Seikatsu Cooperatives

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= " an initiative of women who wanted to reform their lives and local communities, based on a democratic and sustainable food system". [1]


Context: There are approximately 600 consumer co-operatives with 22,000,000 members in Japan. "Today SEIKATSU counts 340.000 members, mainly from the 4 prefectures around Tokyo." Pat Conaty writes: "They powerfully and practically link up the commons and the co-operative sectors in their day to day work."


"There are approximately 600 consumer co-operatives with 22,000,000 members in Japan (out of a total population of 127,000,000). From the Hokkaido in the north to Osaka in the south, the Seikatsu Club Consumers' Co-operative Union, (hereafter SC or SCCU) which consists of an association of 29 consumer co-operatives active in 19 administrative divisions (prefectures) of Japan, has altogether about 307,000 members, most of whom are women. In addition, there are 9 associated companies such as a milk factory.

The SCCU carries out the development, purchasing, distribution, and inspection of consumer materials (food, general daily goods, clothes, publications), operates a mutual assistance fund, 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 SC member unit is based on the nearly 200 independent branches, all of which have independent management and activities. SC funding is from the members, who make monthly contributions of 1000 yen per person. The accumulated contributions total 27,600 million yen, an average investment of approximately 93,000 yen per member. These investments are the foundation of our healthy financial management." (


SCCU 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


(1) Food Self-Sufficiency and Preservation of the Ecosystem

Food self-sufficiency and preservation of the ecosystem is the most important action principle in the operation of the SCCU collective purchase system. Our main objectives for the future in our movement and work are to maintain and expand Japan's ability in food self-sufficiency, and to reduce the use of chemicals, energy, natural resources, and water.

(2) “Neither Denying nor being Denied Food (Fair Food Access for All)” and “Justice”

We are putting forth a clear objection to the world market strategy being pushed by the multinational corporations and the WTO regime in the name of "free trade". We are also questioning the "affluent society" symbolized by "satiation" and "mass disposal" through a reappraisal of each individual's lifestyle.

(3) Citizen Governance Centered on the “Non-Profit, Partnership Sector”

In order to create the 21st century era of citizens' society the SCCU is acting in partnership with domestic and overseas NGOs and NPOs in the fields of food and environment, and is contributing actively to the formation of a "non-profit, partnership sector." We are especially working towards the exchange between non-profit, partnership sectors in the Asian region, based on the ideals of independence, reciprocity and coexistence.

(4) “A Gender-Equal Participatory Society” from daily living

For the past ten years, the SCCU has held that "women's autonomy" is one of the basic principles of the movement, and this has gained the sympathy of many members. Based on this achievement, the movement holds the ideal of "a gender-equal participatory society" beginning with daily life, including the varied expressions of "old people's power," for the beginning of the 21st century, a century which will be symbolized by a society of falling birthrates and population ageing.

(5) Freedom of Information and Democratic Management

At the end of the 20th century, the co-operative movement in Japan and the rest of the world were faced with many difficulties and are now struggling to resolve these problems. The most important point when trying to overcome these difficulties is to ensure that we stick to our co-operative principles in our work and organizational management. Among these, freedom of information and democratic management are especially indispensable. The SCCU is faithfully carrying out its work based on these principles.

10. Mass participation

Main Activities

Pre-order collective purchase

  The purpose of the pre-order collective purchase system of the SC is to supply consumer goods whose raw material is known, without excessive expense.   Due to pre-ordering, the members are able to have a well-planned consumer life. Moreover, the producer can supply fresh goods to the consumer, which use no preservatives, because of well-planned production and efficient shipment.   The members, who are organized into "Han" (small groups) of several members each, can assure reasonable production and distribution, and can reduce prices. The consumer goods are delivered directly to either the "Han" or the individual though the SC center. In addition, delivery eliminates risks which can occur with overheads and huge stocks of goods.

