History of Ashinaga

Widening the Circle

Addressing Injustice (1963~1984)

The Ashinaga movement began nearly 50 years ago after founder and President Yoshiomi Tamai lost his mother in a traffic accident in 1963. Having experienced first-hand the lack of support an orphan receives, Tamai and a group of likeminded individuals went on to found the Association for Traffic Accident Orphans in 1967. Through public advocacy, regular media coverage and the development of a street fundraising system, the association was able to set in motion significant improvements in national traffic regulations as well as support bereaved students across Japan. These methods of street fundraising and advocacy are still a vital component of Ashinaga’s activities today.

Expanding Support to All Orphans in Japan (1984~1995)

Overtime the Ashinaga movement extended its financial and emotional support to students who had been orphaned by other causes, including illness, natural disaster, and suicide. As such, Ashinaga was established in 1993 – named after the Japanese translation of the 1912 Jean Webster novel Daddy-Long-Legs. This expansion included offering residential facilities to enable financially disadvantaged students to attend universities in the more expensive metropolitan areas. Around this time Ashinaga also expanded its summer programs, or tsudoi, at which Ashinaga students could share their experiences amongst peers who had also lost parents.

International Relief in the Wake of Disaster (1995~2000)

The 1995 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck the Kobe area with a magnitude of 6.9, taking the lives of over 6,400 people and leaving 643 children without parents. Aided by an outpouring of financial support from both Japan and abroad, Ashinaga established its first ever Rainbow House, a care facility for children to alleviate the resultant trauma.

The speed and generosity with which the international community responded instilled a profound sense of gratitude amongst Ashinaga staff and students in Kobe. With this new perspective, they began to organize Ashinaga’s first fundraisers to benefit orphaned students abroad. This was a defining moment for Ashinaga, representing its first step in becoming an international NGO.

Giving Back to the World (2000~2006)

Starting in 2005, each year Ashinaga invited students from over 15 countries to its summer programs in Japan to share their experiences with the Japanese students. They included students orphaned by war, the 9/11 terror attacks, the ensuing war in the Middle East, HIV/AIDS, and natural disasters from across the world, most notably the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Together they overcame the barriers of language and nationality and formed lasting friendships.

In 2002, thanks to the growing donations received in Japan, Ashinaga constructed a Rainbow House in Nansana, Uganda. Uganda was one of the epicenters of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and, recognizing a need, Ashinaga collaborated with Makerere University to establish education programs for the children affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as support for the wider local community.

Inviting Orphaned Students to Japan’s Universities (2006~2011)

Following the success of its international summer programs, Ashinaga began providing support for orphaned students from Uganda, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Haiti to come study at Japanese universities.  This program began in 2006 with the first student from Uganda and continues to bring new students to Japan every year.

During this same period, Ashinaga began to expand opportunities for its Japanese students to go abroad, with programs in Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Turkey, Uganda, the Philippines and Mexico. This program was designed to offer financially challenged orphaned students the chance to study abroad, and bring the benefits of that experience back to Japan.

Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami (2011~2014)

At 2:46 PM on March 11th 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the northeastern coast of Japan, causing a major tsunami, vast damage to the Tohoku region, and nearly 16,000 deaths. Thousands of children lost their parents as a result.

Ashinaga responded immediately, establishing a regional office to aid those students who had lost parents in the catastrophe. With the assistance of donors from across the world, Ashinaga provided emergency grants of over $25,000 each to 2,083 orphaned students, giving them immediate financial stability in the wake of their loss. Ashinaga also built Rainbow Houses in the hard hit communities of Sendai City, Rikuzentakata and Ishinomaki, providing ongoing support to heal the trauma inflicted by the disaster.

The Ashinaga Africa Initiative and Beyond (2014~Present)

In 2014, Ashinaga implemented the Ashinaga African Initiative (AAI), a project aimed to alleviate poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa by supporting the higher education of young orphaned students with the desire to make a difference.

To bolster the Ashinaga Africa Initiative, Ashinaga called upon the support of highly influential academics, businesspeople and celebrities to form the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. Ashinaga also enlisted university students from around the world to come to Japan, Senegal and Uganda on an internship program – bringing new energy and ideas to make Ashinaga’s internationalization possible. These two networks, plus the ‘At Home in the World’ Collaboration Concert with Vassar College have been key in bringing Ashinaga to the global stage.

Ashinaga has gone on to establish new offices in Senegal, USA, UK and France in order to support the growing number of international students now studying across the world. At Home in Japan, Ashinaga continues to support over 5,000 students each year, including those affected by the Kumamoto Earthquakes, with plans to further expand its educational support to younger students in the coming years.