How Japan Can Solve Its Own Hunger Crisis
Japan has the third-largest economy in the world. However, the nation’s poverty rate is 15% and continues to worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Japan’s hunger crisis has notably risen because efforts to provide consistent meals to children stopped after schools closed. The nation has enough rice and resources to feed its citizens. However, organizations and communities urge the government to take action in acknowledging the lack of infrastructure around federally-mandated food security.

The Role of Kodomo Shokudo

Nonprofit organizations and communities have provided food welfare in Japan through Kodomo Shokudo. Kodomo Shokudo is a series of programs that provide students with a space to eat and socialize. Hiroko Kondo is a restaurant owner who coined the term. She kickstarted the movement when she heard that a student only had one banana to eat for one week. Kondo established the first Kodomo Shokudo so young adolescents could eat affordably. As a result, a network of restaurants and community members participated to help eliminate Japan’s hunger crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted Kodomo Shokudo. There has been a 33% increase in people who rely on food pantries and services. Furthermore, a survey revealed that half of the people had concerns about exposing themselves to the virus at these eating spaces. As a result, many locations and vendors have recoursed to alternative solutions such as donating bento boxes. Moreover, some organizations are working towards community-based solutions to simultaneously improve food distribution and aid struggling businesses.

How the Government Could Help

The Japanese government has struggled to distribute food for a long time. Japan holds an emergency supply of rice to prepare itself for potential famines. These reserves currently hold a million tons. Furthermore, it has assisted Kodomo Shokudo vendors in the past. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) set a precedent that rice handouts for students receive categorization as food education. However, welfare efforts are strictly dissociated from it. Yet, the demand for food handouts has doubled within the past year. As such, recent challenges suggest the government should implement radical changes.

The government continues to practice extreme budgetary caution. The nation allowed charities to take a limited amount of cooked rice at the beginning of the pandemic. It was careful to eliminate any chances of scheming the system and distributed 10 tons of rice. Additionally, food banks are frustrated with the slow-moving bureaucracy of feeding the hungry and continue to lobby for more generous rations.

The government could resolve Japan’s hunger crisis. However, the government must find it economically and politically beneficial. Fortunately, there are potential avenues to improve government assistance such as nonprofit organizations and Kodomo Shokudo. Although the food crisis in Japan remains largely unrecognized, the need for improved general governmental welfare has not gone unnoticed. Only 40 food pantries exist in Tokyo to support 14 million residents. In addition, the pandemic has eroded the prospects of economic security. Furthermore, unemployment rates are steadily rising. Addressing Japan’s hunger crisis is the first step in alleviating poverty within the nation.

– Danielle Han
Photo: Flickr

Gender Poverty in Japan
Despite its economically advanced status, Japanese society continues to struggle with lessening the gender gap for women. Gender poverty in Japan has become a major concern. Experts predict poverty rates for elderly women will double or triple in the next 40 years. Governmental leadership is well aware of the need to enact policies to address issues of poverty. However, it has been slow to implement changes.

5 Facts About Gender Poverty in Japan

  1. High Employment Rates, Low Wages: Overall, female employment has risen to 71% in recent years. However, Japanese mothers work in part-time jobs that cap out at relatively low salaries compared to full-time careers. Japanese women in the workforce also earn nearly 30% less than men.
  2. Higher Expectations of Unpaid Work: On average, women in Japan participate in 224 minutes of unpaid work per day while their male counterparts only participate in 41 minutes. This amount of unpaid work time for men is the lowest among countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).
  3. Child Custody Falls on Women: In cases of divorce, many primarily expect women to take custody of their children. Taking a break from the workforce or maintaining long-term, low-paying part-time work makes it difficult for women in Japan to access higher-paying jobs in addition to providing childcare that Japanese people typically do not expect of men.
  4. High Rates of Poverty for Single-Parent Families: The rate of poverty for single-parent families is an alarming 56% which is the highest among OECD countries. COVID-19 has presented additional challenges as a majority of job cuts in the early stages of the pandemic were part-time jobs predominantly employing women, including single mothers.
  5. Lack of Access to Leadership Positions: Women hold only 15% of senior and leadership positions in Japan, of which their salaries are half of those of their male counterparts. Additionally, Japan has a mere 10% female representation in its parliament. The country also has not had a female head of state for 50 years.

