According to the International Cooperative Alliance 77 million Japanese are members of cooperatives.  Seikatsu Club formed half a century ago when there were Japan had no specific laws enabling the cooperative legal structure.  Women committed to improving life for their families and their communities began collaborating. The result is an umbrella organization touching local production, distribution and quality control.  Seikatsu Club seems to be an inspiring example of self-organizing behavior leading to a shift in culture.

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“Seikatsu Club”, is a voluntary association started in Tokyo in 1965 at the initiative of women who wanted to reform their lives and local communities as well as society.  In 1968 Seikatsu Club was incorporated as Seikatsu Club  Consumers’ Co-operatives which guaranteed democratic operation and management in order to promote the movement, continue business, and realize its goal. Since then, Seikatsu Club  has expanded its activities under a motto of “autonomous control of our lives” including production-distribution-consumption-disposal, the environment, social services, and politics. Presently 29 Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-ops (affiliates to Seikatsu Club Union) in over 19 prefectures conduct independent and unique activities.

Extracted from: International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development. Newsletter #40 – July 1st, 2007


As of June 2007, the Seikatsu Club is a union of 30 local co-operatives with a total membership of over 290,000 members, 99.9% being women. This is explained by the fact that Japanese society is in some regards very traditional. Therefore, social pressure strongly incites married women with children to quit the labour market, such as was the case in North America and in Western Europe a generation or two ago. This explains why the domestic consumption sphere is mostly a woman’s realm.

New social initiatives

Over the years, the members have launched workers’ collectives. There are now over 700 collectives, with nearly 20,000 members. Since there is no law in Japan for workers’ co-operatives, the members had to use the non-profit organisation (NPO) status. However, they function as if they were a coop (working ownership). The range of activities is very broad: preparing meals for elderly people, homecare, kindergartens, handicrafts, recycling, etc.

Having understood that merely making demands to local authorities was not enough, some members decided to get directly involved in politics by presenting candidates for local assemblies in the Tokyo Metropolitan region. The name they chose «Seikatsusha Network», means People who live in the sense of «inhabitants». Today, there are over 140 elected members in local assemblies, all women, who work to push these concerns.
At the local level: a Community Cooperative Council

The Seikatsu Club considers that to make a global change to society, a «cooperative» society, a society that works together has to be put in place. The plan is to create local Community Cooperative Councils, especially in Tokyo, composed of all organisations in a given territory: cooperatives, local producers, citizens’ movements, unions, workers collectives, associations, educational institutions, etc. The objective is that the community takes charge of itself. The principles are quite similar to sustainable local development or community economic development as known in Canada.
At the global level: a transformative vision of the public arena

Having realized that economic and social issues are linked, that all has become «glocal»; that the global and the local are so interlinked that we must act at all levels, from the local to the global. To have an impact on issues such as GMOs, the WTO rules, poverty and war, we are forced to imagine a «global community» similar to how we conceive local or national communities. Their vision is affirmed in the following manner (excerpt from a PowerPoint presentation):

We believe it is now the time for co-operatives to play a big role, both in their various communities and as the world’s largest NPO, in building the new glocal public sphere.

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A Consumer Who Produces

The Seikatsu Club movement, “a consumer who produces”, promotes the following objectives in co-operation with consumers and producers who act as equal partners through collective purchase movement and business:

  • To reveal absurdity and mechanisms of society from the viewpoint of ordinary citizens
  • To share with producers the risk of time, space, and cost of improving agricultural methods and production process necessary for production
  • To not deprive others of food (including overseas)
  • To realize a truly necessary “alternative production-distribution-consumption-disposal” social system.

Independent Control and Auditing System

  • Member themselves directly inspect the process from purchasing of materials to producing.
  • In our Independent Control and Auditing System, based upon the Seikatsu Club principles of safety, health and the environment, members of the Independent Control Committee, consisting of both members and producers, form sub-committees for agriculture, fishery, livestock raising, processed foods, daily commodities, packaging materials, etc. and set independent standards.  The producers are supposed to disclose information as to whether their products meet the Committee’s production standards. “Mass independent control” gives the committee members an opportunity to actually check whether independent standards are truly realized through study session and on-spot inspection.  This is a unique auditing system and only Seikatsu Club can achieve such a high level of information disclosure. About 500 independent audits by about 4,000 members were conducted up to 2006. Once a producer achieves the independent standards objectives, a higher level of standards is set.

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There are about 500 consumers’ cooperatives in Japan. From Hokkaido in the north to Hyogo in the south, the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union, (hereafter SCCCU) which consists of an association of 32 consumer co-operatives active in 21 administrative divisions (prefectures) of Japan, has altogether about 340,000 members, most of whom are women. In addition, there are six associated companies, including a milk factory.

The SCCU carries out the development, purchasing, distribution, and inspection of consumer materials (food, general daily goods, clothes, publications), and publishes PR and ordering information for pre-order collective purchase. In addition, the entire union works on problems such as GMOs and the environmental hormones issue by setting up committees and establishing projects which are run by SC members and SCCU staff.

The SCCCU member unit is based on the independent branches, all of which have independent management and activities. Seikatsu Club funding is from the members, who make monthly contributions of 1000 yen per person. These investments are the foundation of our healthy financial management.

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Problems we are facing

We are now almost drowning in the ocean of a consumer society which prevails all over the world. Although we believed it possible to achieve a fruitful life, as a matter of fact, we face problems such as the decline of food self-efficiency ratio, insecure food safety, the destruction of the environment, the widening gap of rich and poor, and poverty. Each problem is too huge to be tackled by an individual so we have to unite with our neighbour and neighbour’s neighbour.

 Seikatsu Club Principles: 10 principles on safety, health and the environment

1.    Pursuit of safety for consumer materials
2.    Raising self-sufficiency in food
3.    Reduction of harmful substances
4.    Sustainable use of natural resources
5.    Reduction of waste and promotion of reuse
6.    Reduction of energy use
7.    Reduction of risk
8.    Information disclosure
9.    Independent control and auditing
10.  Mass participation


Photo by Magdalena Roeseler Photo by polybazze

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