Categories and structure of Japanese Consumer Co-ops
Consumer co-ops are regulated by the Consumer Co-operative Law, which then classifies co-ops into categories according to the type of business (retailing, healthcare, insurance, housing and so on) and areas of operation (local communities or work places).
Retail co-ops provide members with food, nonfood and various services. The typical retail co-ops operating within communities are called 'shimin seikyo' or 'citizen co-ops', which account for 70% of the total co-op membership. They have been the driving force behind consumer co-ops' expansion since the 1970's and they have had pivotal socio-economic impact.
Workplace co-ops operate in companies and government offices to serve employees working in these institutions.
Extended workplace co-ops are hybrids of these types that have incorporated local consumers living in the communities adjacent to the institutions.
University co-ops and schoolteacher's co-ops cater to the specific needs of the constituencies within these institutions including students, faculty members and schoolteachers.
Medical or health co-ops provide health and social care services at hospitals and clinics.
Insurance co-ops, 'kyosai', provide consumers and workers with life and general insurance policies.
Housing co-ops sell or rent mainly collective houses and offer maintenance and/or repair services.
Other than these, there are also co-ops that specialize in elderly/child care provision, environmental conservation and so on.
Japanese consumer co-ops have a three-tiered structure stretching from local primary co-ops and prefectural unions to national federations. According to the Consumer Co-op Law, 300 or more consumers may establish a primary co-op, while federations can be set up at the secondary and tertiary levels. The prefectural unions and inter-prefectural consortiums are formed by primary co-ops. National federations composed of insurance, housing and university co-ops also exist.
The Japanese Consumers' Co-operative Union (JCCU) has a somewhat complicated structure with several categories of affiliated members. It has the dual functions of acting as a national apex as well as national consortium for retail co-ops.