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

Child Poverty in Japan
Japan is well known for its technological expertise, deep cultural roots and strong economic vitality. Despite this, there is a side to the country that is hidden from the global view: child poverty. The impoverished children of Japan lack proper access to proper nutrition, medical aid and educational resources. They are also unlikely to obtain well-paying jobs when they grow up. As a result, the cycle of poverty continues. Here are five important facts about child poverty in Japan.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Japan

  1. Child poverty in Japan has been an issue for decades. Rates of child poverty have been rising continuously since the 1980s. In 1985, the percentage stood at 10.9%. By 2015, this number had risen to 13.9%, meaning that approximately one in seven Japanese children was living in poverty. Among single-parent households, this average shot up to 50.8%. These numbers are above the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) average rates.
  2. The Japanese government did not address the issue of child poverty until 2009. This was not out of a lack of concern but because of a lack of visibility. The rates of poverty did not manifest the same issues commonly found among communities that struggle with impoverished youths. There was no noticeable increase in adolescent crime or similar behaviors. It is for this reason that child poverty in Japan has also been labeled as “invisible poverty.”
  3. Child poverty in Japan has been consistently hard to measure. Many officials have reported that they could not identify what modern child poverty looks like. Thus, the government commissioned the Tokyo Metropolitan University’s Research Center for Child and Adolescent Poverty to create an academic report for officials to reference. The report details what kinds of support need to be given and how the aid could be more adequately distributed among those who need it.
  4. In 2015, the Japanese government designed and backed the National Movement to Support Children’s Futures. This movement worked to join together various companies and nonprofit organizations in order to fund the distribution of the proper supplies, resources and information needed.
  5. Katariba, a nonprofit organization, operates several facilities to take care of and nurture families living in poverty. Tokyo’s Adachi Ward Office helps to finance the organization, aiding the creation of multiple poverty relief initiatives born from the OECD’s reports. Katariba works to ensure that the children in their care not only have access to educational resources but also to cultural experiences and adults that can serve as guides and role models. The organization believes that it takes more than bodily resources to help children flourish; children deserve to experience the world around them.

 

Not knowing that there is an issue does not mean that the issue does not exist. Nonprofits and local companies are not the only ones who need to care about the children, but the government needs to care as well. Japan is doing what it can to make up for lost time and to prevent more people from losing their childhoods. Moving forward, a continued focus on child poverty in Japan is needed.

– Nicolette Schneiderman
Photo: Flickr

Japanese Children in PovertyThe children of Japan face a unique and difficult kind of poverty. Around 3.5 million children age six through 17 live below the poverty line in one of Asia’s wealthiest countries. Struggles arising from the 2008 financial crisis and rising inequality have put many parents in precarious situations where they struggle to feed their families. Only around 200,000 of the 3.5 million Japanese children in poverty receive necessary government assistance to help them get by. These issues have created a pressing issue in Japan that demands a greater government response and more opportunities for mothers.

Children’s Cafeterias

Japanese kids can get free or reduced-cost warm meals at children’s cafeterias. The cafeterias have become increasingly popular as childhood poverty continues to drastically increase in the country. While there were originally around 21 operating cafeterias in 2013, over 300 opened in the following four years.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many of these cafeterias have been temporarily closed, leaving many children hungry. As both COVID-19 and child poverty have continued to worsen, even the Japanese Imperial Couple has been briefed on the issue, serving as a testament to its significance in modern Japanese culture. The Imperial Couple was told around 40% of programs that support providing meals to these children have been adjourned due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Traditional Family Structure Hinders Single Mothers

Many of these children’s parents are single mothers. In general, Japan is unsupportive of single mothers and offers very little additional support to this demographic. Japan’s traditional family structure usually designates a father, or man of the house, as the breadwinner. Meanwhile, mothers stay at home to care for the children. As divorce rates have risen in recent years, many mothers are forced to return to a workforce that has changed a great deal since they had been in it. Others, never having been part of the Japanese workplace, have struggled further.

