Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With economic-stimulus measures still failing to have significant impact, Japan falls into the lower-middle ranks with regard to economic policy (rank 25). Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Years of efforts to reinvigorate the economy have fallen short of goals. Growth remains anemic, and inflation targets have been repeatedly missed. An attempt to introduce negative interest rates resulted in unexpected exchange-rate deterioration. A major new stimulus program is underway, but consumption has declined, and optimism is waning.

Unemployment rates are moderate to low, though irregular jobs are increasingly common. A new “equal pay for equal work” campaign aims to address irregular work, but prospects remain unclear. Planned consumption-tax increases have been delayed. The high corporate-tax rate is being cut.

Public debt levels are very high and continuing to rise, with deficits large. Government plans to achieve primary budget balance by 2020 are deemed unrealistic. R&D continues to receive considerable attention and funding.

Social Policies

Facing equity and sustainability concerns, Japan falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 24) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point since 2014.

The education system is generally strong. Reforms have introduced greater flexibility in primary and early secondary schools, and a curriculum reform is slated for 2020. Some concern over effectiveness of past tertiary reforms is evident. Income inequality and poverty have risen in recent years. New policies are expanding the target groups for labor-force integration efforts.

The high-quality health care system offers universal access, but has high costs. Labor-force participation rates among women have improved, but most women work part time or irregularly. Child-care provision is a key aspect of expanding support for working women.

While population aging threatens pension-system viability, pension programs are being expanded to irregular workers. Immigration policies are very restrictive, but some voices in the governing party are beginning to call for a new approach. Crime rates are low. The response to the world refugee crisis has been very minimal.

Environmental Policies

With post-Fukushima energy policy remaining controversial, Japan’s environmental policies receive middling scores (rank 20) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Nuclear power plants have begun restarting following the Fukushima disaster, but their unpopularity has kept numbers low. Renewable-energy use is supported, but the goal of a 24% to 26% share by 2030 will be difficult to reach. An imminent power-industry deregulation has led to low-cost solutions such as coal-fired plants, with no more than voluntary fuel-efficiency targets.

Waste-water and forest management are strengths. A long-term biodiversity decline has not been arrested.

The country fully supports the Paris climate accord, with plans to reduce emissions by 26% by 2030, and a strategic plan aiming at 80% reductions by 2050. The country has agreed to tackle regional environmental issues jointly with China and South Korea.



Quality of Democracy

Despite fair and open elections, Japan’s democratic system scores relatively poorly in international comparison (rank 33). Its score on this measure has fallen by 0.3 points since 2014.

The voting age has been reduced from 20 to 18. The party- and campaign-financing system lacks transparency, and funding scandals remain alarmingly common. Electoral districts have been redrawn to diminish size disparities, while a number of new voting-location and registration measures are aimed at increasing voting rates.

Government influence over the media is a growing concern. A state-secrets act has been criticized as a threat to press freedom and public information access. The print and broadcast-media sectors are oligopolistically controlled, while online media sources often provide one-sided and at times right-wing perspectives. Senior politicians have been linked to ultra-right-wing groups.

Civil rights and political liberties are generally protected, but gender discrimination remains significant. Civil-rights groups fear draconian anti-terror measures in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A new law bars discrimination against the disabled. Human trafficking remains a serious problem, and the treatment of refugees is frequently criticized.



Executive Capacity

Despite a shift of power toward the core executive, Japan receives middling scores overall (rank 19) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points since 2014.

The LDP government has deepened strategic-planning capacity in the core executive. Key policy planning is carried out by the prime minister’s Cabinet Office. The large Cabinet Secretariat has significant sectoral expertise. Government tensions with the powerful bureaucracy have eased, though the number of political appointees inside ministries has grown. Many sensitive issues are negotiated informally, with cabinet meetings largely a formality.

RIAs are widely performed, but with few rigorous quantitative assessments. Trust in government has recovered somewhat since the 3/11 disasters, but remains low. The LDP government has been successful in implementing many of its policies, but shifting priorities have undermined the structural-reform agenda.

Facing a divided population, the government has hesitated to begin constitutional reforms that would enable a broader security and defense policy. Local government deficits have eased in recent years.

Executive Accountability

With a mixed record on accountability structures, Japan falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 26) with regard to executive accountability. Its score is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

Citizen policy knowledge is reasonably robust. However, the 3/11 disasters undermined public trust in government information and in leading media organizations, with recovery still remaining slow. The recent dismissals of several broadcast anchors critical of the government exacerbated fears of state influence over the media.

The parliament has broad oversight powers, and members have substantial policy-assessment resources at their disposal. The Board of Audit successfully plays a watchdog role, though is sometimes ignored by core government institutions.

The governing LDP party is increasingly centralized, while the opposition DP allows more rank-and-file control. Economic organizations are well-funded and sophisticated. Civil-society groups have played an increasing role in expressing public concern and organizing mass rallies, if sometimes with little visible effect on policy.
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