Japan

   

Social Policies

#22
Key Findings
Facing equity and sustainability concerns, Japan falls into the middle ranks (rank 22) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.4 points since 2014.

While education system is generally strong, a number of reforms are underway seeking to improve creativity and add digital elements to the curriculum, for example. Rising income inequality is creating access restrictions. Poverty rates have risen in recent years along with inequality. Gender inequality remains a serious issue. The population of “socially withdrawn” people is growing.

The high-quality healthcare 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. The government has made efforts to expand childcare capacities.

Population aging threatens the viability of the pension system. An advisory panel has proposed raising the pension-eligibility age to 70. A series of piecemeal measures have in sum expanded the inflow of foreign workers considerably, though immigration policy remains restrictive overall. Crime rates are low.

Education

#11

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
Japan’s education system, long considered one of the country’s particular strengths, 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 on improving students’ English-language skills. While the number of students studying abroad has declined for a number of years, this trend seems to have halted recently.

The government is actively promoting reforms. In the context of the Third Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (2018 – 2022), which stresses the development of creativity, policymakers announced in May 2019 that the general curriculum taught at schools would be revamped. A government panel in June 2019 proposed the inclusion of more digital, tech-based elements in the education system.

Another issue is rising income inequality at a time of economic stagnation. Measures providing free early-childhood education and free higher education, as well as additional policies related to the country’s expensive private high schools, have to be implemented.

In terms of efficiency, the ubiquity of private cram schools indicates that the ordinary education system is failing to deliver the desired results. However, 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 have been disappointing in recent years. In the Times Higher Education 2020 World University Rankings, only two Japanese universities of (Tokyo and Kyoto; down from five in the year before) made it into the global top 200. However, this ranking seems to underrate the country’s university system.

Citations:
OECD, Education Policy in Japan: Building Bridges Towards 2030, Paris 2018

High School General course Education in Japan Up for Reform, News from Japan, 12 May 2019, https://www.nippon.com/en/news/yjj2019051000949/high-school-general-course-education-in-japan-up-for-reform.html

Japan Panel Calls for Promoting Digital Tech-Based Education, News from Japan, 6 June 2019, https://www.nippon.com/en/news/yjj2019060601162/japan-panel-calls-for-promoting-digital-tech-based-education.html

Times Higher Education, World University Rankings 2020, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2020/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/locations/JP/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

Social Inclusion

#33

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
Japan has developed considerable problems with respect to income inequality and poverty over the past decade. Gender inequality also remains a serious issue. The country now ranks in the bottom half of the OECD with respect to its poverty rate, income distribution measured by the Gini coefficient, and levels of life satisfaction. Moreover, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 ranks Japan at a dismal 110th place out of 149 countries in terms of the social inclusion of women

The LDP-led government has placed a relatively strong focus on social-inclusion issues since 2016, addressing wide-ranging target groups such as people with disabilities and the elderly. While 2% of private sector jobs are to be provided to people with disabilities, the actual share sometimes seems to be overreported. The large population of socially withdrawn people (hikikomori), which may exceed 1 million people according to 2019 estimates, constitutes a major problem. Many of these individuals are adolescents who are not well integrated in the education and employment systems, but the problem has also spread to middle-aged people.

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

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

Measures needed to address social recluse problem (Opinion), The Japan Times, 5 April 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2019/04/05/editorials/measures-needed-address-social-recluse-problem/

Health

#12

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 healthcare system. Life expectancies are among the top three in the world for women (87 years at birth) and for men (81 years). In the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, Japan was ranked at fourth place in 2019. 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 healthcare system, in combination with traditionally healthy eating and behavioral habits, delivers good quality.

Challenges for the healthcare system include the needs to contain costs, enhance quality and address imbalances. The national health insurance program continues to show a structural deficit despite additional fiscal support provided in a 2018 reform package.