Traditional Japanese societal norms typically encourage single-income houses. For instance, the Japanese tax system favors single-income houses. Many Japanese businesses will provide bonuses to men whose wives stay at home. On top of that, a significant wage gap exists, with Japanese women earning roughly 30% less than men. There is also the practice of lifetime employment, by which many Japanese men are pulled straight out of college or university and brought into a company where they are expected to work until retirement. These factors hinder the opportunities available to single mothers and limit the progress that can be made in addressing child poverty.

A Slow Response from National and Local Government

Japan’s government has made slow strides towards helping its children in poverty. In 2019, the government amended a 2013 law focused on child poverty. The amendment was made to encourage local governments, not just the national government, to develop safety nets for children living in low-income situations. Local governments have a deeper an understanding of their citizens’ needs, so they can develop more targeted solutions in tackling poverty.

The deck is stacked against Japanese children in poverty. Many have struggling mothers who are busy trying to earn a living wage in a society where women are expected to stay home. Government support for Japanese children in poverty has been lackluster. Charity cafeterias are some of the only places these kids can get stable meals. The COVID-19 crisis seems to only be aggravating the desperate situation. In such a wealthy country, children in poverty face deeply entrenched struggles and their government is barely helping them.

– Tara Suter
Photo: Pixabay

Digital Healthcare in Japan
Japan’s population is 126,406,369 as of September 2020, yet 20% of the country’s populace is above the age of 65. This is the highest rate of the elderly in relation to overall population density across the globe. By 2030, the aging populace might increase to one in three over the age of 65. With such an exacerbated aging population, digital healthcare in Japan has taken the reigns of health moving forward.

What is Digital Health?

Digital health covers an array of evolving technologies to meet the needs of the healthcare systems of the 21st century. This includes telehealth, wearable devices, mobile health, telemedicine, personalized medicine and health information technology. This empowers patients to be more connected to their health needs and healthcare team. Digital healthcare assists in disease prevention, early diagnosis and management of lifelong chronic illnesses.

Also, mobile applications have been on the rise. They help doctors to make clinical decisions without face-to-face contact. These tools have vastly optimized treatment and delivery, and it further provides a holistic view of data based on a patient’s record. These technologies aim to reduce costs, increase quality, improve access, reduce inefficiencies and make medicine personalized. In conjunction with smart devices and applications, it is changing the way health professionals communicate with patients.

The Digital Hospital

Additionally, as Japan’s population continues to age, a new approach to how hospitals operate is paramount. A culture to implement digital transformation is essential in helping management push for digital healthcare on every organizational level. Ensuring communication between various technologies and devices is critical in moving hospitals forward. With technology constantly evolving, hospitals will need to plan for aging software and hardware. Furthermore, a larger focus on data will develop a solid foundation as hospitals begin to transform into the digital landscape. As the digital age continues to revolutionize hospitals, the staff becomes a dire investment as they formulate digital strategies. Also, cybersecurity will need to proliferate to secure hospital data from potential breaches.

Japan’s Digital Healthcare Revolution

Japan’s population is aging with around 21% of the population being 65 and older, which has created a challenge for the preexisting healthcare system. The government of Japan has focused on a strategy centered around digital healthcare to help this problem. The country sees it as an opportunity for growth.

Telemedicine and mobile applications are paving the way for digital health in Japan. Patients can connect with physicians via any mobile device to access medical data and hold video chats with doctors. This removes the travel and wait times patients would have had otherwise. It would also prove to be most beneficial for patients living in remote or rural areas.

Furthermore, even virtual reality has helped healthcare workers understand how various diseases affect patients. Silver Wood Corp, a Tokyo based firm, developed a simulation to mimic the effects of dementia. It is aided in providing a deeper understanding of such a complex illness while offering help with treatment.

Overall, Japan’s population is getting older in relation to the rest of its population. However, with these new technological developments and strategies, the country is creating a more stable and accessible healthcare model. Moving forward, technologies like VR, smart devices and wearable devices will greatly improve the standard of care Japan has come to expect. With so many innovations on the rise, Japan’s digital healthcare revolution is prepared to meet the demands of an aging society.

