Document Type


Publication Date

February 2010

Journal or Book Title

Journal of Asian Studies






How do undemocratic civic organizations become compatible with democratic civil society? How do local organizations merge older patriarchal, hierarchical values and practices with newer more egalitarian, democratic ones? This article tells the story of how volunteer fire departments have done this in Japan. Their transformation from centralized war instrument of an authoritarian regime to local community safety organization of a full-fledged democracy did not happen overnight. A slow process of demographic and value changes helped the organization adjust to more democratic social values and practices. The way in which this organization made the transition offers important lessons for emerging democracies around the world.