Although spending levels are relatively low by international standards, Japan’s population has reasonably good healthcare access due to the comprehensive National Healthcare Insurance program. A 2019 OECD review on public health in Japan reaches a positive verdict on Japan’s primary strategy, Health Japan 21, but points to further room for improved focus and coordination.

Citations:
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/

OECD, OECD Reviews of Public Health: Japan, Paris 2019

Japan No. 4 healthiest nation as Spain tops list, The Japan Times, 25 February 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/02/25/world/science-health-world/japan-no-4-healthiest-nation-spain-tops-list/

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 with respect to median incomes earned by full-time employees. While the labor-force participation rate among women aged 15 to 64 increased to 71% in February 2019, 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 (so-called womenomics). For example, it has made efforts to expand the provision of childcare in order to improve conditions for working mothers. Efforts to abolish kindergarten waiting lists have made some progress, as the day care capacity has expanded from 2.2 million in 2012 to 2.8 million in 2018. The ratio of fathers taking paternity leave has also increased significantly, from around 2% (2012) to 5% (2017), but this number is still low, and many fathers take only a few days leave.

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 out of reach, as, for example, the total number of marriages shrank from 621,000 to 586,000 between 2016 and 2018.

Questions remain as to whether the government is 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 et al., Womenomics 5.0, Goldman Sachs, Portfolio Strategy Research, 18 April 2019

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

Japanese Population Decline Accelerates as Annual Births Dip Below 920,000 in 2018, Nippon.com, 17 June 2019, https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00472/japanese-population-decline-accelerates-as-annual-births-dip-below-920-000-in-2018.html

Pensions

#34

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. Already, more than 28% of the population is older than 65. The last major overhaul of the pension system occurred in 2006. Under its provisions, the value of future pension disbursements would rise less than inflation, payments would eventually commence at age 65 instead of 60, contributions would top out at 18.3% of income, and a payout ratio of 50% was promised. The program’s assumed relationship between future payment levels, contributions and the starting age for receiving benefits was based on optimistic macroeconomic forecasts, but so far only minor revisions have taken place.

In mid-2019, a report by the Financial Services Agency highlighted a potential average income savings gap of JPY 20 million (about €170,000 at September 2019 exchange rates) for a couple with each member living to the age of 95. Finance Minister Aso refused to endorse the report, claiming “misunderstandings.” Later that year, the government announced the creation of a new council on social security issues that will consider major reforms. One possible measure may entail shifting the age at which public pensions begin to be disbursed further, from 60 to 70, as proposed by an advisory panel to the finance minister in April 2019. Another pressing issue is Japan’s high old-age poverty rate of 19% (OECD average: 12.5%).

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. Japanese corporate pension funds are following this trend, with their exposure to domestic government bonds dropping to 18.3% by March 2019. 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.

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

How Japan’s prime minister plans to cope with daunting demography, The Economist, 17 November 2018, https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/11/17/how-japans-prime-minister-plans-to-cope-with-daunting-demography

Thisanka Siripala, Report: Japan’s Public Pension Fund Not Enough to Cover Post-Retirement Needs, The Diplomat, 27 June 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/report-japans-public-pension-fund-not-enough-to-cover-post-retirement-needs/

Govt to launch new social security council, The Japan News, 7 September 2019

Japan Panel Proposes Allowing Pension-Starting Age above 70, Nippon.com, 23 April 2019, https://www.nippon.com/en/news/yjj2019042300575/japan-panel-proposes-allowing-pension-starting-age-above-70.html

Integration

#24

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
4
In spite of its aging and shrinking population – 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 maintains a fairly restrictive immigration policy. Despite a record number of legal foreign residents, reaching a total of 2.73 million at the end of 2018, only 2% of the workforce is foreign-born.