Addressing Gender Poverty in Japan

The government under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempted to address gender poverty in Japan under an economic plan called Womenomics. During his tenure, overall employment rates for women rose. Additionally, Abe enacted a plan to increase female leadership positions to 30% by 2020. Abe did not achieve this goal but it is still in place under new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Abe also enacted generous maternity and paternity leave reforms along with access to free early education and childcare for toddlers. Only 6% of Japanese men take advantage of paternity leave, citing workplace stigma for not doing so. Before leaving office due to health reasons, Abe enacted a wide-ranging five-year plan. He implemented this plan to address gender inequality and it has continued under his successor.

In recent years, there have been some important victories for women’s rights in Japan. In addition, there are new social movements related to the #MeToo movement. Journalist Ito Shiori won a landmark rape case against a television reporter with close ties to Abe, bringing more attention to gender-based violence and discrimination in the country.

The Japanese #MeToo movement gained more traction in 2019 when actress Yumi Ishikawa took to social media to question why her part-time job at a funeral home required her to wear high heels. This set off the #KuToo social movement which is a play on words for “shoes” and “pain” in Japanese. Although the movement has experienced some backlash from men and women in Japan, it raises important societal questions about rigid gender norms in the country and has broadened public debate about gender inequality.

Conclusion

Some are implementing efforts to address gender poverty in Japan. It is a positive sign that significantly higher numbers of women are now experiencing representation in the workforce. Moreover, a public discussion is occurring to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19Japan has handled the COVID-19 pandemic much better compared to other nations. For example, the death rate for COVID-19 in Japan is one death per 100,000 people. This number is much lower than other countries, with the United States death rate at 59 deaths per 100,000 people and the United Kingdom rate at 62 deaths per 100,000. Japan also has a lower rate of infection than other nations. Japan had less than 101 per 1,000,000 new cases of  COVID-19 reported while the US has between 501-1000 per 1,000,000. What is Japan doing differently to make the mortality infection rates so much lower than other high-income nations?

Culture of the Japanese

One reason Japan has so few coronavirus cases is built into the culture of the Japanese. Japanese people have worn face masks since the flu pandemic in 1919. Masks are also common to wear in Japan when it is cold and flu season. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, wearing masks as a protective measure was widely accepted and used by the Japanese population. Also, the Japanese culture is more socially distant. For instance, Japanese do not hug or shake hands when making acquaintances like Americans do. Social distancing and mask-wearing came naturally to the people of Japan, so the infection rate is very low for them.

Japan’s Healthcare System

Japan has a highly regionalized healthcare system that has helped them minimize the impact of COVID-19. Japanese healthcare institutions, called Public Health Centers (PHCs), are similar to the Center for Disease Control but at a much more local level. However, when COVID-19 hit its peak in Japan, the PHCs struggled to keep up with the surge of patients. So, the PHCs reacted quickly and would send patients to available PHCs and resources to the PHCs that had shortages. Japan’s quick actions and regionalized healthcare system allowed the COVID-19 death rates to stay low and spread to be minimum.

Negatives Impacts of the Virus in Japan

Though Japan has a relatively small infection and the death rate for COVID-19, the Japanese people’s lives have been greatly affected. Japan’s suicide rate has risen considerably since the pandemic hit. There have been 13,000 suicide deaths in Japan this year; a number much higher than the 2,000 COVID-19 deaths. The suicide rates for August were 15.4% higher than those of last year. Economic hardship, unemployment and isolation from society as a result of COVID-19

Japanese women have been disproportionately affected by the secondary effects of COVID-19. The suicide rate for women specifically has risen 40%. Also, 66% of people in Japan who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic were women. In response, Japan has increased its funding towards suicide prevention resources by 3.7 billion yen ($35,520,000).

The Future of Japan Amid COVID

Looking into the future, vaccine security looks very good for all Japanese citizens regardless of economic status. The Japanese government recently approved a bill to provide all of the citizens of Japan with COVID-19 vaccines free of charge. Providing a free vaccine will ensure everyone will have the opportunity to receive one. Since the vaccine cost is covered, the vast population of Japan can be protected from COVID-19 in the future.

Not only is Japan thriving in the fight against COVID-19, the country is also providing aid to help other nations overcome this disease. Recently, Japan recently donated $2.7 million to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to help Latin American countries with the fight against the coronavirus. Specifically, this aid will provide Pan-American nations with slowing the spread by implementing preventative measures and providing information for citizens about the disease.

