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NPO Launched by Leading Pop Stars Funds Environmental Projects (June 10, 2005)

Sakamoto Ryuichi (Jiji)

A nonprofit bank launched two years ago by three stars of Japan's pop-music industry is garnering attention for the contribution it is making to tackling environmental problems. AP Bank was set up by Sakurai Kazutoshi, 35, of the popular rock band Mr. Children; music producer Kobayashi Takeshi, 45; and world-renowned composer Sakamoto Ryuichi, 53. It is a small-scale bank that invests only in such environmentally friendly projects as renewable energy. The fame of the three principals has only added to the sense of expectation surrounding this innovative venture.

Investing in the Environment
The AP in the bank's name stands for Artists' Power, which was originally the title of a campaign by Sakamoto to get his friends in the music business to think about environmental and social issues. At a study meeting in 2002, Sakamoto said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could all join together to build a wind-power plant?" Tanaka Yu, the president of the nonprofit Mirai Bank, who happened to be taking part in the meeting as a speaker, suggested that the artists create a bank to invest in wind turbines, and Kobayashi and Sakurai took him up on his idea.

Both have gained wealth and fame through their music and are now focused on how best to use their money, rather than on increasing their personal fortunes even more. Sakamoto joined them in their scheme, for which each of the three men provided ¥100 million ($952,380 at ¥105 to the dollar). AP Bank was officially launched in June 2003, when it obtained a money-lending license.

A bicycle rental service funded by the bank (ap bank)

The bank invests mainly in projects relating to the environment and natural energy. To be eligible for financing, projects must last no longer than 10 years and must require no more than ¥5 million ($47,600). Financing is offered at a low annual interest rate of 1%. In the first round of applications in May 2004, the bank received about 100 applications, of which 14 were approved for financing worth a total of about ¥50 million ($476,000). The projects covered a wide variety of activities, including a forest revival project in which a planted cedar forest that was abandoned because of a personnel shortage will be cut down and pigs will be released onto the land (in Kagoshima), a bicycle rental service using abandoned cycles (Yokohama), the use of biogas from kitchen refuse (Saitama), and the construction of an eco-resort in the Marshall Islands.

Kobayashi and Sakurai are involved in screening the applications that come in. They hope to expand the banks operations from just passively accepting applications for loans to providing a forum to connect people with technology to people with materials.

A Financial System for Supporting NGOs
A succession of nonprofit banks have been founded all over Japan during the past decade or so. The first was Citizen's Bank, which was founded in Tokyo in 1989, and other example include Mirai Bank (Tokyo, 1994), and the Hokkaido NPO Bank (Hokkaido, 2002).

These banks operate in a variety of ways, but most are organizations of like-minded citizens and nonprofit groups who each make a small investment, and their collective funds are loaned to NPOs, citizens' groups, or individuals. From the investors' standpoint, although capital is not guaranteed and the money cannot be withdrawn freely, that knowledge that the money is used to finance projects that accord with one's own beliefs more than makes up for such disadvantages.

One of the reasons for the recent rash of NPO bank launches is that although citizens' groups and NPOs have become active in a much wider range of fields, the financial infrastructure needed to launch and operate such groups has been slower to materialize. Another way of looking at it is that the high demand for funding means that the number of new NPOs being launched is likely to increase even further in the years ahead.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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