Font size
  • S
  • M
  • L

CWS JAPAN - Creating Societies That Don’t Lose Out to Disasters by Leveraging Overseas and Domestic Networks -


General Secretary Mr. Takeshi Komino

August’s Close Up introduces CWS JAPAN, a specified non-profit corporation. As the Japanese arm of the Church Wide Service (CWS), an international non-government organization (NGO) that is active in more than 30 countries worldwide, what led to CWS JAPAN commencing its activities in this country was the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. At a time when the nation was confronted by an unprecedented disaster, CWS engaged in a range of support activities through utilizing its track record in humanitarian assistance. Moreover, at the current time throughout the countries of Asia as well, CWS continues to support people who are victims of natural disasters, poverty and conflicts, etc. On this occasion, we were fortunate enough to speak to CWS Japan General Secretary Takeshi Komino both about the outcomes of the group’s activities up until now and its prospects for the future.

Q. Please tell me about the history of CWS and what led to the establishment of CWS JAPAN.

A. Concerning CWS which is headquartered in the United States, as one of the Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia (LARA), it was fortunate enough to be involved in the provision of relief supplies to Japan after World War Two. The CWS Japan Committee established an office in Tokyo in 1946, and through until 1952 it engaged in the distribution of a range of items including foodstuffs, medical care and pharmaceutical products, etc. After that, the Japan Office became dormant. However, due to the need to engage in emergency assistance in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, a decision was made to re-establish the Tokyo Office. Even though Japan is considered to be a developed nation, in the days following that climactic event it nevertheless experienced great difficulty in trying to respond to the multiple disasters that took the form of an earthquake, tsunami and a nuclear crisis. Moreover, because Japan as a nation is so rich, perhaps there was a corresponding weakening of the desire of each and every individual to live. It might also be argued that it was not necessarily the case that assistance should be given in that Japan is a developed nation. Nevertheless, CWS believed it would be able to make good use of its experience in the provision of humanitarian aid. When all this was happening, I was actually in Bangkok. Thus, when the decision was made to provide aid I quickly returned to Japan and established an office. It was through these developments that we were able to start providing assistance to the impacted areas of the three prefectures in the Tohoku Region. Moreover, since we achieved the status of a recognized non-profit organization in 2013, CWS JAPAN has also begun to undertake assistance activities in countries throughout Asia. With respect to what was learnt through the experiences of the Great East Japan Earthquake as well, I believe that one of our important roles is to act as a connecting bridge between the resources that are available here in Japan and those areas overseas that require them.

Q. I have heard that there are three pillars that underlie the activities that CWS JAPAN undertakes.

A. Yes, the three pillars that underlie our activities are “emergency and development assistance,” “policy advocacy” and “skills development.”
To begin with “emergency and development assistance,” in following on from our efforts in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, we are now also providing domestic emergency assistance to those areas that were impacted by this year’s Kumamoto Earthquake. Moreover, we are also engaged in responding to various natural disasters, poverty and conflicts, etc., overseas. With respect to the victims of an earthquake that occurred in northern Pakistan, we have offered assistance so that they may see out the winter. In Myanmar meanwhile, we have helped construct water-supply infrastructure so as to assist refugees who are now returning to the country. Over in Afghanistan, we are carrying out assistance whose purpose is to help improve the education of girls, etc.
On the topic of “policy advocacy”, in making use of the strength that CWS Japan possesses through its overseas network, we have proactively transmitted to the world what was learnt and experienced through the provision of assistance in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. At the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) held in Sendai in March of 2015, in our role as a key member of the Japan Coalition for 2015 WCDRR (JCC2015), a group in which there were more than 100 participating organizations, we advocated hard so as to ensure that the lessons learnt from the multiple disasters that struck Japan were reflected in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.


CWS JAPAN is active both domestically and overseas, examples being the emergency assistance offered in response to the Kumamoto Earthquake, and the group’s supporting the education of girls in Afghanistan, etc.

Q. And what about “skills development,” which you mentioned as the third pillar that underlies your activities?

A. Concerning “skills development,” so as to improve both the knowledge and the technical abilities of people involved in the provision of aid, we work to promote the international standards for humanitarian assistance so that they may be more widely-adopted here in Japan. We have also played a key role in the establishment of the Japan Quality and Accountability Improvement Network (J-QAN) in which numerous groups including NGOs, etc., are involved. Until now, it has been necessary to invite trainers from overseas when stakeholders here in Japan have wished to learn about the international standards for humanitarian assistance, however, we are now giving some thought to the nurturing of Japanese trainers who will be capable of teaching such topics. We would also like to develop Japanese language teaching materials that would allow such trainers to instruct their compatriots in Japanese.
Concerning the three types of activity that CWS JAPAN conducts, it is imperative that each is carried out as part of a coordinated cycle. If offering “emergency and development assistance” is thought of as being paramount to the application of a Band-Aid to a wound site, then “policy advocacy” might be viewed as being necessary so as to ensure that people do not get injured in the first place. Concurrently, “skills development” might be seen as the investigation of matters in order to identify how a Band-Aid might be better applied to a wound more efficiently and more effectively. By lining up these three elements, synergies shall be created, and it is at that point that the first linkages can be established to resolve a particular problem.


