From Disaster Solidarity to "Multicultural Conviviality". Risks and Opportunities for Migrants in Japan after the Great Hanshin Earthquake


This paper is aimed at contributing to the discussion about practices of solidarity in contexts of shrinking civic space by bringing the focus on Japan. The country is famous for its restrictive migration policies and obstruction of pro-migrant practices. There is, however, a specific societal dimension where solidarity-makers can find spaces and opportunities: that is, the prevention of, and reaction to, natural disasters. The paper is structured in four sections. First, I present an overview of the context and the consequences of the Great Hanshin Earthquake (1995), by focusing on the unprecedented rise of the civil society that followed the disaster. Then, I turn to consider the situation of the migrants living in the Hanshin area at the time of the earthquake, and how they have been at the center of many initiatives of Japanese volunteers and NGOs. In a third section, I argue that, contrary to what is usually predicted by disaster research, those practices of solidarity did not disappear with the end of the emergency, but were progressively institutionalized and reproduced. Finally, I discuss how disaster solidarity has become an engine for the Japanese approach to cultural diversity, that is tabunka kyōsei ("multicultural coexistence/conviviality").

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20356609v16i3p531

Keywords: civil society; disasters; migration; multiculturalism; solidarity


Aldrich, D. (2011). “The Power of People: Social Capital’s Role in Recovery from the 1995 Kobe Earthquake”, Natural Hazards. 56(3).

Della Porta, D., and Steinhilper, E. (2021). Contentious Migrant Solidarity – Shrinking Spaces and Civil Society Contestation. London: Routledge.

Douglass, M., Roberts, G. S. (2000). Japan and Global Migration Foreign: Workers and the Advent of a Multicultural Society. New York: Routledge.

Endoh, T. (2009) Exporting Japan Politics of Emigration to Latin America. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Fukushima, G. (1995). “The Great Hanshin Earthquake.” JPRI. Occasional Paper No. 2. Online:


Granovetter, M. S. (1973). “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology, 78(6): 1360-1380.

Joppke, C. (2017). Is Multiculturalism Dead? Crisis and Persistence in the Constitutional State. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kataoka, H. (2016). “chiiki bōsai no naka no “gaikoku hito” – esunishiti kenkyū kara “chiiki komyuniti” o toi naosu tame no ichikōsatsu.” Chiri Kūkan, 9-3: 285-299.

Kato, C. (2008). “joron “tabunkakyōsei” e no dōtei to shinjiyūshugi no jidai.” In Choi, K. and Kato, C. nihon ni okeru tabunkakyōsei to wa nani ka – zainichi no keiken kara. Tokyo: Shinyosha, 11-31.

Kondo, A. (2002). “Developments of Immigration Policy in Japan.” Asia and Pacific Migration Journal, 11(4): 415-436.

Kim, C. (2012). “hanshin awaji daishinsai kara higashinihon daishinsai e tabunkakyōsei no keiken o tsunagu – chiiki ni okeru ta gengo hōsō ga tabunkakyōsei shakai kōchiku ni hataseru kanōsei.” GEMC Journal. 7: 36-47.

Lee, E. J., and Olsen, J. E. (2015). “Multiculturalism in Japan: An Analysis and Critique.” Kwansei Gakuin University Journal of International Studies. 4(1): 9-22.

Oliver-Smith, A. and Hoffman S.M. (1999). The Angry Earth. Disaster in Anthropological Perspective. London, New York: Routledge.

Pekkanen, R. (2000), “Japan’s New Politics: The Case of the NPO Law.” Journal of Japanese Studies, 26(1): 111-148.

Remes, J. (2015). Disaster Citizenship: Survivors, Solidarity, and Power in the Progressive Era. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Ryang, S. (2003). “The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Massacre of Koreans in 1923: Notes on Japan's Modern National Sovereignty.” Anthropological Quarterly. 76:4: 731-748.

Sasse-Zeltner U. (2021), “The Revival of Solidarity in Disasters – A Theoretical Approach”, Culture, Practice and Europeanization, 6(1): 158-178.

Shaw, R., and Goda, K. (2004), “From Disaster to Sustainable Civil Society: The Kobe Experience.” Disasters, 28(1): 16-40.

Shizuyo, Y. (2012). “hanshin awaji daishinsai kara higashinihon daishinsai e – komyuniti bōsai no shiten de kangaeru imin to no kyōsei.” Koriankomyuniti Kenkyū, 3: 14-19.

