National | KANSAI PERSPECTIVE

Shiga tops in volunteerism; Osaka finishes in last place: leisure survey

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

If you’re the kind of person who prioritizes volunteer work, enjoys playing badminton and has an interest in studying, Shiga Prefecture might be your ideal home in Kansai.

On the other hand, if education and learning new skills are your top priorities, you’re not too bothered about volunteer activities and you enjoy playing some sports, you might consider moving to neighboring Kyoto Prefecture.

And if you don’t care at all about volunteer activities, but do enjoy learning, especially foreign languages other than English, you might want to consider Osaka Prefecture.

These are just some of the conclusions that might be drawn from the results of the latest survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry on how people in Japan’s 47 prefectures use their leisure time. Results for the fiscal 2016 survey, which drew responses from 200,000 people in about 88,000 households nationwide, were released last month.

For Kansai’s prefectures, which compete with each other for business and tax revenue, the survey is a benchmark highlighting the more attractive places in the region to live.

Shiga was No. 1 nationwide in terms of the number of respondents (33.9 percent) who said they’d participated in volunteer activities over the past year. But only Fukui (32.2 percent) and Nara (26.8 percent) scored above the national average of 26 percent in this category, which was also Hyogo’s average.

Osaka (20.6 percent) was dead last among the 47 prefectures in terms of volunteer activities.

Why are Shiga residents so keen to volunteer? One resident suggested that Lake Biwa — the largest freshwater lake in Japan — might have something to do with it.

“The presence of Lake Biwa and the feeling among residents that they need to work to protect it is likely a big reason why the volunteerism spirit is strong in Shiga Prefecture,” said Ayako Fujii, a long-term Shiga resident who has advised the Environment Ministry and been involved with many local nongovernmental organizations, especially NGOs, over the past four decades. “There are also ties between Shiga volunteers and international environmentalist movements.”

Osaka, on the other hand, made the top 10 list in the learning and training category, placing ninth, with 37.7 percent of the prefecture’s respondents saying they’d undergone some kind of study or training during the past year.

Tokyo (46.2 percent) was No. 1 nationwide in this category, followed by Kanagawa (43.9 percent) and Chiba (41.1 percent). But Kyoto (41.1 percent) came in at No. 4, and Shiga (39.9 percent) at No. 5. Hyogo (38.9 percent) and Nara (38.7 percent) also made the top 10, which hover above the national average of 36.9 percent.

Shiga was also the top Kansai prefecture and tied at No. 4 with Chiba nationwide in the category of participation in sports, with 71.6 percent of respondents saying they’d engaged in some kind of sports activity.

Kyoto (70.1 percent), Hyogo (69.5 percent) and Nara (69.5 percent) prefectures also made the top 10 in this category, though neighbor Osaka ended up in 22nd place with only 66.9 percent of Osakans saying they’d engaged in sports during the past year.

Among the many different sports, Shiga had the most residents who said they’d played badminton (8.6 percent versus the national average of 6.7 percent).

When it comes to learning foreign languages, however, Tokyo was No. 1 nationwide across two categories.

But Kyoto was the top prefecture in Kansai and fourth nationwide in terms of respondents (14.2 percent) who said they’d studied English in the past year. As for studying other languages, Kyoto was No. 3 nationwide (5.3 percent) and Osaka was No. 4 (4.1 percent).

The survey, conducted every five years since 1976, is carried out on Japanese and foreign residents 10 and older. It is used by politicians and bureaucrats in Tokyo and other governments as a basis for policy decisions on work-life balance, dealing with a graying society, low birthrate and gender equality.