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Thank you all for your kind messages. I am now living in my new house. It is very messy, and there is still a lot that needs to be done, but I’m enjoying the central heating.

This week’s topic is connected to my move. The other day, a man came round to introduce himself and tell me about the neighbourhood council (自治会). Of course, I know that most people in Japan have to join one of these groups, especially if you live in the countryside.

Actually, I joined one when I lived in Nagoya. I didn’t have to do much, though – just pass the folder along when it was given to me by my next-door neighbours. I think I also had to pay about 1,000 yen a month, or something like that.

When the man came to talk to me at my new house, I asked him about money, fully expecting him to say a couple of thousand yen. I’m sure you can imagine my reaction when he told me I have to pay 50,000 yen just to join! I couldn’t believe my ears!

He justified this by explaining that it used to be 100,000 yen, so it is actually much cheaper now.

This got me thinking that we have never discussed neighbourhood councils on this blog. Does your neighbourhood have one? Are you a member of it? How much do you have to pay? What kinds of things do you have to do? Have you ever had any problems?

Look forward to hearing your stories.

このブログは英語学習者のためのものです。レベルの高い人もいれば、初心者もいますので、自分のレベルや学習経験を気にする必要はありません。「いつもコメントを書いている人は仲間みたいだから参加しにくい」と思う方もいるかもしれませんが、勇気を出してコメントを書いてみてください。必ず温かく迎えてもらえます。多くのコメントは英語で書かれていますが、もちろん日本語もOKですし、英語と日本語を混ぜて書いても大丈夫です。言いたいことが言えないときは、How do you say 「〜」in English? と聞けば、きっとだれかが教えてくれると思います。私のエントリー、または他のメンバーのコメントの中に分からないところがあったら、「”…”はどういう意味ですか?」と遠慮なく聞いてください。このブログで使われているフレーズや表現をたくさん吸収すると、より自然な英語に近づけることができますよ!

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  1. YU on Monday March 17th, 2014 at 07:56 PM

    Hi David,

    Congratulations on your new house!

    Hi Kai,

    Nice to have you with us!

    Hi David and everyone,

    It’s a very timely topic!
    My husband and I were group leaders of 7 households around our house this year and I’ve just attended the final meeting of my neighbourhood council for this fiscal year yesterday.

    > when he told me I have to pay 50,000 yen just to join!

    Is he really a man from your neighbourhood council??? I’ve never heard that someone has paid such an expensive membership fee. You should ask your neighbours about him and the memberdhip fee first!
    When I moved to my city, I asked my city hall about our 自治会長’s name and his address and telephone number first of all because we wanted to introduce ourselves to him, so I guess you can ask yours about it too.

    > Does your neighbourhood have one?

    Yes. Apparently, it is a quite big one. There’re over 300 housholds.

    > Are you a member of it?


    > How much do you have to pay?


    > What kinds of things do you have to do?

    Usually you just need to pass the folder(回覧板) to neigbours and help collecting 資源ゴミ once a year or so when it is your turn.
    In our 自治会, 5~10 housholds form small groups called 組 and you’ll need to become the 組長 by turns. When you become the 組長, you have to collect 自治会費, 赤い羽根募金, 福祉会費, 歳末助け合い募金, etc…from your members and bring it to your 自治会長 within the time limit. In addition, you also need to ask your members whether or not they’d like to take part in some events like 地区別運動会, 防災訓練 and tell about it to your 自治会長. Of course, you should attend the regular meetings too.

    > Have you ever had any problems?

    Not much, but I wondered why they collect 2,000yen because I learned at the meeting that they actually spent only half of them last year and this year. And what is even worse, I received two packs of sugar in July and two bottles of soy sause in December from our 自治会長 because we take the post of 組長 this year. As you might already imagine, of course, it’s not from his pocket money, but he spent our 自治会費. There’re 36 組 in my 自治会 and he seems to have gone delivering the sugar and say sause to all the 36 組長. 2,000yen isn’t big money, though, I want them to use it more properly.

  2. John Spiri on Monday March 17th, 2014 at 08:06 PM

    50,000 yen seems an outrageous amount. You mean you’re supposed to pay that yearly, right? We pay 10,000 and that seems too much. Did you ask what the money is used for? Ours is used for the bento and drinks for frequent meetings. Actually, I’m glad you chose this topic because I’ve got a story from just last night.

