing

  • Spring traffic safety awareness activities

  • Barbecues

  • Flea markets

  • Summer festivals

  • Calisthenics

  • Bathing and hiking activities

  • Fall traffic safety awareness activities

  • Respect for the elderly celebrations

  • Disaster preparedness training

  • Christmas parties

  • Mochi-making parties

  • Setsubun celebrations

  • Coming of age celebrations

Minato City Community Events

What are the pros to joining a neighborhood association in Japan? 

What are the general activities of a neighborhood association and what are the benefits of joining a jichikai?

1. Integration with your local community. 

As a member of a neighborhood association, you will receive information about community events and invitations to participate in a variety of activities that serve to strengthen community bonds. If you plan to live in an area for many years, joining a neighborhood association provides an opportunity to integrate with your neighbors. 

2. Disaster relief preparedness and training. 

Many neighborhood associations run evacuation and disaster preparedness drills where citizens go through the motions of enacting what to do in case of a natural disaster. Additionally, because neighborhood associations serve as a united voice, they are able to represent their members’ request concerning infrastructure requests.

3. Events and support for families with children. 

Many neighborhoods in Japan have children's associations. In some cases, the children's association is run by the neighborhood association. Children’s associations are responsible to host events that the children in the community can enjoy. In many areas, the children's association will also organize morning calisthenics during summer vacation.

 4. Activities that enhance community safety.

Neighborhood associations also engage in activities to improve public safety in the community, for example, by patrolling at night, watching over children's paths to school, cleaning up neighborhood streets, cleaning and maintenance of garbage disposal locations, requesting the installation of exterior lights, and installing warning signs. 

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What are the cons to joining a neighborhood association in Japan? 

Home owners and renters might have reservations about joining a neighborhood association in Japan because of the time and labor commitments involved. When you join a neighborhood association, you are not only required to pay neighborhood association dues, but you may be asked to volunteer or participate in various activities and events. You may also be put on the rotational for cleaning your street’s garbage collection station. 

Can I still use the garbage disposal station if I haven’t joined a neighborhood association? 

Opposing opinions abound. While the local municipality is officially responsible for disposing of household garbage, neighborhood associations in Japan take charge of the cleaning and maintenance of garbage collection points. The association may have rules that prohibit non-members from using their garbage site, in which case, you will need to ask for permission from your neighborhood association. Some neighborhood associations allow residents to be part of the cleaning rotational without joining the neighborhood association itself. 

Contact your city office to find out the point of contact for the neighborhood association that exists for your area and then ask what the particulars are for using the garbage collection station without joining the neighborhood association. 

In certain circumstances, you can request for the issuance of an additional garbage collection station. The guidelines for designating new garbage collection stations differ from city to city. Google [your city] + ごみステーションの設置届け.  

Does my apartment belong to a neighborhood association? 

If you are a renter in Japan, you can ask your landlord if your apartment belongs to a neighborhood association. It could be that your landlord pays any association-related fees and serves as the point of contact with your association. 

If you are an apartment owner in Japan, you will mandatorily be a part of a Building Management Association (マンション管理組合), which consists of all unit owners. This association meets regularly on topics related to the building’s management. Being a member of a Building Management Association is mandatory for apartment owners in Japan. However, being a member of a neighborhood association in Japan is not mandatory by law.

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