Development of safe food at a fair price

  It is said that major supermarkets stock 300,000 kinds of merchandise. However, SC deals in only about 3,000 general consumer goods items, of which 60% are basic foodstuffs such as rice, milk, eggs, frozen fish and vegetables.   The size and content options of any consumer item is restricted to only one or two choices, and because of this the SC can hold down rising costs and the waste of resources while maintaining the quality of merchandise. Moreover, the SC believes it is important to develop a variety of cooking techniques which combine the limited materials.   The SC, without forgetting concern for the environment, is developing consumer goods which are nutritious and tasty, and at the same time can be efficiently produced, distributed, consumed and disposed. Underlying this is the formation of agreements and reliable relationships between the producers and ourselves. Both producers and SC are committed to full freedom of information to the public while having thorough discussions regarding quality, manufacturing methods, and methods of storage and distribution.   The prices of the main consumer items are determined according to the producer cost guarantee system, in which all producer costs from production to distribution are made public. In this way, the producer’s livelihood and business are secured.   Through the pre-order collective purchase system, producers and consumers are sharing reduced costs, constantly understanding each other’s position, and maintaining trusting relationships. We are aiming to develop an even higher level of products while continuing to fulfill our social and global responsibility.

Consumer goods produced to our strict independent standard.

  SC is primarily buying rice, meat, eggs, frozen fish, vegetables, fruit, miso, soy sauce, salt, cooking oil and spices as well as clothing, general merchandise, books, toys, travel and culture tickets through collective purchase.   Collective purchase goods are called “consumer materials” instead of “commodities,” because of the vision of emphasizing utility value rather than the pursuit of profit.

Local community-based welfare care

   The ageing of society is occurring rapidly in Japan and it is estimated that by the middle of this century over 30% of the population will be 65 or older. SC is beginning to respond to this social change in advance and has set up social welfare corporations and NPO organizations and so on to manage such organizations as day service centers and special nursing homes for the aged on the basis of the co-operative union organization and citizen participation in welfare projects. About 10,000 people throughout the SC movement are now involved in providing home or institutional care services for the aged. Further, since the start of the nursing care insurance system in Japan, confidence in SC has risen and income from these projects is now about 4 billion yen per year. This is the result of placing importance on people helping each other out in the local communities, and we fully expect this to expand greatly in the future.


The Seikatsu model

"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.

Partnership with producers

Producer cost guarantee system

The prices of main consumer goods are determined only after disclosure of all information about quality of products, production methods, packaging materials, storage and distribution, delivery cost, etc., thorough discussion, and mutual approval.

Consumer materials development

Seikatsu Club have adopted the term “consumer materials” whereby members employ their collective power of purchase since items are not “commercial goods” for sale, but are for use-value. The items to be developed are determined in a monthly Union’s Consumption Committee based upon the members’ demands and views.

New consumer materials are developed with mass participation of members. Recruited members complete a questionnaire for taste, packaging, price etc., together with market research, to decide the specifications. They then discuss with producers the area of production and the production process, experiment over packaging materials and content volumes, and decide the price.

Seikatsu Club has about 1,600 regular items annually, compared with the over 9,000 items of other co-ops. We demonstrate an alternative life and society, being against mass production, mass consumption, and mass disposal, and by developing consumer materials highly necessary for life, and trying to solve problems of health, environment and safety, as well as members purchasing goods. Also, as members themselves participate in development, it becomes possible to guarantee quality control and safety over materials and the production process and to disclose the information about consumer materials." (

New Social Movements Born from the Seikatsu Club

"SC has always pursued a sustainable and ecological way of life and production in which people can manage their own lives by themselves. From that experience, and in order to solve the problems that people face in their local communities, SC has given birth to new social movements. They are (1)the Network Movement and (2)the Workers' Collective Movement.

  The Seikatsu Club, the Network and the Workers' Collective are different movement groups that are independent to one another. However these three are making a challenge to build our "co-operative local community" through confronting and solving the problems of local communities.

  A lot of members, as well as leaders, participate in not only the Seikatsu Club Movement, but also in the Network Movement and the Workers' Collective Movement that will be mentioned next. Our staff members cooperate with our members in order to facilitate their participation, in addition, we have prepared such systems as "the payment for activities" and "the mutual aid system".

Network Movement


The Network Movement is the activity that elects representatives to local governments and seeks to take positive action in the political arena. Through outlawing synthetic detergents and the soap use movement, SC members also organized direct appeal movements to local governments. However, it was keenly felt that in order for the citizens' voice to be reflected in political work, it was necessary to participate in and reform politics. Groups of SC members began to get together in the regions to form independent political organizations, and the Network Movement to elect representatives to local government began. At present there are "Seikatsusha Network" (Seikatsusha = "people who live," in the sense of "inhabitants" rather than "consumers") and "Citizen Network" organizations throughout the country, with 141 representatives in local government who are working to realize policies to protect the environment and improve the welfare system.