    I went to our council meeting where plans for disaster prevention equipment were discussed. The council had discussed it before, and I talked with Rika (my wife) about it, so I had plenty of background knowledge. The older men pushed the idea of why it’s so important, then asked, “Anyone have an opinion?” Now, I’m pretty shy to speak out, and thought it’d be futile anyway to express my feeling that 150,000 yen for shovels and fire extinguishers somewhere in our neighborhood will never be used. So I kept quiet. He asked again; no one objected. When he asked a third time I found the words leaving my lips: ‘I can’t really explain reasons fully, but I just want to say I think it’s unnecessary.’ I hoped, at least, it would get the debate rolling. Instead the old man in charge gave me a five minute lecture about why we need the disaster prevention, basically scolding me. He was only looking for agreement, not dissent. I realized the principle of democracy has not reached local levels.

    I at least thought while eating someone would want to know why I felt the purchases were unnecessary. Instead I got another lecture from a different elderly man. In both cases I eventually blurted out, “It’s just my opinion, and you asked for it.”

    Well, that’s a bit off the topic of yearly fees. I think you realize you don’t have to pay. It’s easy to advise you to not pay, but you have to live with your neighbors. Much of that is probably for booze. Maybe you could explain you don’t drink so you can’t pay that much? It’s a tough call.

  3. YU on Tuesday March 18th, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    Hi everyone,

    I know exactly what John means.

    When I joined my neigbourhood council nearly four years ago, I received the housing map with residents’ names. Then I realized that many residents of the same family names(4 names ; Sato, Ito, etc..) live in my area. This year(until the end of this month) I’m the group leader for the first time and learned at the first meeting that old men of the four surnames are in charge of the board members by turns. The thing is that they’re what is called “local worthies”(地元の名士). I think neighbourhood councils in Japan are just an another old boys’ club like many other companies and organizations in Japan after all and you should never expect “democracy” there. Everything is fixed by those old men before you attend the meetings and all what you need to do there is to agree with what they had decided in advance. It’s like a reign of terror.

    I read some articles written by people who refused to join their neigbourhood councils. Most of them complain that they’re refused to place their garbage at their garbage stations by their neigbourhood councils’ members. One of them couldn’t accept it and asked her city hall about whether or not she really has no right to place her rubbish there just because she isn’t the member, although she pays taxes properly. They answered, “It has nothing to do with you’re a member of your neighbourhood council.” It’s like a “bullying” by adults. Those who do different things from others are obstracized by the community. No wonder why Japanese children start bullying friends.

    Reading those articles, I started doubting about if I need to join it too because “rubbish” is the main reason why I join there. I’d like to hear what other members think about it.

    -Do you think neighbourhood councils are necessary in the first place?
    Why?/Why not?

    -Why do you join there?

    I’m not really a social person, so it’s really tough for me to associate with many people who I don’t like very much. Especially, I don’t like those in power for no particular reasons, but arrogant to others like older men John mentioned.

  4. Biwa on Tuesday March 18th, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    Hi everyone,

    50,000 yen for just joining the neighborhood council?!! That’s impossible. 10,000 yen is still too much, and I wonder if that is the average for councils in the countryside. Do the councils play a bigger role than they do in the cities? Do all people really pay that much without saying anything? To me, it sounds as if they’re planning to build a new community hall or something!

    Anyway, I live in Yokohama, and I pay only 3,000 yen per year, and I personally think it’s still too expensive. The money is mainly used for the annual community sport festival which I have never attended, and for giving some money to the newly-adults(その年に成人式を迎えた人) and to the elderly people on “Respect-for-the-aged Day.”

    I understand that they want to create some feeling among people that we’re all supporting or caring for each other, but I don’t think anyone really looks forward to receiving a couple of thousand yen from the neighborhood council. What’s more, I don’t really think this custom would last forever in this aging society. I would get mad if they tried to raise the council fee just to give money for the eldery!

    I laughed when I read John’s story. I wonder why no one said against spending 150,000 yen for buying shovels and fire extinguishers just to store them in the community hall. It would be much more reasonable to have each family buy their own, wouldn’t it?

    Hi YU,

    I’ll write my answers to your questions later. I have to go now!

  5. David on Tuesday March 18th, 2014 at 01:28 PM

    Thanks for your comments. John is a friend of mine, and he is the nicest, most inoffensive chap you could ever meet. If it had been me in that meeting instead of him, one or both of those old men might have ended up in the river!

    Just to clarify my original post, the system is that I have to pay 50,000 yen to join the council, and then a couple of thousand yen per year after that. I have no idea what the money is used for, but I certainly intend to find out.