As the new digital age of medicine takes the forefront of patient care in Japan, it will also help set a precedent for implementation across the globe. Telehealth practices can help underserved areas gain access to medical professionals without the need to spend costly time or money for an in-person visit. Nations with spread-out populations or a lack of physical infrastructure may want to look into expanding internet access and incentivizing telehealth practices to help underserved communities utilize the medical resources they desperately need.

Michael Santiago
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

hunger in JapanJapan, a small island nation located off the coasts of Vietnam and Korea, is commonly known for its culture and way of life; many know the nation for its fashion industry and international business hubs. Yet, hunger in Japan is a bigger issue than what the surface shows. It is not often considered that there are so many people living in absolute poverty (the equivalent of making less than $1.25 per day). Japan has a population of 126,466,402 citizens. Although they have the third-largest economy in the world, it is accompanied by a poverty rate of 15%. That means 18,969,960 people in Japan are living below the poverty line. The main causes of food insecurity in Japan include unemployment and disability, but there are other factors as well. These are six facts about hunger in Japan.

6 Facts About Hunger in Japan

  1. Because Japan is a developed nation, there is an issue with food waste in some areas and not enough access to food in others. In New York City alone, there are over 1,000 locations that provide food and services for those who cannot afford to eat; Japan, in contrast, has only 50 locations nationwide that provide free food services.
  2. In 2000, the Second Harvest Japan project was started by volunteers. Their goal was to establish the first food safety net in Japan. They have set up food pantry systems that visit restaurants and shops to pick up leftover food that is past its sell date but still edible. The food is then distributed to pantries via the SHJ project.
  3. In 2010, a survey was conducted posing the question: “In the last 12 months, how often have you or your family: Gone without enough food to eat?” Of people aged 29 and under, 7.1% answered “often” or “sometimes.” To attempt to remedy this, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture researched overseas and domestic food allocations to document and analyze the barriers and limitations of the food services they are able to provide.
  4. When food is thrown out while still being good to eat, it is considered food loss. In the year 2015, the total food loss for the entire nation was 6.46 million tons. The Distribution Economics Institute for Japan started a task force to reduce the food loss percentages and analyze businesses to better the procedure for recycling leftover food at the end of each day.
  5. In 2018, new food loss reduction educational campaigns were presented and advertised throughout Japan by the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment. Trials were executed to test the response of the public by placing materials and pamphlets in stores and to raise the awareness of patrons and employees of food establishments. This also allowed prices to be discounted on items that may have expired past the sell date but can still be eaten.
  6. In the city of Ashiya, a non-profit organization called Food Bank Kansai was launched to collect food products from restaurants and supermarkets that would otherwise be discarded. The food was then distributed and delivered for free to families in need throughout the local communities. In addition to delivering directly to the homes and neighborhoods of those in need, FBK also delivered to local food banks with the help of partners and volunteers.

The amount of food wasted each year in Japan is the equivalent of the amount of rice produced each year. Since 1985, hunger in Japan has been recognized and prioritized. Volunteers and organizations have worked tirelessly to reduce food waste and redistribute it to those who need it most. There are now over 80 hunger projects that function to redistribute food to communities that are food insecure due to illness, disability or unemployment.

– Kim Elsey
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Japan

On the surface, Japan seems to successfully avoid the hardships and setbacks that can plague powerful economies. However, Japan actually employs costly efforts to hide its growing economic struggles. Here’s what you should know about poverty in Japan.

