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

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

Artificial pollinators
More than 570 million farms exist in the world today. Notably, 45% of the world’s population lives in rural areas; a number that is equivalent to 3.4 billion people. However, today, 2 billion people sustain themselves through agriculture. While the entirety of human-kind depends on agriculture for sustenance, only 33% of the population depends on agriculture to survive, economically. In this same vein, farmers’ livelihoods have been threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a leading cause in the decline of bees. With a decrease in natural pollinators, researchers are creating artificial pollinators to sustain our ecosystem.

The Birds & Bees Falling Short

Birds, bees and other insects are the world’s crop pollinators and cross-pollinators. Bees can pollinate more than $15 billion of crops every year in the U.S. alone. In 2016, however, seven species of Hawaiian bees were declared endangered, as well as a bee that is native to the East Coast and Midwest of the U.S. Researchers are now looking to artificial pollinators and robotics as a substitute to help fulfill the world’s agricultural needs.

Robotic Dragonflies and Miniature Drones

In the Netherlands, a group at the Technical University of Delft is creating drones — robotic dragonflies — that will recognize, land on, and pollinate flowers. Assistant professor Guido de Croon said that they “use robot dragonflies which mimic insects flying by flapping their wings… this will be beneficial once miniaturization of these drones has taken place. They’ll be able to fly longer without recharging.” The drones can also communicate with each other to avoid contact and possible damage to themselves. In the future, these robotic dragonflies will work in greenhouses to aid in plant health, i.e., watering and safe pesticide use.

Soap Bubble Pollination

An associate professor at the Japan Institute of Science and Technology, Eijiro Miyako, has used soap bubbles carried by drones to pollinate a pear orchard. Inspired by blowing bubbles with his son, Miyako notes that “soap bubbles have innovative potentiality and unique properties, such as effective and convenient delivery of pollen grains to targeted flowers and high flexibility to avoid damaging them.” Miyako’s team used GPS-controlled drones to direct soap bubbles, carrying pollen grain, at fake lilies from two meters away and had a 90% success rate.

This is by far a cheaper source for pollination and according to Miyako, more efficient than other artificial pollinators. Instead of using human labor, Miyako hopes to continue to advance this eccentric, bubble pollinator. Previously, Miyako used a two-centimeter long drone to pollinate but found that the flowers were getting harmed in the process. This pollinating technique is “flower-friendly” in Miyako’s experience, far safer for the fruit or flower.

More Innovative Technologies

Other researchers have created robot bees and dragonflies and one group has created a backpack to attach to real dragonflies to assist in the pollination process. In any case, these insects are crucial to our ecosystem. While technology should never fully replace the natural process — it is useful to have these innovations to assist. Those who live in rural areas depend on the ecosystem and environment around them — including crops and agriculture. Although these technologies remain unperfected, solutions like these artificial pollinators are working to protect livelihoods.

Hannah Kaufman
Photo: Pikist

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Japan
Since the late 1980s, Japan’s economy has struggled. In 1989, real estate prices skyrocketed, leading to an economic crisis in which Japan’s Nikkei stock dramatically rose and crashed by 50%. Despite boasting the world’s third-largest economy, Japan’s poverty rate has consistently increased by about 1% each year since 1989, reaching as high as 16.1% in 2012. Poverty in Japan “refers to people whose household income is less than half of the median of the entire population.” However, Japan has taken many actions to combat poverty. Furthermore, community members have come together to alleviate the pains of poverty, seeing a decrease in the poverty rate to 15% in 2020. Here are some examples of the innovations in poverty eradication in Japan.

Japan Social Development Fund

The Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) was developed in June 2000 as a collaboration between the Government of Japan and the World Bank. The JSDF provides grants for community projects helping to end poverty in Japan, with a concentration on local governments. Projects include Livelihood Support, Improved Nutrition and Early Childhood Development, Inclusive Education, Legal Services and Basic Health and Sanitation Services. The program operates on a smaller level to ensure that smaller communities can receive the same help that larger cities might and make sure that it does not overlook smaller communities. The JSDF has been an immensely impactful innovation in poverty eradication in Japan, funding over $750 million USD.

The JSDF recognizes that poverty affects social groups differently. The JSDF looks after women and people with disabilities in particular. From its inception in 2000 to 2020, 100,138 mothers and children have received free nutrition education and services. In addition, 9,000 disabled students have received assistance to attend “mainstream schools” with inclusivity training.

Despite JSDF’s original intention to reduce poverty in Japan, it also works to eradicate worldwide poverty, serving 93 countries that the World Bank assists.

Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction

Beginning in May 2000, the Asian Development Bank started the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR), with a special focus on technical assistance projects for the poorest areas of Japan. In addition to financial grants, JFPR fosters long-term social development by teaching technical skills to citizens. This provides greater job opportunities for people in poverty. In total, the project has funded over $832 million for projects. The most recent annual report of 2018 details the innovations in poverty eradication in Japan. It spent a total of $317.2 million on technical assistance projects and $551.8 million on financial grants. JFPR is set to fund 459 new projects costing $896.6 million.

The Children’s Cafeteria

The Children’s Cafeteria focuses on assisting children in poverty. The organization provides free or reduced-priced meals to children, but its primary concern is helping alleviate the social and psychological problems associated with poverty. Workers ensure that the children never have to be alone, as it is common for them to be alone for hours while their parents work. Not only does this innovation in poverty eradication benefit the children emotionally, but it also provides a safe space for them to go. While the Children’s Cafeteria centers around food, volunteers encourage the children to stay and play together.

The Children’s Cafeteria has grown in popularity since it first opened in 2013, and locations have grown exponentially within the past few years.  Since 2018, 1,400 new cafeterias have opened, showing a growth rate of more than 50%. As of May 2019, the organization has 3,718 children’s cafeterias. The Children’s Cafeteria is present in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, with approximately one cafeteria for every six school districts. The cafeterias feed close to 1 million children each year, with the help of 1.6 million volunteers.

Japan recognizes that the pains of poverty go beyond financial issues. The effects of poverty can also cross over to other areas such as education, nutrition, safety and mental health. By focusing on the many aspects of poverty, Japan has created a recovery model to inspire the rest of the world.

– Karena Korbin 
Photo: Flickr

Ainu Education
Poverty and insufficient education are critical issues for many Ainu people, the indigenous minority of Japan’s population. The Ainu people endured years of historic discrimination. Their community faced impoverished living conditions after Japan took control of Hokkaido, the Ainu’s native island, in the 19th century. In 2019, however, the Japanese government recognized the Ainu as Japan’s indigenous people. The Ainu face numerous adversities during everyday life. However, the Japanese government is taking steps towards equal rights and opportunities for the Ainu population, beginning with education.

Japanese Education and the Inclusion of Ainu History

Japan’s school systems are primarily electronics-free, but the pandemic’s stifling presence is forcing school systems everywhere to change their methods. Now, student health and safety are both major priorities for the upcoming fall semester. Another priority for Japan’s school system is Ainu inclusion. After textbook and curriculum revisions, the Ainu are set to appear in nearly 40 Japanese junior high textbooks. By boosting the number of Ainu-related pages from 12 to 85, the country’s educational department hopes to teach students about Ainu culture and the value of cultural coexistence.

Ainu Education in Japan

While a younger generation of Japanese students will be learning about the Ainu in school, challenges for the indigenous Japanese population still remain. For instance, many Ainu students struggle to continue their education. In fact, only 33% of the total Ainu population enrolled in Japanese universities in 2017, and this number will most likely drop further with an increase in online education as a result of COVID-19.

But why is education less accessible for the Ainu? According to the executive director of the Ainu Association, Tadashi Kato, it may have to do with poverty. Kato stated that “the big problems [for the Ainu people] are poverty and education,” explaining “you can’t go to high school if you are poor and can’t make a living, even if you take high school examinations.” Another reason why Ainu students abandon higher education is discrimination. The Ainu have experienced discrimination for decades, and many Ainu students often conceal their lineages to avoid harassment at school. In 2019, the Japanese government recognized the unequal status of the Ainu and decided to take legislative action.

Ainu Promotion Act

The Ainu Promotion Act emerged to eliminate the unequal treatment of the Ainu population. Under the recently implemented Ainu Promotion Act, these indigenous citizens have more protections than ever before. The act officially declared the Ainu as Japan’s indigenous people and outlawed hostile sentiments and discrimination against them. The Act also aims to promote Ainu culture as well as industry and tourism throughout Japan. This will in turn draw global attention to the Ainu population. On top of potential foreign investments, the act provides subsidies for Ainu projects. The most notable of these projects is the National Ainu Museum, which opened July 12, 2020. The museum resides in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, Japan, and its exhibits educate visitors on six themes from the Ainu perspective: language, world views, lifestyle, history, work and exchange with surrounding people.

Although the Act is not perfect, these new laws are a strong foundation for Ainu restoration to build upon. Cultural understanding is critical for coexistence. In the past, most of the world misunderstood or did not hear the Ainu people. In Japan, the promotion of the Ainu people through education marks the beginning of a new era in which the Ainu do not have to live in the shadows but are instead celebrated openly as an essential component of Japan’s history.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Wikimedia Commons