Japan

   

Policy Performance

#24

Economic Policies

#28
Making modest but insufficient economic progress, Japan falls into the lower-middle ranks with regard to economic policy (rank 28). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The country experienced its longest period of continuous growth since 2001, although actual growth rates remained modest at about 1.2%. Inflation targets were not achieved. Successive fiscal-stimulus programs have raised further fiscal-consolidation concerns. The country led efforts to conclude a revised trans-Pacific free-trade agreement.

Unemployment rates are very low, though irregular jobs are increasingly common. A government “equal pay for equal work” campaign aims to address the wage gap in irregular jobs. Planned consumption-tax increases have been delayed, with half the proceeds newly slated for uses other than debt reduction. 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

#24
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. Current policies focus on strengthening adult education and an ongoing curriculum reform. Some concern over effectiveness of past tertiary reforms is evident. Income inequality and poverty rates have risen in recent years. The government has expanded its growth policies to include social-inclusion issues.

The high-quality health care system offers universal access. Some limited progress on cost containment had been made in recent years. Labor-force participation rates among women have improved, but the majority of employed women work part time or irregularly. The LDP government has sought to provide support for working women by improving child-care provision and expanding parental-leave rules.

While population aging threatens pension-system viability, pension programs are being expanded to irregular workers. Immigration policies are very restrictive, but rules have been relaxed for highly skilled foreign professionals. Crime rates are low.

Environmental Policies

#20
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 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Nuclear power plants have begun restarting following the Fukushima disaster, but concerns have kept this process slow. Various measures promote renewable-energy use, 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.

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’s resistance to giving up whaling remains a high-profile and emotional issue.

Democracy

#33

Quality of Democracy

#33
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. Despite these recurrent problems, no action has been taken to change the financing regulations. Electoral districts have been redrawn to diminish size disparities.

A recently passed state-secrets act has been criticized as a threat to press freedom and public information access. Critics accuse the government of stifling debate on sensitive public issues. The print and broadcast-media sectors are oligopolistically controlled, while online media sources provide more pluralistic, but often one-sided perspectives.

Civil rights and political liberties are generally protected, but gender discrimination remains significant. Anti-terror measures passed in preparation for the 2020 Olympics expand police powers, with critics charging that they undermine existing rights. Right-wing activism, including hate speech, is on the rise. Human trafficking remains a serious problem.

Governance

#26

Executive Capacity

#19
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. Many sensitive issues are negotiated informally, with cabinet meetings largely a formality.

RIAs are widely performed, but oversight and quality control are weak points. 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 key goals, including the achievement of a balanced budget, have been undermined by shifting policy priorities.

Facing a divided population, the government has hesitated to begin constitutional reforms that would enable a broader security and defense policy. The LDP’s victory in a snap 2017 election may push this process forward. The Abe government has maintained good relations with U.S. President Trump, but has had to adjust to disadvantageous U.S. policies. Local government deficits have eased in recent years.

Executive Accountability

#27
With a mixed record on accountability issues, Japan falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 27) with regard to executive accountability. Its score has declined by 0.1 point 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. While occasionally critical of government policy, the major traditional media organizations do little to expose major scandals. New online sources of news are gaining increasing influence.

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. The biggest opposition party has split, leaving the country with only a single large, stable party. 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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