10 Facts About Poverty in Japan

  1. Less than one percent of Japan is homeless. As of 2018, Japan has a population of 126.5 million people. According to the latest Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare statistics, Japan’s current homelessness figure stands below 5,000. This is a steady decline from nearly 26,000 people without homes in 2003. While this appears to be a remarkable feat of social reform, the truth is that the Japanese government commits millions of dollars every year to ensure homelessness remains low. The goal is to ensure that the Japanese economy appears strong. In reality, poverty in Japan is increasing. The dozens of government reforms Japan enacts each year are extremely costly and are approaching unsustainability.
  2. Japan is “the most equal major society” in terms of wealth distribution. According to the Statista Research Department, a total of 92% of the Japanese population has anywhere from $10,000 to $1 million in either assets or wealth. On paper, these figures appear to demonstrate an extremely healthy economy; however, they hide the fact that poverty in Japan is well over 16%. The notion that 92% of Japanese citizens fall into some category of “wealthy” may be misleading, serving as a straw-man statistic booster.
  3. A rising percentage of individuals in Japan are poverty-stricken. Japan has seen a huge and sudden rise in poverty and poor economic conditions, especially since 2012. According to The Guardian, 3.5 million Japanese children live in poverty-stricken homes. Since 1991, poverty has increased as a systemic problem for Japan, reaching 16.3% this past year. This figure is expected to continue to rise dramatically as the working population decreases.
  4. Japan is caught in an economic game of “cat and mouse.” Ever since Japan experienced a major increase in retired citizens, poverty in Japan has become a greater issue. As a result, Japan has had to increase the retirement age to 70, shift focus to labor force participation (which breeds unequal disbursement of employment opportunity), and implement expensive government reforms to cope with the declining workforce population and the increasing retired population.
  5. Japan pours a ton of resources into battling unemployment. Poverty in Japan entered an unprecedented era of severity after a major drop in workforce members in 1991. Before 1991, unemployment hovered just below 2% for decades, then rose drastically to nearly 6% by 2002. In fact, this singular event nearly toppled Japan as a world economic leader. Today, Japan has returned to a nearly 2% unemployment rate, although the country has had to pour a huge amount of financial resources in order to accomplish this stabilization. The country still has not fully recovered.
  6. One-third of Japan is retired, and the government doesn’t know what to do. Currently, around a third of Japan’s population is 65 or over. Japan actually has the oldest population in the world. This is partly why Japan has become one of the slowest growing major economies. Aggressive government spending is needed to care for a huge portion of Japan’s population, and the problem is only getting worse as the population continues to age.
  7. Japan suffers from an imbalanced ratio of employed citizens and recipients of social benefits. Much like the United States, Japan’s social benefits system is increasingly problematic. Japan’s “Baby Boom” generation nearly all receive social security. Meanwhile, the section of the economy that pays for social security benefits is not keeping up with financial demands. Japan’s birth rate is likewise falling behind the number of new social benefit recipients. In fact, Japan is expecting to see an unsustainable ratio of ‘recipient to payer’ in social benefit programs by 2025.
  8. Japanese single mothers carry disproportionately heavy financial burdens. In Japanese culture, if a divorce occurs, the mother receives full child custody in nearly 80% of divorce cases. Right now, there is no enforcement of child support programs — meaning that single mothers in Japan may take on 100% of the financial burden of raising children. As a result, thousands of single mothers are left in poor economic standing and are forced to seek government assistance. Because the subject of single motherhood due to divorce is taboo, thousands of women live without assistance. This leaves many of them in extreme poverty.
  9. Abandoned houses have become a common phenomenon. “Akiya” is a term to define a house that has been vacated or abandoned and remains empty. According to World Habitat, there are currently around 9 million abandoned homes in Japan, with an expected increase of up to 21 million abandoned homes by 2033. This adversely affects poverty in Japan because the government is forced to repurpose and upkeep vacant houses; this is an enormous financial burden.
  10. Japanese poverty affects women differently than men. Japan has made some remarkable advancements towards equality in the workforce in recent years. 71% of women are employed, versus the 58% female employment rate a decade ago. Women in Japan also enjoy long and generous parental leaves. However, despite these progressive advances, the female workforce is facing an uncertain future, with prospective poverty rates for older women expected to reach 25% by 2040. With rapidly declining birthrates and increasing retirement rates, current female employment levels won’t be able to combat another wave of retirement recipients and the social benefit impacts.