    I agree with YU 100% about the “old boys” problem. We used to have them at my previous house. Basically, they are retired men who have nothing to do all day and no one to boss around now that they are no longer working. Being involved in the council gives them a kind of status and makes them feel important. All they really do is make life difficult for people just for the sake of it. I don’t think there are any people like that in my new place, but if there are, we will no doubt clash at some point!

  6. Tsuneko on Tuesday March 18th, 2014 at 06:50 PM

    Hi David and everyone,

    I even thought you were being cheated by the man. Just in case, you might want to ask other people in your neighborhood if he is the right person in charge. I’ve never heard such an expensive ‘jichi-kaihi’ or yearly fees. I pay 1,200 yen every six months.
    I’m living in a downtown in Kobe.

    As for old men in my neighborhood, luckily enough, they are doing many helpful things for younger people and children. They are not arrogant or dominant at all.

  7. Fumie on Tuesday March 18th, 2014 at 10:23 PM

    Hi David and everyone,

    Thank you for the first post from your new house!We have neighbourhood council but I’m not joining it because I don’t want to do the jobs so I don’t know much about it and I just asked my mom about it.
    >How much do you have to pay?
    My mom doesn’t remember exactly but she said probably she paid 2000 yen a year.
    >What kind of things do you have to do?
    The Jichikaicyo is the top and there are Kumicyos and under them are Hancyos. Kumicyos have to attend monthly meetings and they pass what they talked to Hancyos. And the works of Kumicyos is as same as YU explained.

    Hi YU,

    >-Do you think neighbourhood councils are necessary in the first place?
    Why?/Why not?
    I don’t think I need to join it myself because I have children thus I have chances to see my neighbors but recently more older people live alone and there are not much chances to socialize with others so for those neighbourhood councils are necessary.

    Hi John,

    Thank you for sharing your story. So you finally gave your opinion when the older man asked at the third time. That is a courageous thing.
    > In both cases I eventually blurted out, “It’s just my opinion, and you asked for it.”
    Way to go!

    Hi Kai,

    Nice to have you with us! Wow, you are staying in New Zealand. Lucky you! Which part of the country are you staying? New Zealand has various nature so I want to visit there some day!

  8. Anne on Wednesday March 19th, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    Hi David and everyone,

    50,000yen to join the council is so expensive! Also, I can’t get why you have to pay the money to join there. I’ve never heard of such a story around me. It sounds like a initiation fee(入会金)for the gym.

    > How much do you have to pay?

    —2,500yen per year. I live in Nagoya.

    > What kinds of things do you have to do?

    We have 10 households in our group. However four are allowed to skip their duties because two families are from elderly people and the rest are actually not households but run beauty salon and women’s clinic.
    The duty is almost the same as Yu mentioned.

    Hi John,

    > So I kept quiet. He asked again; no one objected.
    —I can easily visualize the scene. I guess it’s an usual pattern that you come across at the local meeting or some other places.

    > Instead the old man in charge gave me a five minute lecture about why we need the disaster prevention, basically scolding me
    —-Sorry to hear about that. Isn’t that too much? At least, when I joined the meeting a couple years ago, there arose several ideas from ‘young'(middle-aged) people.

  9. YU on Wednesday March 19th, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    Hi Biwa,

    >the annual community sport festival which I have never attended

    Same here!

    Hi Tsuneko,

    I agree.
    For example, there’re some older people who voluntarily stand in the school routes to watch children in my area too. I’m thankful for their kindness, but they are not our council’s board members.

    Hi David,

    I see.
    50,000 yen just to join is impossible. Actually, I’d never heard that someone has paid an enrollment fee in my life before I read your clarification, so I googled and found out that in fact there seems to be a lot of places(mostly in the countryside) where people have to pay an expensive admission fee as you mentioned. As the man told you, it seems to be quite common to pay 50,000~100,000yen. If I were you, I would never pay such an expensive fee, though, at least you should ask them to show their finance records and check them carefully before you join. I guess it has a lot of falses, though.

    >Being involved in the council gives them a kind of status and makes them feel important.

    That is precisely what I wanted to write next. Our board members are either farmers or retirees. I don’t say all councils’ board members in Japan are like that, I’m sure there are some nice people doing the jobs with full of pure volunteer spirit too, but having observed their overbearing, patronizing attitudes to us for a year, I started to think that many of them take the posts just because they want to have a kind of title, otherwise they will become just ordinary old men(ただの老人).

    Hi everyone,

    As you know, whether you join your councils is totally optional, not compulsory, but I think most people unwillingly become members and keep paying their annual membership fees just to avoid troubles between their neigbours because it is usually only a couple of thousand yen. I’m one of them too. I don’t really think people(young families particularly) feel the necessity or want to be involved in the coucils’ rubbish jobs as Fumie mentioned because they’re already busy enough with their work, child care and other all kinds of things every day, but they just think like, “If you could live with your neighbours peacefully only if you pay a couple of thousand yen a year, it would be okay.”

