Japan

   

Social Policies

#23
Key Findings
Facing equity and sustainability concerns, Japan falls into the middle ranks (rank 23) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

The education system is generally strong. Current policies focus on free early-childhood education and free higher education, while addressing issues raised by expensive private high schools. Some concern over the 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, though a structural deficit has persisted despite increases in state support. Labor-force participation rates among women have improved, but the majority of employed women work part time or in non-regular jobs. Kindergartens have begun accepting two-year-olds, and have reduced their waiting lists to 10-year lows.

While population aging threatens pension-system viability, inflation-indexed benefit increases have been slowed. Immigration policies are very restrictive, but rules have been relaxed for highly skilled foreign professionals, with a new five-year residence visa granted to some low-skilled workers. Crime rates are low.

Education

#12

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
7
Education has always been considered one of Japan’s particular strengths. Nonetheless, the Japanese education system faces a number of challenges. One of these is to deliver adequate quality. Under the LDP-led coalition, renewed emphasis has been placed on reaching the top international tier as well as improving the use of English. While the number of students going abroad for study has been declining for a number of years, this trend seems to have halted recently.

The government is actively promoting reforms. The government has developed the Third Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (2018-2022), which stresses developing creativity through curriculum reform, improved school organization and lifelong learning.

A separate issue is the problem of growing income inequality at a time of economic stagnation. The Economic policy Package for 2018 includes human-resources development as one of its two major policy fields. It includes measures for free early-childhood education, free higher education, and in particular, measures related to the country’s expensive private high schools.

In terms of efficiency, the ubiquity of private cram schools is evidence that the ordinary education system is failing to deliver desired results given the funds used. The public’s general willingness to spend money for educational purposes reduces the pressure to economize and seek efficiencies.

There is growing concern that reform measures have not achieved their intended goals. Despite major university reforms and the government’s well-publicized intention to place 10 universities among the world’s top 100, the rankings accorded to leading Japanese universities has proven disappointing in recent years. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019, the University of Tokyo, Japan’s top school, only ranks at 42nd place.

Citations:
OECD (Directorate for Education and Skills): Education Policy in Japan: Building Bridges Towards 2030, Paris 2018

Social Inclusion

#30

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
5
Once a model of social inclusion, Japan has developed considerable problems with respect to income inequality and poverty over the past decade. Gender inequality also remains a serious issue. In terms of the poverty rate, income distribution measured by the Gini coefficient, and life satisfaction, Japan now ranks in the bottom half of the OECD. In a 2017 OECD report on the state of disadvantaged young people, the organization stressed the need to reduce the number of young people (age 15 – 29) not in education, employment or training (so-called NEETs), which stood at 1.7 million in 2015. This group includes thousands of socially withdrawn persons (hikikomori), who rarely leave their homes. Overall, the number of such people could be nearly 1 million, although the government provided an estimate of only 541,000 individuals in 2015. It was slated to hold a survey in 2018 to obtain an updated figure.

The LDP-led government, in power since late 2012, initially focused on its growth agenda. Since 2016, however, it has given more emphasis to social-inclusion issues, addressing wide-ranging target groups such as people with disabilities and the elderly. While 2% of jobs within private businesses are required to be provided to people with disabilities, the actual share sometimes seems to be over-reported, even within state agencies.

Citations:
OECD: Investing in Youth: Japan, Paris, 29 May 2017, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264275898-en

Cabinet (Japan), The Japan’s Plan for Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens, 2 June 2016

Labor ministry to extend job program to social recluses and NEETs in early 40s, Japan Times, 18 November 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/11/18/national/labor-ministry-extend-job-program-social-recluses-neets-early-40s/

Reuters: Japan ministeries may have fiddled numbers of disabled employees, 17 August 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-disability/japan-ministries-may-have-fiddled-numbers-of-disabled-employees-media-idUSKBN1L20D5

Health

#11

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
7
Japan has a universal health care system. Life expectancies are currently the second-highest in the world for women (87 years at birth) and third-highest for men (81 years). Infant-mortality rates are among the world’s lowest (2.0 deaths per 1,000 live births). A persistent shortage of doctors represents one serious remaining medical-system bottleneck. The number of doctors per capita is some 40% lower than in Germany or France. However, judging on the basis of fundamental indicators, Japan’s health care system, in combination with traditionally healthy eating and behavioral habits, delivers good quality.

Challenges for the health care system include the needs to contain costs, enhance quality and address imbalances. The national health insurance program has a structural deficit, which remains despite additional fiscal support provided by the state in the 2018 reform package; this was in turn based on 2015 legislation, which also improved some management issues.

