It is said that the consumers’ union established in Doshisha University in 1898 is the first co-operative ever formed in a university. After World War I, the consumers’ union movement in campus flourished after being affected by a full-fledged movement of consumers’ union in general. In 1926, Tokyo Student Consumers’ Union was established with the help of Toyohiko Kagawa and other co-operative activists. After that, branches were established in Waseda University, Takushoku University, the University of Tokyo in Akamon (meaning “Red Gate”), Rikkyo University, Meiji University and Meiji Gakuin University.
These student consumers’ union were established by the students’ own fund near universities based on the slogan “Students buy at stores owned by students.” Stationery, daily necessities, books and uniforms were sold at the stores. In addition, they also actively promote cultural activities through publication of magazines and journals, organizing lectures, etc. Other student consumers’ union were established throughout the country and the National Student Consumers’ Union.
However, amid Japan’s militarization, the control of speech, thought, culture and education became intens. At the same time, inflation and lack of funds forced branches of student consumers’ union to close mainly in 1937. The branch in University of Tokyo “Akamon” was the last to close in 1939. Japan entered into the Pacific War in 1941 and with a lot of students went to war under the student mobilization order, many students did not return to universities again.
The war was over. In September 1945, some universities and technical colleges began to resume classes. But the food scarcity and destruction of school buildings by war made the government issued a recess order due to shortage of food (shokuryo kyuka). In reality, closure of schools continued. Under the circumstances of “to learn is to eat,” in most universities and technical colleges the first postwar student meetings were held and a lot of consumers’ co-operatives and mutual aid societies were created. Co-operatives were cooperating with one another for the acquisition of supplies. Solidarity activities became the base for the establishment of National Federation of School Co-operative Associations (Zengakkyo) in 1947. The main business was dining hall and book stores. Purchasing section in consumers’ co-operatives was established after winning the consignee’s right for notebooks as a result of Zengakkyo’s effort. However, university co-ops who did not have enough power fell into crisis both organizationally and financially following the restructurization of economy and reform of educational system. Only in a year, university co-ops closed one after another, leaving less than 20 co-ops.
In 1953, the slogan “For better life and peace” was adopted at Zengakkyo General Assembly. After 1955, consumers’ co-operatives pushed forward cooperative buying and business improvement, restructured their organization and making efforts to the increase of use of co-operative business, which increased their status in campus. At the same time, university co-ops acquired their legal status based on the Consumer Co-operative Act. In 1957, Zengakkyo was incorporated and National Federation of University Co-operative Associations (NFUCA) was established.
During this period, a movement for the right of consumers spread nationally in the wake of book reselling problem at universities. Based on this, three basic issues of university co-ops were revealed at the Zengakkyo General Assembly held in Mount Hiei in 1956. The three basic issues were: 1) promotion of education environment improvement movement, 2) consumer movement and 3) peace and democracy movement. In addition, the National Business Committee was established to promote cooperative buying and policies to strengthen the business competence of university co-operatives through personnel exchanges and other programs.
Under these three issues, the movement spread in other universities and university co-op’s status in universities became more certain. The government also pushed “request of land and building fee for use of national land” and “concept of special corporation” toward university co-operatives in national universities. But the power of solidarity in each university prevented these and protected university co-operatives.
NFUCA was founded by co-ops at thirty-five universities over the course of five years from 1960, achieving expansion of welfare facilities at many universities.
University co-ops formed regional solidarity organizations among themselves, creating alliances (the predecessors of business associations) in Tokyo and Kyoto. NFUCA strengthened the activities of its members focusing on the representatives, strengthened efforts to achieve each and every member request, expanded and improved facilities, and improved co-op standing within universities.
However, student dissatisfaction with university policies and management deteriorated rapidly in the late 1960s, leading to “Student Protests” at universities nationwide. University co-ops were also temporarily damaged due to university blockades and attacks on stores by some students, but the strength of their members managed to overcome this. In addition, these student activism issues were reflected in the University Co-op, generating problems of violence in solidarity activities and becoming a factor that led to disbanding of co-ops. In such times, importance must be placed on learning.
In the 1970s, regional solidarity organizations in Tokyo, Kyoto and Sapporo gained legal personalities as business associations, playing a major role in strengthening university co-op management.
In 1973, the oil shock ended a period of rapid growth in Japan and caused much suffering in the lives of consumers. NFUCA worked to strengthen activities that protected members’ daily lives. Under these circumstances, it was NFUCA’s vital mission to make improvements that were in line with the demands of its members, and based on this it strengthened its commitment to activities unique to co-ops (1973 General Assembly).
The role of the university co-ops became socially accepted, and the University Co-op Development petition was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in 1975. NFUCA aimed for “a co-op deeply rooted on campus” at its 1977 General Assembly, and co-ops came together nationwide to advance that goal. In 1979, in order to protect the daily lives of members, they worked together with other consumer groups to collect signatures and force the abandonment of the general consumption tax whose introduction was sought a the time.
