As the two-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake approaches, we look at the topic of social capital--which typically refers to the structure of social relationships and networks or resulting outcomes of such structure, i.e., mutual trust, solidarity, implicit rules, and social norms. Against the backdrop of rising social problems such as the isolation of young people and the solitary deaths of the elderly poor, Japan has been deemed a "fragmented society" where human relationships are shallow and weak. On the other hand, following the Great East Japan Earthquake, strong ties and mutual aid among people, symbolized by kizuna or "ties," have been attracting much attention as a driving force for the post-disaster reconstruction. In the March issue of the RIETI Report, we present Faculty Fellow Yasuyuki Sawada's column "Understanding Ties as Social Capital" focusing on social capital, which is the key to understanding kizuna properly.
Sawada cites various academic studies and publications which show social capital's wide impact on not only economics, but also sociology, political science, and public health. Social capital does not necessarily accumulate simply as people gather. In order for people to be able to engage in social and economic activities in a sound and stable manner, not only income earning capabilities but also supportive social relationships are indispensable. Such social relationships are critical in the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas such as Tohoku, and accelerating the post-disaster recovery process may be possible by facilitating social capital accumulation while minimizing its negative effects. The presence of high-level social capital is the key to realizing a better and more assuring post-disaster society in the disaster-hit areas.
Against the backdrop of rising social problems such as the isolation of young people and the solitary deaths of the elderly poor, some observers say that Japan has become a "fragmented society" where human relationships are shallow and weak. On the other hand, following the Great East Japan Earthquake, strong ties and mutual help among people—symbolized by the Japanese term "kizuna" which translates to "ties" in English—have been attracting a great deal of attention as a driving force for the post-disaster reconstruction. This time, I would like to focus my discussion on social capital which I believe is the key to the proper understanding of kizuna.