Although spending levels are relatively low in international comparison, Japan’s population has reasonably good health care access due to the comprehensive National Health Care Insurance program. The 2016 revision of the Act Securing Hometown Medical and Long-Term Care facilitates the integrated delivery of medical and long-term care services for the elderly.

Citations:
Kyodo News, Burden of “double care” of young and old grows in Japan: survey, 4 October 2016, http://kyodonews.net/news/2016/10/04/82421

Suzuki, Itoko: Japan’s Health Care Support for Elderly Revisited, PA Times, American Society for Public Administration, 31 January 2017, http://patimes.org/japans-health-care-support-elderly-revisited/

Jiji Press: Japan’s health insurance system remains deficit-ridden despite reforms, The Japan Times, 17 August 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/08/17/national/japans-health-insurance-system-remains-deficit-ridden-despite-reforms/

Families

#26

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
6
According to OECD statistics, Japan has one of the group’s highest gender gaps in terms of median incomes earned by full-time employees. While the labor-participation rate among women aged 15 to 64 increased to 69% in 2017, a level higher than in the United States, the majority of employed women work in part-time, non-regular jobs. Although several policy measures aimed at addressing these issues have been implemented since the 1990s, many challenges remain.

The LDP-led government has sought to provide support for women in the labor force, referring to its policy efforts in this area as “womenomics.” For example, it has made efforts to improve child care provision in order to improve the conditions of working mothers. Kindergartens began accepting two-year-olds in April 2018. Based on new legislation, parents can now enroll their children at nursery schools outside their municipality. Abolishing kindergarten waiting lists was one goal of the government’s 2018 policy package. And indeed, during the 2017/18 fiscal year, the waiting list fell below 20,000 for the first time in 10 years.

The birth rate has stabilized at a low level of around 1.4 births per woman. The government’s target rate of 1.8 remains as yet out of reach.

Questions remain as to whether the government willing to overcome the tension between having more women at work and in managerial positions on the one hand, and its intention to raise the country’s birth rate on the other.

Citations:
Kathy Matsui, ‘Womenomics’ continues as a work in progress, The Japan Times, 25 May 2016, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/05/25/business/economy-business/womenomics-continues-work-progress/

Tatsuya Goto: Japan’s moms stay in work in record numbers, 27 February 2018, Nikkei Asian Review, https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Japan-s-moms-stay-in-work-in-record-numbers

Pensions

#33

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
6
Given the rapid aging of the population, Japan’s pension system faces critical challenges. The last major overhaul took effect in 2006. Under its provisions, future pension disbursements would rise less than inflation, payments (after an interim period) would commence at age 65 instead of 60, contributions would top out at 18.3% of income, and a payout ratio of 50% was promised. However, the program’s assumed relationship between future payment levels, contributions and the starting age for receiving benefits was based on optimistic macroeconomic forecasts. A “burden sharing” provision was introduced in 2016 and took effect in 2018. Among other aspects, it stipulated that pension adjustments would only reflect wage-level changes, not price-level changes.

The Government Pension Investment Fund has shifted its asset portfolio somewhat away from bonds (and away from Japanese government bonds (JGBs) in particular), and toward other assets such as domestic and international stocks. Many observers are concerned about the higher levels of risk associated with stocks. However, JGBs are also risky due to the Japanese state’s extraordinary level of indebtedness.

In another challenge, Japan has an old-age poverty rate of 19% as compared to an OECD-area average of 12.5%. In May 2018, the government estimated that expenditures on social-security benefits in 2040 would rise to 1.6 times their current levels. Given the prospect of further fiscal shortages in an aging Japan, further reforms are critical and urgent.

Citations:
OECD: Pensions at a Glance 2017. How does Japan compare?, 5 December 2017, https://www.oecd.org/japan/PAG2017-JPN.pdf

Japan’s pension payments system set for overhaul, Japan Times, 3 February 2017

Integration

#33

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
3
In spite of its aging and shrinking population (which is forecast to fall by more than half to 52 million by 2100 if the current low birth rate persists and immigration remains heavily restricted), Japan still maintains a restrictive immigration policy, although the number of legal foreign residents hit a record high of 2.38 million at the end of 2016. A total of 1.28 million foreign workers were living in the country in October 2017.

Bilateral economic-partnership pacts have at least allowed Filipino and Indonesian nurses and caregivers to enter Japan on a temporary basis since 2008.

The LDP-led government has relaxed some immigration restrictions with the aim of attracting highly skilled foreign professionals. Under a new program dubbed the “green card for highly skilled professionals,” it is possible to apply for permanent residence after residing in Japan for five years.