Overall, Japan has handled the pandemic really well. Their unique approach to regionalized healthcare along with their willingness to wear masks have greatly decreased the COVID-19 damage in Japan. Other countries should use the Japanese response to COVID-19 as an example. Japan’s quick and regionalized response to COVID-19 attributed to the small death and infection rate. Countries should also consider providing their citizens with vaccines to ensure everyone is protected from COVID-19. The wealthy nations should take into account the countries that cannot afford to provide vaccines for their citizens. To ensure our world overcomes this pandemic, resources like vaccines, masks and ventilators will need to be allocated to lower-income nations.

– Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

Global Economy Could Expand
In 2020, the global economy plummeted 4.3% as poverty, death and illness afflicted millions. But, according to January’s Global Economic Prospects, 2021 bears better news. The World Bank states that the global economy could expand by 4%. This economic growth relies on policymakers’ ability to widely and rapidly distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. It also depends on the ability to contain this virus in the following months, but this alone will not be enough. David Malpass, The World Bank President, said “there needs to be a major push to improve business environments, increase labor and product market flexibility, and strengthen transparency and governance” in order to reach economic recovery. Here is some information regarding how the global economy could expand in 2021.

The 2020 Economic Collapse

The COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictive measures to prevent the spread resulted in a severe contraction of the global economy. In a report by The World Bank in June 2020, predictions initially determined that this contraction would be 5.2%, which would have resulted in the deepest recession since World War II.

However, experts are now saying it may have been less severe than some previously projected due to a more robust recovery in China and shallower contractions in advanced economies overall. Experts predicted that these advanced economies would shrink by 7% in 2020 because of disrupted domestic demand, supply, trade and finance while others anticipated that emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) would contract by 2.5%. Luckily, the impact on EMDEs was also more acute than estimates determined.

Economic Growth 2021

Currently, it is not certain if the global economy will increase by 4%. With delayed rollouts of the COVID-19 vaccine and increasing infection rates, this increase could be as low as 1.6%. That amount is not nearly enough to reach a recovery status in 2021. However, if the vaccine process proceeds at a rapid rate and governments control the pandemic, economic growth could reach almost 5%.

In the United States, GDP decreased by 3.6% in 2020. In the Eurozone, this contraction was 7.5% and activity in Japan shrunk by 5.3%. However, 2021 brings hope. Predictions have determined that the United States’ GDP will increase by 3.5%. Meanwhile, in the Eurozone, experts anticipate that output will grow 3.6%. Meanwhile, in Japan, forecasts have determined that its economy will grow by 2.5%.

In China and other emerging markets and developing economies, aggregate GDP could grow by 4.2% in 2021, after a 2.6% decrease in 2020. On the other hand, EMDEs could expand 3.5%, after a 5% contraction in 2020. This means that a 1.6% increase is necessary to reach economic recovery. Meanwhile, in 2020, China’s economy grew by 2% and may expand an additional 7.9% in 2021. Also, low-income economies may not only economically recover, but also grow by 3.3% after a contraction of only 0.9% in 2020.

Long-Lasting Effects

According to The World Bank’s press release, unless policymakers issue a series of reforms to improve the fundamental drivers of sustainable and equitable economic growth, the next decade could experience growth disappointments due to underemployment, labor force declines in several advanced economies and underinvestment.

To reduce these adverse effects, “policymakers need to continue to sustain the recovery, gradually shifting from income support to growth-enhancing policies. In the longer run, in emerging market and developing economies, policies to improve health and education services, digital infrastructure, climate resilience, and business and governance practices will help mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic, reduce poverty and advance shared prosperity.”

Fortunately, it looks like 2021 will bring hope due to the fact that the global economy could expand. Even with the expansion of the global economy, however, much work is necessary to eliminate long-lasting effects and fully recover.

Victoria Mangelli
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in JapanYear after year, Japan consistently ranks as one of the top countries for life expectancy. These top 10 facts about life expectancy in Japan is a reflection of economic developments that occurred since World War II.