CWS JAPAN is very proactive in undertaking activities that aim to promote the adoption of international standards for humanitarian assistance.

Q. And I believe that CWS JAPAN is a participant in a wide range of different networks both overseas and here in Japan.

A. Concerning the world in which we now live, when it comes to issues such as conflicts, natural disasters and inequality, etc., the fact is that their scale is now so large that they cannot be resolved by a single organization. Thus, it is imperative that the required power to break and overcome the status quo be created, such being brought about by the synergies that result from linking together those resources that are retained by numerous different sectors. As such, based on a core of interested parties drawn from organizations such as the Japan CSO Coalition for Disaster Risk Reduction (JCC-DRR), with whom CWS JAPAN operates a common secretariat, and also with the Japan Platform (JPF), etc., in March of this year we held the “Humanitarian Innovation Forum Japan 2016” for the purpose of bringing about a revolution in humanitarian assistance through innovation that is to be carried out by NGOs, industry and government. Currently, NGOs and industry are cooperating for the purpose of developing a platform that shall bring about innovation, and in actual fact there are already a number of pilot projects in operation. Concerning what is important for a wide variety of sectors to come together like this for the purpose of resolving a particular issue, I suppose the answer is that the various stakeholders possess a sense of empathy. It is when there is empathy that a common vision is born among stakeholders, and that things move forward by each contributing their own strengths. Thus, I believe that one of the roles that CWS JAPAN also has to play is the spreading of that know-how which is necessary for developing cooperation and creating networks among a wide variety of different stakeholders.


A picture of General Secretary Komino delivering an address to the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) held in Turkey in May. At the WHS, a strategy regarding cooperation between countries and sectors for the purpose of resolving issues was adopted.

Q. So what about your networks? Do you have any examples whereby the existence of your networks have allowed for something to be achieved?

A. We had interested parties from JCC2015 gather together, and then we cooperated in the creation of a booklet entitled “10 Lessons from Fukushima.” We then translated and published the booklet into the 14 languages of those countries that currently retain nuclear power stations. I should point out that the decision as whether or not to operate nuclear power stations is one that each country has to decide for themselves. However, I also believe there is not enough information being circulated to allow for decisions based on informed consent. Rather, there has been a tendency to downplay the risks of nuclear power. That is a mistake that Japan has also made through its perpetuating the “myth of nuclear safety.” Thus, in light of the Fukushima disaster, we felt there was a responsibility on the part of Japanese people to convey what had been learnt to an overseas audience. Thus, this booklet was published. Moreover, in the preparation of this resource, we received a great deal of cooperation both from parties related to NGOs and also from researchers, etc. I believe that what allowed us to do what we did was the strength of our networks.


“10 Lessons from Fukushima” was created to convey both what was learnt and the voices of the people of Fukushima.

Q. What have you felt since commencing your activities while using Japan as a base?

A. In Japan, I sense that there is still a strong mindset that equates “NGOs with being voluntary organizations.” By contrast, I view them as professionals in the fields of humanitarian assistance and social development. Accordingly, I also believe that NGOs should be suitably remunerated for the work that they do. For that to happen, however, via their track record, they must take the lead in portraying themselves as professional organizations so as to change the consciousness of the people around them. Rather than merely building schools in poverty-stricken regions, the NGOs must go so far as to convey the fact that through the creation of such schools, the lives of people and children are positively transformed. Moreover, concerning those people who empathize with such initiatives, it is necessary that there be a flow that transforms them into supporters of NGO activities. However, in that in Japan there still remains a system that sees such matters vertically divided into any number of segments, there is the issue as to whether or not the activities of NGOs can cut across such divisions.

Q. Please tell me about CWS JAPAN’s future outlook?


A. One strength of CWS JAPAN is our ability to analyze social issues. Thus, by being able to link to those resources that are retained by industry and universities, I would like to be able to develop new ways of solving problems. In order to achieve that, however, we will need to be very proactive in both learning about new technologies and keeping abreast of the latest developments in research, etc. By going beyond the borders that exist between different sectors and cooperating with industry and universities, I would like to continually increase the number of problem-solving projects by leveraging one another’s strengths.