Why This Knowledge is Important

The Japanese economy is the third-largest in the world, and Japan is regarded a global example of economic strength and prosperity. However, the hard reality is that Japan is a struggling country that is finding it harder to support its citizens every year. Without aid, Japan may find itself unable to provide and maintain its population without making drastic sacrifices — which would not only decrease the strength of Japan but also impact the wider global economy.

Donovan McDonald

Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in JapanHealthcare in Japan is both universal and low-cost. The country provides healthcare to every Japanese citizen and non-Japanese citizen who stays in Japan for more than one year. Japan’s healthcare system is uniform and equitable, providing equal medical services regardless of a person’s income. Here are five facts about healthcare in Japan.

5 Facts About Healthcare in Japan

  1. Everyone has health coverage. Established in 1961, Japan’s universal health insurance sought to provide people with equal access to “necessary and adequate” medical care at low costs. Two key characteristics of Japan’s healthcare are that medical care is affordable and equally accessible to everyone. Citizens can either receive coverage through social insurance if they work for a corporation or through national medical insurance if they are self-employed. Patients and physicians have great freedom in their choices. Patients can choose their own physicians, and physicians are able to freely choose the best procedures, tests and medications they see fit for their patients.
  2. Insurance plans vary for individuals. Japan has three main forms of health insurance. The first insurance system covers employees who work at companies. Companies deduct insurance premiums for healthcare from employees’ paychecks. The second insurance system covers citizens who are self-employed. Factors such as the individual’s income, the number of people living in the household and any assets determine premiums. The third system is a pooling fund, with premiums coming from the previous two plans for medical costs of people 70 years or older. The three medical plans cover citizens from all backgrounds, ensuring that everyone has access to healthcare. Because everyone has coverage, there are seldom issues of people in low-income households or poverty lacking medical care.
  3. Payment is through a fee schedule. Patients pay for their medical care through a national fee-for-service schedule. The government sets the schedule, which includes both primary and specialist care fees. Since the fee schedule is uniform and applies to everyone, all providers “share the same prices for medicines, devices and services.” The poor and the elderly also receive government subsidies to pay for their health insurance. This ensures that the poor do not have any disadvantages in receiving medical care.
  4. Japan’s healthcare plans provide various medical services. The insurance plans include primary and specialty care, visits to hospitals, mental health care and most dental care. Plans also cover prescription drugs that physicians and hospice care approve for the elderly. For pregnant women, the local governments often subsidize check-ups, making it easier for women to access adequate medical care. People with disabilities also get aid from the government. They receive government subsidies to pay for any equipment such as wheelchairs or hearing aids. By making medical care both comprehensive and accessible to disadvantaged groups, healthcare in Japan looks out for the poor.
  5. Japan’s healthcare is extremely equitable. An individual’s income makes less of an impact in influencing the quality of care in Japan in comparison with many other countries. Because the fee schedule for medical care is uniform across the nation, everyone pays the same prices. Furthermore, physicians receive the same fee from patients with or without government assistance due to government subsidies for low-income people. Therefore, Japan’s healthcare system provides no incentives for physicians to treat patients differently. Everyone receives equal treatment and equal access to medical resources, regardless of their social class. This allows the disadvantaged and people living in poverty in Japan to receive the “necessary and adequate” care that the country’s universal health insurance pledges.

Japan’s healthcare system operates on a national fee schedule and is universal in nature. The fee schedule allows healthcare in Japan to be equitable as well as cost-efficient, ensuring that medical care is available to everyone. It also keeps total health expenditures at a minimum due to its set, uniform fees. Healthcare in Japan demonstrates how people in poverty do not experience exclusion from or have difficulties finding medical care, but rather enjoy equal access to healthcare like everyone else.

– Silvia Huang
Photo: Flickr

Education in Japan
Despite spending less on education than many other developed countries, Japan has one of the best education systems in the world. To better understand how this is achieved, here are 10 facts about education in Japan.