Top 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Japan

  1. Japan ranks second in the world for life expectancy, with the average Japanese citizen living to 85.0 years. The life expectancy for the average female in Japan is 88.1 years and 81.9 years for males. There has been a fairly consistent difference in the life expectancy between women and men in Japan. Currently, women are expected to live around 6.2 years longer than men. Prior to 1990, the country had not even made the list of the top 100 countries with the highest life expectancies.
  2. The fertility rate in 1955 for Japan was 3.0 live births per women, which has decreased to 1.4 in 2020. A decrease may appear worrisome but there is a clear correlation between fertility rates and wealth. Poorer nations tend to have high fertility rates which continues a cycle of poverty but intermediate levels of fertility tend to represent an economically stable, wealthy country.
  3. Infant mortality and overall child mortality rates have greatly decreased since the 1950s. In 1950, the infant mortality rate was roughly 47 deaths per 1,000 births and the number of deaths for children under 5 was 72 per 1,000 births. As of 2020, the infant mortality rate and deaths for children under the age 5 is 1.6 and 2.2 per 1,000 births, respectively. These statistics display growth that has contributed to a higher life expectancy in Japan.
  4. Diet and lifestyle are major contributors as well. Japanese people tend to enjoy well-balanced, nutritious meals that consist of vegetables, fruits, fish and high-grain based foods. This diet is low in saturated fats and includes mainly natural, unprocessed foods. In addition, the country has succeeded in promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. Even in their old age, many Japanese seniors continue to exercise regularly.
  5. Rapid economic growth was seen in the country in the 1960s and the Japanese Government made great efforts to invest in the country’s healthcare system. In 1961 the country adopted universal health insurance for their citizens which included vaccination programs and medical treatments that greatly decreased both adult and child mortality rates.
  6. Increased economic prosperity is a contributing factor. After World War II, Japan experienced an extremely rapid growth in its economy. Increased economic prosperity led to medical technology advancements, universal healthcare access, improved diets and lifestyles, decrease in disease and deaths, improvements in education and lower mortality rates. Economic prosperity and life expectancy rates are related, as seen in Japan.
  7. A smaller poverty gap can also account for life expectancy in Japan. In the 1970s, Japan had a smaller income and wealth gap in the population compared to many other developed countries and it has been proven that a higher inequality in wealth correlates to higher mortality rates.
  8. Successful health education and a well-established health culture is what Japan is known for. Majority of citizens engage in regular physician check-ups and receive vaccinations and immunizations. Furthermore, Japanese people are encouraged to reduce their salt intake and red meat consumption, advice the people take seriously.
  9. Practice of good hygiene is another factor in explaining the high life expectancy in Japan. Common practices such as handwashing and cleanliness is normal in Japan but the country also has sufficient access to clean, safe water and sewage systems as well.
  10. Decreased cerebrovascular diseases. Historically, Japan has always had low rates of ischemic heart disease and cancer compared to other developed, high GDP countries. However, Japan had one of the highest rates for cerebrovascular disease from the 1970s-1980s. Thanks to health developments, Japan has greatly decreased their rates of cerebrovascular diseases within the past 20 years.

– Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

Farming Innovations in JapanAgri-tech, a growing term used to describe Japan’s digital farming technology has greatly advanced farming systems in the country in order to combat a potential water shortage by 2030. Both experienced and inexperienced farmers in Japan are using new technologies to limit the overuse of water and fertilizer, which in turn, is fighting food insecurity and poverty for the entire population. Professor Kiyoshi Ozawa, from Meiji University Kurokawa Field Science Center, summarizes the system, “instead of spraying a large amount of water with sprinklers or the like, fertigation uses narrow pipes to place drops of water and fertilizer at the roots of the growing crops.” Farming innovations in Japan aim to reduce overall poverty in the country.

Farming Innovations in Japan

There are several innovations to take note of that have eased the labor intensity and climate impact of farming in Japan, such as heat-resistant varieties, delayed transplanting and specialized application of fertilizers, to combat both climate change and poverty in the face of a potentially grave water and food shortages.

Japan Today, an esteemed magazine based in Japan, also highlights the main goal of this growing agri-tech business as a collaboration between experts, advanced farmers and younger generations to create permanent, sustainable solutions and share knowledge about the most efficient farming techniques. “The valuable experience and techniques of veteran farmers could also be more accessible to newer farmers via the web,” explains writer Allen Croft, “such as learning resources about harvesting times with databases and photos.”

Factors Affecting Farming in Japan

Not only do these farming innovations in Japan help to alleviate poverty in vulnerable communities but they also fight climate change issues by directly limiting water and fertilizer usage and combatting overproduction. Climate change has caused tension in the agricultural world of Japan, as unpredictable water levels cause heightened food prices, specifically in terms of rice production. Several other factors are contributing to pressure on Japan’s farming industry, including a decline in labor force participation as fewer young people are becoming farmers as well as Japan’s reliance on food imports.

