Alinsky in Japan? Mystery Solved!

Ideas and Issues Organizing

 Houston  We wondered if we couldn’t definitively solve the mystery intriguing our friend and colleague, Ken Yamazaki, the other day about whether or not, Saul Alinsky, the legendary community organizer from Chicago, had ever visited Japan.  Ken was certain that was the case, but others, it turned out including Mike Miller of the Organize Training Center in San Francisco was skeptical, and Mike is something of an Alinsky scholar in his own right.  I had thought the answer would come from Denis Murphy of Manila, the dean of Asian community organizers, and someone we all knew was present with Alinsky for a debriefing trip there in 1971 after Alinsky’s only visit to Asia, not long before he died.

            Before Denis could respond, “crowd sourcing” the question on the Chief Organizer Blog, turned up the definitive answer.  First, Aaron Schutz, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, posted a comment on the blog indicating from documents he had seen there seemed little doubt:

“A quote from the first paragraph of _Conversations on Community Organization in Asia: Saul Alinsky Meets with the Asian Committee on Community Organization in Manila, June 1971_ (Chicago: Institute on the Church in Industrial Society, 1972) from Mike Miller’s archives:

“A year before his death in June 1972, Saul Alinsky, the U.S. community organizer, made a trip to Asia. This was to be his first, and only time, to be in the Asian region. His purpose was to survey the work being done by the churches in community organization. His itinerary took him to Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.”

Later Alinsky notes, “They were not as terrified of my presence in Japan as those in Hong Kong.” 🙂

The editor notes that Alinsky “he gives priority to Japan and the Philippines.” And he actually talks a lot about Japan in this dialogue. I’ve never taken the time to read it carefully.  So Alinsky did visit Japan. ACCO actually brought in Tom Gaudette first in 1970. There are a range of documents about organizing in Asia in the Gaudette archives at Loyola Marymount. I have copies of some of them, but haven’t really looked at them in any detail.

And, if there was even a shadow of doubt left in any one’s minds, and in fairness, there ever was in Ken’s, David Alinsky, Saul’s son, posted the following comment on my blog:

“Shortly after my father married his third wife, Irene, in 1971, they took a trip and traveled around the world. They did stop in Japan. My memory of this is very thin but they were “in country” for several days.”

Meanwhile, Ken Yamazaki is still on the case in Tokyo.   His real interest is less whether Alinsky visited, than why community organizing never found the roots in Japan that it did in Korea and the Philippines.   He’s still looking, so we will have more on this in the future:

So fascinating conversations!

Yes, I’ve known it.

As I wrote to Wade, I found the digital book about Alinsky’ visit to Japan by a prof. of Doshisya Univ. in Kyoto.

The big question is why most Japanese forgot about Alinsky and Community Organizing.

My hypothesis is the first organizations in Japan didn’t have any relation with labor but only in Christianity or Univ.

Then the dispute occurred in the church like other countries between conservative and progressive.

I guess the ancestors or the first movement is still alive somewhere in Japan. 

But main stream gone.

But I don’t have any proof yet.


Thanks all.