The 1980 General Assembly, based on the practices of the 1977 "Development of a co-op deeply rooted on campus,” adopted “the roles and immediate issues of University Co-op” as the mission for university co-op movements in the early 1980s. After this, university co-ops nationwide actively began to work on the members’ voices activity. They also significantly increase faculty membership, and made efforts to change from a student co-op to a university co-op, aiming to contribute not only to students but to all university members. In 1981, the student mutual benefit, which institutionalized students’ mutual support for a healthy and safe lifestyle of its members, was started.
However, amid the development of the co-op, the co-op regulation movement rapidly intensified in 1985 as a result of friction generated between small and medium sized retailers. In response, activity among national co-op members and consumer groups spread across the country, widening understanding of the co-op, and endeavoring to prevent co-op regulation and prepare for new development.
In 1986, reflecting on the experiences of university co-ops to that point, a new motto, “Toward a new cooperation,” which expressed the University Co-op’s outlook heading into the 21st century, was adopted. Since then, under the slogan “University Co-op contributes to making universities attractive,” class activities and member activities spread with the participation of many members. The university co-ops developed in many forms, business associations were formed across the country, and business innovation was promoted.
In the 1990s, changes at universities, such as curriculum reform, credit transfer systems between universities, and university management changes became very dynamic, and there was a demand for university co-ops to keep up with these changes.
At the ICA Tokyo Congress in 1992, members worldwide came together under the themes of “Basic Co-operative Values” and "The Environment and Sustainable Development" and held lively discussions. Along with the discussions on Basic Co-operative Values and Revision of the Co-op’s Principles, discussions and measures are held in Japanese university co-ops for the 21st Century Committee Report and The University Co-op’s Vision and Action Plan for the 21st Century. These expressed in an action plan the goals of the University Co-op and how the University Co-op management needed to be to achieve them.
In the University Co-op Management Evaluation Criteria Development Committee Report discussed based on The University Co-op’s Vision and Action Plan for the 21st Century, it stated that “the purpose of the University Co-op management is to realize its vision.” Currently, with rapid changes in the social situation surrounding universities, the awareness and lives of all of those living at universities has no choice but to change. At the same time, the University Co-op management is in a severe situation that cannot be overcome by relying on experience and manuals. Especially because of these circumstances, the Co-op reaffirmed the values that it could not lose site of, and promoted co-op movements suited to the changing era.
From April 2004, national universities started to become incorporated. This was the largest reform among the numerous reforms to universities that had occurred since the end of World War II. Each national university gained a legal personality, were obligated to create and implement medium-term plans and goals and evaluations, and the results of these evaluations influenced the operational expense subsidies paid by the government. Also, faculty and staff of national universities had been considered civil servants, but they became non-civil servants and became independent from the country with respect to personnel and labor. In the harsh environment surrounding universities with the declining population of 18-year-olds and the number of available places at universities outnumbering applicants starting in 2007, this incorporation yielded even more competition with private universities with respect to curriculum reform and student career support, and an entrance into an era of culling of universities. Even in 2007, 47.1% of private universities (266 universities) did not meet their enrollment capacity.
Thus, 2004 was a big milestone in university reform. NFUCA laid out “Creating a University Co-op that supports university diversity,” “Helping one another, learning from each other, and community building” and “Student spirit is university spirit” as the pillars of its movement, contributed to each university’s development, cultivated student vitality, and worked with universities to create attractive universities.
In the wake of incorporation, universities began to become open to the private market, and there was a growing movement to open branches of major national chain stores and restaurants on campuses. In such an environment, it became even more important to increase the standard of the businesses and services necessary to students, faculty, and staff, as well as to use the co-op’s power to expand on-campus awareness of the university co-op as having the most appropriate projects and activities to enrich daily life.
The Bill to Amend Part of the Consumer Cooperatives Act (Co-op Act Amendment Bill) was enacted after it passed the House of Councillors in April 2007 and the House of Representatives unanimously on May 8th. Since its enactment in 1948, the law was fundamentally and comprehensively changed for the first time in 59 years, coming into effect in April 2008.
Based on the revised Co-op Act, the State of the Co-op Review Committee advisory board of the national council submitted a report in January 2007 to consider how the national co-op organization and national solidarity should be in the future, including its separation from the mutual aid business.
In July 2010, the mutual aid business that had been done to that point was separated from NFUCA and with the determination to continue and further develop it, the University Co-operatives Mutual Federation was established.
This caused new competition with insurance. There had been a competition between the insurance recommended by private universities and University Co-op mutual aid, but this led to the further intensification of competition both in private and national/public universities.
Amid the movement by major convenience stores to gain a presence on university campuses, the activities of university co-ops are decidedly different than general convenience stores, and there is a need to show off the co-op’s strengths.
The university co-op also needs to support improving students’ lives and their learning, respond to their various requests, and play a contributing role to many aspects of students’ lives. While taking advantage of the lessons and accumulated activities and know-how that university co-op has in its field, and increasing its presence as a partner walking alongside the university, it needs to contribute to the university and society with the cooperative effort of its members as an independent organization. It is not an organization for a particular person; nor is it an organization operating for the benefit of a particular person. The members are the central players. And, in order for the co-op to continue co-op activities, participation of members is vital.
While strengthening and enhancing business by promoting the restructuring of solidarity activities, it is important to promote the university co-op’s presence to the university community as a vision.