Workers' Collective Movement

  The Workers' Collective Movement is the activity that create workplace in the local society. Workers' collectives are a new form of working in the co- operative style where the workers fund, manage and work in their own enterprise as an alternative to being employed in a for- profit-only corporation. Established by people in their local communities, there are now about 400 workers' collectives embracing 15,000 people in enterprises such as box lunch preparation, bread baking and other food processing, care for the aged and handicapped, kindergartens, recycling, editing, advertising, designing, sorting and delivery of consumer materials.

The vision the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-Operative Union

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

Yvon Poirier:

"In 1965, a citizens’ movement of women consumers emerged around the issue of food security. The quality of food (chemicals, mercury pollution, etc.) had become a major preoccupation. The movement understood very early on that just demanding stricter rules from the government was not enough. Therefore, transforming itself into a consumer coop was a natural step. At first, their activity focused on the collective purchase of milk. Since then, the co-operative has extended its activities to about 3,000 products, mainly in basic foods such as rice, chicken and pork meat, vegetable oil, soy sauce and eggs.

It’s important to specify that the word «seikatsu» means «life» in Japanese. Therefore, even if the movement has become a union of consumers’ coops, the basic philosophy is still rooted in this linkage to life.


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.

Pre-order collective purchasing is still the main activity of this organization. However, the issues of food security and sustainable development are still at the heart of their activities. Therefore, to get accreditation as milk, meat or cereal producers, the agricultural practices must be as healthy as possible. For example, producers do not use feed stock containing GMOs, chicken are not treated with antibiotics, etc. Relating to these activities, the organisation naturally embraced sustainable development practices. For example, milk is distributed in glass bottles. Their recycling rate is over 77%. There is no packaging with materials containing PVCs and campaigns are organized with others, such as «Stop GMOs».

The Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union has established three jointly owned milk plants with milk farmers and also owns poultry (chicken) farms with farmers. In Japan this is the only consumers’ co-operative which has done such initiatives. At this time, the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union is going to launch a new project: consumers in urban area as “the part time farmers” to support farming in rural areas in order to preserve Japanese agriculture and the environment. One of the reasons for this is that over 60% of Japanese farmers are 65 years old or more. The philosophy of the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union is that if consumers want to have a sustainable society and safe foods, consumers should have responsibilities for production processes along with producers. As a result of these practices, the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative Union is not only a consumers’ co-operative but also a producers’ cooperative.

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.

International actions

The seikatsu Club has been active for over 20 years in the field of influencing global issues. Since 1983, close links have been developed with similar organisations in Korea and Taiwan. The organisation participated in the 1992 World Summit in Rio and in a UN conference on disarmament.

The organisation is giving priority to develop exchanges and solidarity actions with similar organisations."


Hannes Lorenzen: "an exclusive interview with one of the modern world’s true food heroes. We talk to Ryoko Shimizu, research fellow of the Japanese Consumer Co-Operative Union SEIKATSU." [2]

* Hannes: Ryoko, your co-operative began almost 50 years ago. What were women back then concerned about when they founded the club?

Ryoko: In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Japanese economy grew very rapidly. People left their hometown to live in urban areas to find their jobs. At that time, most women quit their job after getting married. Women were isolated and trying to find ways to help each other in daily lives. They were in general well educated, had a lot of talents, but stayed at home and did not work outside. Their families were very isolated, many women felt lonely. Co-operatives were the natural way of overcoming that isolation and providing enough and safe food for all.

* H. SEIKATSU has grown to an impressive size. What do members of the co-op have to contribute and what can they decide?

R. The contribution in terms of fees is rather low, 1000 yen (7 euros) per month. But the influence on goals and management is high. Members define their own brand of products, which food items they wish to buy, processing, packaging and so on, this is all part of bottom-up decision-making. We have around 1700 items from basics like rice, eggs and milk, but also fresh fruit and vegetables fish, meat, and processed products.

H. Who is managing all that? Do you have paid staff?

R. We do have paid staff, but most of the members are not paid and still do a lot of voluntary work. However, the voluntary contribution is decreasing, as more and more women have a paid job now, and no time to contribute. But our strength still lies in our mutual aid business model. We conduct non-profit and co-operative business in local food systems, cooperation with farmers, but our role is also to do research on food quality, reduction of harmful substances, of food waste, promoting renewable energy and so on.." (

More Information

For information (in English)