These new technological farming innovations in Japan are working to alleviate the problems outlined above and are bringing new uses to AI and loT technology in a way the farming communities have never seen before. Through data analysis and observation of traditional farming structures, farmers can maintain exact water measurements and maximize soil fertility in order to maintain consistent crop growth. The main goal of these digital solutions to farming in Japan is to create permanently sustainable agricultural practices for generations to come.

The Japan Social Development Fund

Specifically from the standpoint of poverty alleviation, the World Bank has implemented a project, the Japan Social Development Fund, that aids impoverished communities while focusing on education, adaptation to climate change, health and sanitation services as well as environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. While most vulnerable communities in Japan do not have access to the digital technology innovations that farmers have developed, a social shift towards awareness of water usage has allowed farmers with limited resources to implement certain practices.

The Future of Digital Agriculture

There are a variety of growing measures set in place to make the agriculture business in Japan more sustainable in the face of both climate change and poverty. Digital agriculture is growing at an immense rate and it is predicted that the global market, specifically for agricultural robots, will reach $73.9 billion by 2024, which will vastly change the structure of food production and the labor force. The scope of digital farming innovations in Japan is broad and could potentially create a basis for agriculture in other countries struggling with water and food shortages as well.

– Caroline Pierce
Photo: Flickr

Elder Poverty in JapanWith a robust elderly population that only continues to grow, Japan faces an unconventional problem concerning its impoverished elder populations. Food security and homelessness have resurfaced as an increasing number of Japan’s older residents find themselves strapped for money and without access to basic needs. The number of those reliant on public assistance had been steadily decreasing since the mid-90s; however, recent socio-economic issues like COVID-19 have increased elderly poverty in Japan.

Home to an elderly population of 18.1%, Japan boasts one of the highest life expectancies in the world, at 81 and 87 years for men and women respectively. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Japan is expected to maintain and grow this high life expectancy. Since 2008, when Japan’s population peaked, it’s gradually been decreasing and aging as the number of elderly increases and the rate of births slow. Those older than 65 comprise 28.4% of the population—a number that’s projected to reach 35.3% by 2040.

Japan’s Welfare System

Japan’s public pension system ensures at least all citizens are covered to a certain standard, and as such, has improved securing basic daily needs for their elderly population. After a 1994 bill passed to reform public pensions in Japan, the amount of the population on public assistance rose from 1.6% in 1995 to 2.9% in 2015. While some attribute a slowing economy to this, nuances of poverty that can’t be fixed by the income security Japan’s public pension program provides seems to be prevalent among the elderly.

One such issue that can’t be addressed by the pension system, is the amount of elderly in Japan that live alone—a number that’s much higher in Japan than in other countries.

Poverty and Dependence

Elderly poverty is particularly a concern among adults older than 75 years old with severe income disparities observable starting at the age of 65 years, and many of them live alone.

At this age, many are retiring or unable to work, while some who may have been married to the provider in the family find themselves without an income when the provider passes. While it used to be custom for the elderly to move in with their children, who could care for their aging parents, the slowing rate of births means that an increasing number of the aging population do not have kids who can take care of them, and even those who do might be reluctant, not wanting to impose on the life their children have made for themselves.

A study conducted on the living conditions of Japan’s elderly population showed several factors associated closely with mortality, including no air conditioning, no refrigerator and the cut-off of several essential services due to costliness. Out of the 7614 participants in the study, 12% struggled with one of these factors while 3.3% struggled with at least two.

The elderly are one of the more vulnerable populations that fall under the poverty umbrella as they’re more likely to have health conditions and income disparities. Moreover, the poor and elderly who get sick or injured don’t have any means of being helped; not only is there no one to attend to them and make sure they get access to the healthcare they need, but those who can’t afford to meet their daily needs—which makes them more susceptible to illness and injury—will also struggle to pay for healthcare. A deficiency in being able to maintain their lifestyle resulted in 27,000 early deaths among elderly Japanese every year.

Women and Elder Poverty

A study of Japan’s pension anticipates that 25% of elderly women in Japan will be living below the poverty line, with this rate rising to 50% in never-married and divorced women. Additionally, 10% of elderly men are predicted to live below the poverty line.