Bilateral economic-partnership pacts have allowed Filipino and Indonesian nurses and caregivers to enter Japan on a temporary basis since 2008. Efforts to attract more foreign workers have been piecemeal. For example, the LDP-led government has relaxed some immigration restrictions with the aim of attracting highly skilled foreign professionals. And in mid-2018, Prime Minister Abe announced plans to allow about 70,000 workers into Japan annually through 2025, for an overall total of about 500,000. In April 2019, two new temporary visa categories were added, covering low-skilled and semi-skilled workers in certain industries facing labor shortages. Finally, in mid-2019, a law was passed to systematically promote Japanese-language education for foreigners.

The Japanese government still appears reluctant to embrace a full-fledged immigration policy, and is cautious of rhetoric pointing in this direction. The nationalistic viewpoints held by many LDP lawmakers pose a particular challenge in this regard. Nevertheless, while the new measures cannot be regarded as a comprehensive package, there has been very substantial progress in facilitating an increased inflow of valuable foreign workers.

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/

Takehiro Masutomo, Japan’s open to foreign workers. Just don’t call them immigrants, South China Morning Post, 30 June 2018, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/business/article/2152880/japans-open-foreign-workers-just-dont-call-them-immigrants

How Japan’s prime minister plans to cope with daunting demography, The Economist, 17 November 2018, https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/11/17/how-japans-prime-minister-plans-to-cope-with-daunting-demography

Arnab Dasgupta, Japan’s Immigration Policy: Turned Corner or Cul-de-Sac?, The Diplomat, 21 February 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/02/japans-immigration-policy-turned-corner-or-cul-de-sac/

Japan’s plan to let in more low-skilled migrants is half-baked, The Economist, 28 February 2018, https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/02/28/japans-plan-to-let-in-more-low-skilled-migrants-is-half-baked

Tomohiro Osaki, New law holds government responsible for teaching Japanese to all foreign residents, The Japan Times, 21 June 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/06/21/national/new-law-holds-government-responsible-teaching-japanese-foreign-residents/

Safe Living

#3

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 2019. In 2019 Tokyo was again ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the world’s safest (major) city, with Osaka ranking at third place.

Terrorism also poses no major discernible threat today. Nevertheless, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, parliament passed an “anti-conspiracy bill” in 2017 that considerably expanded police power. This has been strongly criticized for curbing civil liberties.

Another issue is the existence of organized gangs, the so-called yakuza. These groups have moved into fraud and white-collar crimes. However, their numbers have sharply declined, from around 90,000 in the early 1990s to 30,500 at the end of 2018. Aside from police efforts, low unemployment levels have played a major role in reducing the incentive, or felt need, to join a gang.

Citations:
Number of crimes reported in Japan in first half drops 8.7%; 2019 figure likely to hit lowest postwar mark, The Japan Times, 18 July 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/07/18/national/crime-legal/number-crimes-reported-japan-first-half-drops-8-7-2019-figure-likely-hit-lowest-postwar-mark/

Thisanka Siripala, Japan’s Once Powerful Criminal Underworld Hits Record Low Membership, The Diplomat, 16 May 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/japans-once-powerful-criminal-underworld-hits-record-low-membership/

Global Inequalities

#16

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
7
The total amount of official development assistance (ODA) provided by Japan in fiscal year 2018 – 2019 increased to JPY 1.49 trillion (about €12.6 billion, based on September 2019 exchange rates), a smaller growth rate than had been seen in previous years. The country was the fourth-largest such donor (in U.S. dollar terms) among OECD countries in 2017. The quality of ODA has improved in recent years, but assistance has been increasingly aligned with Japan’s broader external-security concerns, a trend which can be criticized 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 purposes; 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 Japanese ODA priority, with strong geostrategic roots, is infrastructure development. The concept of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” has gained further traction, with the Trump administration also showing interest, although with a less pronounced economic focus than is the case in Japan. Japan has shown active interest in development cooperation with Africa, underlined by the 2019 meeting of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).

The government used the 2019 G-20 Summit in Japan to support major initiatives aimed at achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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/

Government of Japan, Towards Free and Open Indo-Pacific, June 2019

SEEK Development, Japan Donor Profile, Donor Tracker, Berlin, March 2019
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