Citizen and consumer movements in Japan

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Japanese Citizen and consumer movements, which became prominent during the 1960s and 1970s, were organized around issues relating to the quality of life, the protection of the environment from industrial pollution, and the safety (although not the cost) of consumer goods. In the late 1960s, industrial pollution, symbolized by the suffering of victims of mercury poisoning (Minamata disease) caused by the pollution of Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture by a chemical company, was viewed as a national crisis. The Sato government responded by establishing the Environment Agency in the Office of the Prime Minister in 1970, instituting tough penalties for polluters, and extending compensation to the victims of pollution. Environmental issues continue to be the focus of intense local activity. In the early 1990s, communities on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture were divided over whether to construct a new airport to handle wide-bodied aircraft on land reclaimed from the sea. Supporters viewed the project as essential to the island's tourist development, while opponents claimed that construction would destroy offshore colonies of rare blue coral and would ruin the local fishing industry. Another environmental issue in many parts of Japan was the use of powerful chemicals on golf courses, which in some cases harmed nearby residents.

Women's groups are in the forefront of the consumer movement. They include the National Federation of Regional Women's Associations, the Housewives Association, and the National Association of Consumer Cooperatives. Their activities depend on the support of neighborhood women's associations, the women's sections of local agricultural and fishing cooperatives, and government-sponsored consumer education groups. Although boycotts have been organized against companies making products that the groups viewed as dangerous (for example, canned foods containing carcinogenic cyclamates), they do not, for the most part, demand lower prices for food or other goods. In tandem with agricultural interests, consumer groups oppose increased food imporshemts on the grounds that the supply is unpredictable and likely laced with dangerous additives.