The government designed the original pension system under the assumption that many women quit their jobs to take care of their children after marrying, and as such, the pension takes care to cater to women. However, divorce and never-married populations have become more prevalent since, leaving women who are not married to receive only a small portion of what a married woman would receive, which isn’t enough to maintain a sustainable living standard. Currently, the poverty rate of women over the age of 65, is 22%.

Long-term Care Insurance

Introduced to the public in 2000, this brand of socialized medical care deploys mandatory health coverage to everyone in Japan older than 65, according to their mental and physical health needs.

Due to the mandatory nature of this coverage, its flexibility and accessibility are its key components, with the coverage extending to a variety of types of healthcare according to an individual’s needs in both the public and private sectors. Long-term Care Insurance also tries to focus on cultivating community support, attributing to the ease of isolation many of the elderly find themselves in, to alleviate premature deaths.

While elderly poverty in Japan is expected to increase due to the country’s rising life expectancy rate and declining birth rate, the government is taking steps to ensure elderly poverty is addressed, such as implementing the public pension plan and the Long-term Care Insurance.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Japan
The U.S. Congress released a Trafficking In Persons Report (2020) concluding Japan’s federal response to human trafficking as insufficient. Though the report recognizes Japan’s reformed policies, tightened visa checks and installation of victim shelters, its government has a history of not taking measures to fully criminalize and eradicate human trafficking in Japan.

History of Human Trafficking in Japan

In the early 1980s, human trafficking in Japan was common. Without Japan’s government regulation or extensive protocol, traffickers targeted many social groups including women, international students, foreign laborers and entertainers.

The majority of human trafficking came from the entertainment industry, due to Japan’s lenient authorization of all foreigners applying for the “Entertainer” visa. Women from Thailand and the Philippines migrated to Japan in the 1990s through this specific label, though only 20% were actual singers and dancers.

With a large demand for sexual services, targeted women in the entertainment industry were mostly from red-light districts. Though these cases for human trafficking were prominent, Japan did not take federal action and instead, dismissed them as “foreign cases.”

In other cases, external human trafficking groups traded women into Japan from foreign countries. Given fraudulent passports and tied to the organizations by debt bondage, victims paid off their contracts through sexual labor in Japan.

Activism to Reduce Human Trafficking in Japan

Despite the ongoing rise of human trafficking in Japan, many Japanese activist groups began to form and take action, specifically large organizations such as the Japanese Network Against Trafficking in Persons (JNATIP), established in 2003, or Kyofukai, the Japan Christian Women’s Organization, established in 1886. These advocacy groups provided victims shelter and protection, responding and reacting to women and children who were victims of human trafficking. As non-government organizations took on what the state neglected, tension began to spread throughout the state and human trafficking in Japan began to catch national attention.

The Japanese government’s lack of regulation and foreigner neglect continued these trends from the 1980s to 2000s. In contrast to Japan’s circumstances, other countries began to adopt the UN’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in response to the globally rising cases. Starting in 2000, the U.S. Congress strongly encouraged and monitored this collective stance, releasing annual reports on the results and efficiency of anti-trafficking measures in each country.

In 2002, Japan agreed to implement the Protocol Against Human Trafficking, which revised immigration protocols and adopted measures to combat human trafficking in Japan. It also signed the Action Plan in 2004, which strengthened immigration processing, provided victims government protection and declared trafficking a federal crime against human rights. Despite its efforts, the U.S. marked Japan as Tier 2, a subcategory that states this country does not fully adhere to the TVPA’s standards.

A Setback in Reducing Human Trafficking

Today, Japan still remains at Tier 2 in 2020, though the U.S. briefly advanced Japan to Tier 1 in 2018-19. Although human trafficking measures and policies are still in place, several factors contribute to Japan’s setback.

For starters, Japan has introduced a steady flow of migrant workers that have led to labor exploitation and debt bondage. The country has steadily dismissed these as “foreign cases,” coincidentally turning to direct its human trafficking policies on domestic cases. This shift in the government’s focus has allowed the state to avert attention from the exploitation of foreign labor.

Japan has also allowed an alarming amount of international students through foreign study-abroad agencies under the “Kaigo” visa. Students under contract are able to work off tuition through legal work, though in some cases, must work against their will. The 2020 Trafficking Report that the U.S. released states that Japan’s foreign student population is more and more at risk for human trafficking due to dishonest work-study contracts in unskilled unmonitored labor sections. The cases of both international students and migrant workers have steadily increased, especially with Japan’s lenient immigration policy change in 2018.