  10. Biwa on Wednesday March 19th, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the clarification. I thought so because if people had to pay 50,000 yen every year, no one would ever join the council from the beginning!

    By the way, can I ask you a question?
    You wrote “What kinds of things do you have to do?” in your original post. I wonder if there is any difference between the phrases “what kinds of things” and “what kind of things.” I looked them up in the BNC, and there were only three examples using “kinds,” whereas there were twenty-six using “kind.”
    I guess it’s not a big deal, but I’d like to know.

    Hi YU,

    Regarding your questions, as you say, I don’t really think neighborhood councils are necessary. Actually, I don’t feel that I benefit from joining ours at all. Even for the “garbage problem,” I don’t think I need to join because I live in an apartment and we have our special dumping site. However, as long as the fee is not that expensive, I’d rather join than bother to explain why I don’t every time people might ask. I just join for a very passive reason!

    Hi Tsuneko,

    >As for old men in my neighborhood, luckily enough, they are doing many helpful things for younger people and children.

    I completely agree. We have a 子供会 in our place which functions a lot more than the 自治会. When my sons were little, they really had fun joining the 餅つき、豆まき、夏祭りand other traditional events. We couldn’t have had that much fun if the older men hadn’t helped us.

  11. YU on Thursday March 20th, 2014 at 10:57 AM


    > It has nothing to do with you’re a member of your neighbourhood council

    It has nothing to do with if you’re a…

    Hi Anne,

    I want to live in a town like yours where everybody is encouraged to speak out. At the meetings in my area ‘young’ residents seem to try to keep as low a profile as possible because they think that it doesn’t pay to be scolded by older people in front of everyone even if they presented their great ideas for people.

    > Actually, I don’t feel that I benefit from joining ours at all.

    I thought so. I think older people and young children benefit the most, and single households benefit the least.

    > I’d rather join than bother to explain why I don’t every time people might ask.

    I know exactly what you mean.

    Hi everyone,

    I realized that our board members often use a phrase “We’ll do ~ as we do it every year. Mr A will be charge of this job, Mr B will do this and Mr C will do this. Anyone have an opinion?”
    As you might guess, Mr A, B, C are all older men and good friends of our board members. Strangely enough, Mr A, B, C seem to have gotten all the information before the meeting, while ‘commoners’ like my husband and me get the handouts first just before the meeting begins. I wonder who on earth can get their ideas in shape in such a short time. Well, anyway, it’s okay for us because we don’t want to be involved in their ‘club’ at all.

  12. Tsuneko on Thursday March 20th, 2014 at 07:18 PM

    Hi YU and Biwa,

    Thanks for your comments. Both of you described how old people are helping children very well. Actually, I wanted to write that, but I couldn’t find right words.

    Hi David and everyone,

    As for neighborhood council’s yearly meeting, I used to go join and ask questions occasionally because I thought everybody had to join. I remember each group leader carried back a lot of heavy sugar packets for their group members, and later on plastic garbage bags that was much lighter. Strangely enough, no one told me but I realized common members didn’t have to join the meeting:) I felt a bit embarrassed then, but it was a really good opportunity to know who live where in my town. I think this is one of good points for joining ‘jichikai.’

  13. YU on Friday March 21st, 2014 at 05:28 PM


    > Mr A will be charge of this job

    Mr A will be in charge of…

    Hi Tsuneko and Biwa,

    Have you ever served as a board member of children association when your children were little?
    I’m always interested in children associations, but many of my friends warn me that you’d be stressed out if you become the board member(appalently, you’ll have to go gathering in the evenings both on weekdays and weekends and you’ll have no holiday), so I’m still considering.
    In my area if you want to let your children join it, you’ll have to become a member of an organization to care the children association called “子供育成会” too. You’ll also need to become the board member by turns.
    I heard some children associations in my city were closed recently because the jobs were so hard that no mother wanted to become the board members any more.

    I know children learn a lot from seeing thier parents being involved communities, but I feel it’s a bit too much these days. Mothers have to become board members of schools, children associations and neighbourhood councils and others. They drive children to and from lessons a couple of times a week, do around the house, of course and many of them work part-time like Biwa and me today.

    I really admire you managed all those kinds of things in the past!

    If someone did all the children association’s jobs or school 役員’s job instead of me, I’d pay a reward with pleasure.