In mid-2018, Prime Minister Abe announced plans to allow about 70,000 workers into Japan annually through 2025, for a total of about 500,000. In the low-skilled sector, a new five-year residential status will be granted under certain conditions.

The Japanese government still appears reluctant to embrace the idea of a full-fledged immigration policy. The nationalistic viewpoints held by many LDP lawmakers pose particular challenges. Against this background, there is little integration policy as such, with the government working to facilitate short-term foreign-work stays rather than long-term immigration. Local governments and NGOs offer language courses and other assistance to foreign residents, but such support often remains rudimentary, especially outside the metropolitan centers.

Citations:
Himeda Konatsu, Easier Permanent Residency for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals – Is Japan Ready?, Nippon.com, 11 April 2017, http://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00304/

The Economist, Japan is finally starting to admit foreign workers, 5 July 2018, https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/07/05/japan-is-finally-starting-to-admit-more-foreign-workers

Kyodo News, Japan sees foreign workers climb to record 1.28 million as labor crunch continues, The Japan Times, 27 January 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/01/27/national/japan-sees-foreign-workers-climb-record-1-28-million-labor-crunch-continues/

Safe Living

#2

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Internal Security Policy
9
Japan enjoys a very low crime rate, although it is unclear just how much the effectiveness of internal security policies contributes to this. Other social and economic factors are also at work. For major crimes such as homicide or hard-drug abuse in particular, Japan’s good reputation is well deserved. The number of recorded crimes reached a postwar low in the first half of 2018.

Terrorism also poses no major discernible threat today. Nevertheless, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, parliament passed an “anti-conspiracy bill” in 2017, considerably expanding police power. This has been strongly criticized for curbing civil liberties, as discussed elsewhere in this report. In this context, an inter-ministry anti-terrorism center was founded under the bureaucratic umbrella of the Cabinet Secretariat in mid-2018.

Another issue is the existence of organized gangs, the so-called yakuza. These groups have recently moved into fraud and white-collar crimes. However, according to National Police data, yakuza membership (including associates) declined to a postwar low in 2017, from around 90,000 in the early 1990s to 34,500 at the end of 2017.

Citations:
Kyodo/Jiji, Number of crime syndicate members in Japan falls to record low in 2017, but crime by foreign nationals rises, The Japan Times, 12 April 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/12/national/crime-legal/number-crime-syndicate-members-japan-falls-record-low-2017-crime-foreign-nationals-rises/

Kyodo, Crime in Japan dips to lowest postwar level through first half of 2018, The Japan Times, 19 July 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/07/19/national/crime-legal/crime-japan-dips-lowest-postwar-level-first-half-2018/

Global Inequalities

#19

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
6
The level of official development assistance (ODA) provided by Japan in 2017 increased by 14% to close to $12 billion USD (net), the 4th highest such level among OECD countries. In relative terms, Japan has typically underperformed the OECD average, although it increased ODA to 0.23% of GDP in 2017 from its previous level of 0.2%. The quality of the aid provided has improved in recent years, but assistance has been increasingly aligned with Japan’s broader external-security concerns, a trend which may be viewed critically from the perspective of potential recipients or indeed the development community at large. The country’s 2015 Development Cooperation Charter stresses the principle of cooperation for nonmilitary purpose; the important role of partnerships with the private sector, local governments, NGOs and other local organizations and stakeholders; an emphasis on self-help and inclusiveness; and a focus on gender issues. These ODA guidelines also enable Japan to support aid recipients in security matters, for instance by providing coast-guard equipment.

Another priority of Japan’s ODA is infrastructure development. In 2018, the concept of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) has gained traction, with the Trump administration in the United States also showing interest, although with a less pronounced economic focus than Japan. One concrete initiative in this regard, pursued with India since 2017, is the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.

Tariffs for agricultural products remain high, as are those for light-industry products such as footwear or headgear in which developing economies might otherwise enjoy competitive advantages. On the non-tariff side, questions about the appropriateness of many food-safety and animal- and plant-health measures (sanitary and phytosanitary measures) remain.

Citations:
Ken Okaniwa, Changes to ODA Charter reflect new realities, The Japan Times, 29 May 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/05/29/commentary/japan-commentary/changes-oda-charter-reflect-new-realities/

David Brewster, Japan’s plans to build a “Free and Open” Indian Ocean, The Lowy Institute, Sydney, 29 May 2018, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/japan-plans-build-free-and-open-indian-ocean

SEEK Development, Japan Donor Profile, Donor Tracker , Berlin, March 2018
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