Moving Forward

All things considered, Japan has disregarded the global effort to eradicate human trafficking cases. Despite the state’s continued indifference, non-governmental organizations continue to respond to victims, advocate for further policy changes and attempt to discontinue trends of exploitation in Japan. Though the cases of trafficking have gone down over the last two decades, the insufficient federal response to human trafficking still affects many social groups.

Today, non-governmental organizations continue to protect victims and advocate for better policies to combat human trafficking in Japan. The U.S. 2020 Trafficking In Persons report and labor exploitation stigma have uncovered Japan’s underwhelming policies and scrutinized the country for its lack of completion and insufficient response. The JNATIP remains a major resource group for human trafficking victims, promoting the enactment of laws for trafficking victims. The political fight against human trafficking in Japan continues.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Japan’s Foreign Aid
As the world’s third-largest economy, Japan is a global powerhouse. Japan’s foreign aid is also impressive, contributing the fourth largest amount in the world, and the largest in Asia. This article will cover where this aid goes, how effective it is and what Japan plans in its future.

Revising Japan’s Foreign Aid

In tandem with its rise as an economic superpower, Japan became the world’s leading foreign aid donor in the 1980s. However, the international community widely criticized Japan for funding environmentally harmful projects of various corrupt Asian leaders. Japan created its first Official Development Assistance (ODA) charter in 1992, which set out a fairly standard list of goals, such as poverty alleviation and healthcare. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe significantly updated it in 2015 by intermingling military and aid funding together, and explicitly linking Japan’s foreign aid projects with the “prosperity of the Japanese people.”

Infrastructure

Japan’s foreign aid strategy is unique. Bilateral aid constitutes 77% of Japan’s ODA, meaning the Japanese government donates directly to the recipient country without a third-party organization.

This is well above the 59% average of other OECD countries, a collection of the world’s largest donor countries. Of this bilateral aid, 60% comes in the form of loans in comparison to an OECD average of 9%. Japan’s prioritization of infrastructure projects explains these differences. Japan favors infrastructure because of the immediate, tangible benefits it provides and also because these projects provide work for Japanese manufacturing companies.  In 2018, loans going towards infrastructure projects accounted for over one-third of Japan’s total ODA.

Currently, Japan’s largest infrastructure project is a proposed bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, a distance of around 330 miles. Besides improving transportation between India’s largest city and one of the country’s most important industrial ports, Indian officials expect the construction to create upwards of 90,000 jobs. Japan has pledged to fund 81% of the construction, equivalent to $12 billion USD, on a 50 year, low-interest loan.

Southeast Asia

Japan considers Asia, especially Southeast Asia, a critical region in which to promote Japanese interests through aid. About 57% of Japan’s ODA went to Asian countries in 2018, with India, Bangladesh and Vietnam being the largest benefactors. In this region, infrastructure, renewable energy and education are the three areas receiving most Japanese aid. Japan’s assistance has been instrumental in improving educational opportunities for women and for people living in rural areas.

Territorial disputes between China, Vietnam and the Philippines have recently intensified in the South China Sea. Abe introduced ‘Japan’s Proactive Contribution to Peace’ in his 2015 update of the ODA charter, which allowed Japan to use its aid budget to fund military operations that work towards “peace and stability” in the region. Recent aid packages to Vietnam and the Philippines included surveillance ships and liberal-arts military training. Japan’s intermingling of its de facto military and foreign aid caused some controversy. However, as long as China stays aggressive and powerful in the region, Japan will continue to provide military aid in Southeast Asia.

Healthcare

Healthcare is a growing priority for Japan, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa. With international pressure to allocate more money to the world’s lowest-income nations and away from Japan’s explicit national interest in the Pacific, Abe responded in 2016 at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) by pledging $30 billion to public and private sector recipients in Africa. At the 2019 conference, Abe launched the Africa Health and Wellbeing Initiative, which aims to improve healthcare using Japan’s extensive healthcare technology.

Japan will give aid through both public and private sectors in what the government calls “Mt. Fuji Shaped Healthcare” that prioritizes basic sanitation before investing in advanced healthcare systems. Japan will customize aid based on the different needs of each country.

On October 3, 2020, Japan gave a $9.4 million grant to Nigeria for medical equipment through the Africa Health and Wellbeing Initiative.