Shizuyo, Y. (2019). “komyuniti bōsai no shiten ni okeru ta gengo – tabunkakyōsei e no michisuji no tsūru to shite.” Furuya Gaikokugodaigaku Ronshū, 4: 117-139.

Solnit, R. (2010). A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities. London: Penguin.

Sterngold, J. (1995). “QUAKE IN JAPAN: GANGSTERS; Gang in Kōbe Organizes: Aid for People in Quake.” The New York Times. Jan. 22. Online:

Suzuki, E. (2013). “shinsai ga ro wa ni shita ijū-sha-tachi no gen i zai ma – “tomoniikiru” to wa?” Higashinihon Daishinsai to Mainoriti, 1: 10-18.

Tamura, T. (2000). “ta minzoku kyōsei shakai nippon to borantia katsu dō.” Akashishoten, 11-12.

Tamura, T. (2017). “saigai-ji ni motome rareru gaikoku hito e no hairyo tabunkakyōsei shakai ni okeru saigai fukkō ni mukete.” Fukkō, 20.8(2).

Tamura, T. (2020). “saigai-ji ni okeru gaikoku hito taiō ni tsuite.” Rei wa 2-Nendo “saigai-ji gaikoku hito shien jōhō kōdinētā yōsei kenshū” Kōgi, 1: 1-25.

Takezawa, Y. (2000). “The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and Town-Making Towards Multiculturalism”, Zinbun (2000), 34(2): 87-99.

Takezawa, Y. (2009). “jo tabunkakyōsei no genjō to kadai.” Bunka Jinrui-gaku, 74(1): 86-95.

Takezawa, Y. (2011). “joron imin kenkyū kara tabunkakyōsei o kangaeru.” imin kenkyū to tabunkakyōsei – nihon imin gakkai sōsetsu 20-shūnen kinenronbunshū, 1-17.

Tatsuki, S. (2000). “The Kobe Earthquake and the Renaissance of Volunteerism in Japan.” Journal of Kwansei Gakuin University. 87: 185–96.

Takaya, S. (2007). “Multiculturalism in Japan: A Victory over Assimilationism or Subjection to Neo-Liberalism?” Ritsumeikan Gengo Bunka Kenkyu, 18(3): 45-57.

Tierney, K. J., and Goltz, J. D. (1997). “Emergency Response: Lessons Learned from the Kobe Earthquake.” University of Delaware (Disaster Research Center). Preliminary Paper #260. Online:

Tsuda, T. (1999). “The Motivation to Migrate: The Ethnic and Sociocultural Constitution of the Japanese-Brazilian Return Migration System.” Economic Development and Cultural Change, 48(1): 1-31.

Tsuda, T. (2003). “Domesticating the Immigrant Other: Japanese Media Images of Nikkeijin Return Migrants.” Ethnology. 42(4): 289-305.

Vertovec, S. (2007). “Super-diversity and Its Implications.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(6), 1024–1054.

Watanabe, T. (1999). “chiiki shakai ni okeru 5-nen-me no kokoromi – “chiiki bōsai to wa iwanai chiiki bōsai” no jissen to sono shūdan rikigaku-teki kōsatsu. The Japanese Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39(2): 188-196.

Whaley, F. (2013). “Major Earthquake Strikes Central Philippines.” The New York Times. 14 Oct. Online:

Yamamura, E. (2013). “Natural Disasters and Participation in Volunteer Activities: A Case Study of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics. 84:1.

Yamanaka, H. (2011). “tabunka shakai jōkyō to komyuniti rajio ta gengo hōsōkyoku FM wa ~iwa~i (kōbeshinagataku) no keiken to kadai.” Masu Komyunikēshon Kenkyū, 79: 85-118.

Yamashita, A. (2013). “hisai-chi no gaikoku hito no gengo seikatsu – rikuzentakata ōfunato no kekkon ijū josei no jirei o chūshin to shite.” In Yōko, M. bunkachō itaku jigyō hōkoku-sho Higashinihon daishinsai ni oite kiki-teki jōkyō ga kigusa reru hōgen no jittai ni kansuru chōsa kenkyū, Iwate: Iwate ken, 281-387.

Yomiuri Shinbun. (1996). Chronicle: The Great Hanshin Earthquake. Osaka: IBH Communications.

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.