The COVID-19 pandemic refocused international attention on the importance of adequate healthcare. Japan responded in September 2020, committing over $6 billion in both bilateral and multilateral aid (chiefly to UNICEF). This aid will provide healthcare systems, training and vaccine funding for Asian and African countries.

Looking Ahead

The outlook for Japan’s foreign aid is quite positive. Yoshihide Suga, who was elected Prime Minister on September 16, 2020, is not expected to change Japan’s foreign aid policies.

While infrastructure will continue to be the main tenet, Japan’s contributions to poverty reduction and healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa have increased in the past 5 years, and this trend should continue. Additionally, the OECD projects Japan’s total ODA to increase by a modest 3% in 2020. Look for Japan’s foreign aid to grow and diversify, albeit slowly, in the coming years.

– Adam Jancsek
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in present-day Japan
The film titled, “Nobody Knows” or “Dare Mo Shiranai” in Japanese, shows the issues of poverty in present-day Japan — even though the film was made in 2004. The film, based on a child abandonment case, takes off when the single-mother, Keiko, leaves her boyfriend’s apartment. The oldest child, who is just 12 years old, had to care for his younger siblings (whose existence is hidden from neighbors and the landlord). The film depicts the struggle of poor children as well as a poor, single mother in a Japanese society where people are not willing to take decisive action to help others. Although Japan is one of the most developed countries in the world, 14% of children experienced poverty in 2018.

The Struggle of Single-Parent Households

About 56% of children raised by a single-parent live in poverty. In the film, the mother struggles financially. She explains that she has difficulties finding an apartment because of her status as a single parent of four kids. Finding a stable job can be difficult in current Japanese society because of the common perception that single mothers are unreliable.

Employers are hesitant to hire single-mothers because they may not be able to work when a child gets sick, for example. They end up working as irregular or part-time workers — a status that garners a lower income and less stability when compared with full-time. Irregular workers make up 40% of the workforce in Japan. Many single mothers have to work at two or more places in order to feed their children. In the film, the mother has no financial support from the fathers of her children. The reality of a single mother is often the same and due to current laws in Japan — single-mothers are often unable to obtain financial support from the fathers of their children. These factors all lead to the existence of subtle poverty in present-day Japan.

Ramifications for the Children

Although the children in the film cannot go to school, children from single-parent households who do go to school tend to struggle academically. The percentage of children who perform below average at school is higher for children who have single-parents when compared with those who have both parents. These children are more likely to be unable to attend “cram school” — where many Japanese students study for exams, after regular school. These factors regarding academic performance affect the earnings and job potential of these children’s future. In this way, the poverty of the current generation is passed on to the next generation. Furthermore, it is difficult to distinguish which children are struggling with poverty. This makes the issue of child poverty in present-day Japan even more elusive.

COVID-19’s Effects on Single Mothers and Children

Because of the current economic situation due to COVID-19, non-regular employees are at risk. The law does not protect them from getting fired and unemployment insurance may not be available for some. The request to stay home from the government has affected certain teenagers who have nowhere to go due to poverty or other family issues. Moreover, the closing of school negatively affected the children who rely on school meals.

Actions of Nonprofit Organizations

Several nonprofit organizations and volunteers have worked to help the people in need. Colabo, an organization helping girls in need, has provided food and shelter to teenage girls who have nowhere to turn — due to poverty, abusive parents or other personal reasons. Colabo reaches out to these girls in the city at night to let them know of its free service. In 2019, more than 500 girls used its bus café, where it provides free food and counseling services. Also, Colabo rents apartments at cheap prices for the girls’ use.

Kodomo Shokudo is a cafeteria that provides children with food — either for free or at a cheap price. In 2018, there were more than 2,200 locations across the country. These locations each have different programs to help children in need and many also provide a place where children can study and play. One of these locations even helps children learn how to cook. Kodomo Shokudo unfortunately cannot open presently due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Some locations recently started delivering food to people in need and children who came to the cafeteria often. These initiatives by nonprofit organizations and their volunteers help poor children and spread awareness of child poverty in present-day Japan.

Addressing the Problem

The film “Nobody Knows” is more than 10 years old. However, the invisibility of poverty in present-day Japan and the struggle of single mothers are still prevalent in Japanese society. Raising awareness around poverty in present-day Japan is crucial to effectively address and solve the issue.

Sayaka Ojima
Photo: Pixabay