10 Facts About Education in Japan

  1. High school dropout rate: Japan’s high school dropout rate is at a low 1.27%. In contrast, the average high school dropout rate in the U.S. is at 4.7%.
  2. Equality in education: Japan ranks highly in providing equal educational opportunities for students, regardless of socioeconomic status. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Japan ranks as one of the highest in education equity. In Japan, only nine percent of the variation in student performance results from students’ socioeconomic background. In comparison, the average variation in the OECD is 14%, while the average variation in the U.S. is 17%.
  3. Teacher mobility: Japan assigns teachers to schools in a different way than most education systems. Unlike most countries, individual schools do not have the power to hire teachers. Instead, prefectures assign teachers to the schools and students who need them most. At the beginning of teachers’ careers, they move schools every three years. This helps teachers work in various environments instead of staying in one socioeconomic group of schools. As teachers advance in their careers, they move around less.
  4. Frugal spending: Japan does not spend a lot of money on its education system, with the Japanese government investing 3.3% of its GDP on education. This is over one percentage point less than other developed countries and is a result of Japan’s frugal spending. For example, the Japanese government invests in simple school buildings, rather than decorative ones. The country also requires paperback textbooks and fewer on-campus administrators. Finally, students and faculty take care of cleaning the school, resulting in no need for janitors.
  5. Teaching entrance exams: The teaching entrance exam in Japan is extremely difficult. It is of similar difficulty to the U.S. bar exam. Passing the exam results in job security until the age of 60, a stable salary and a guaranteed pension.
  6. Personal energy: Japanese education requires that teachers put in a great amount of personal energy. More common than not, many teachers work 12 or 13 hours a day. Sometimes teachers even work until nine at night.
  7. Emphasis on problem-solving: Teachers focus on teaching students how to think. Unlike some other countries that lean towards teaching students exactly what will be on standardized tests, Japan focuses on teaching students how to problem-solve. By emphasizing critical thinking, Japanese students are better able to solve problems they have never seen before on tests.
  8. Teacher collaboration: Japanese education highlights pedagogy development. Teachers design new lessons, and then present those to fellow educators in order to receive feedback. Teachers also work to identify school-wide problems and band together to find solutions. The education system constantly encourages teachers to think of new ways to better education in Japan and engage students.
  9. Grade progression: Japanese students cannot be held back. Every student can progress to the next grade regardless of their attendance or grades. The only test scores that truly matter are the high school and university entrance exams. Despite this seemingly unregulated structure, Japan’s high school graduation rate is 96.7%, while the U.S. (where attendance and good grades are necessary to proceed to the next grade) has a graduation rate of 83%.
  10. Traditional teaching methods: Despite being one of the most progressive countries in science and technology, Japan does not use much technology in schools. Many schools prefer pen and paper. To save money, schools use electric fans instead of air conditioning and kerosene heaters instead of central heating. However, technology is now slowly being introduced into classrooms with more use of the internet and computers for assignments.

Through these methods, Japan has established that teaching and schooling are highly regarded aspects of society. By looking at what Japan has done, other countries might be able to learn and adapt to this minimalistic, equitable education model.

– Emily Joy Oomen
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in JapanHomelessness in Japan is currently a significant issue. While the number of homeless people in Japan is in steady decline, Japan’s national survey still found there were 5,534 homeless people in 2017. What makes homelessness in Japan unique is its low visibility. This poses a distinct challenge for those trying to reduce the number of homeless in the nation.

History of Homelessness in Japan

There are many causes of homelessness in Japan. While more recently, many have become homeless due to failed loan payments or corporate restructuring, in the 1990s, significant changes in the economy led to a rise in homelessness.

After the conclusion of the Second World War, there was a demand for informal day-laborers. Under this system, men would come to day-labor neighborhoods in the early morning. There, job brokers from construction companies would then hire them as manual laborers for a day.

As Japan’s economy matured and diversified, this custom fell out of favor, leaving many without work. Furthermore, the Japanese economy’s shift to the service industry, an influx of young foreign workers and the advancing age of these early laborers all served to push these men to homelessness.

Homelessness and Japanese Culture

Homelessness in Japan divides into visible and invisible. Both groups, however, are less visible to outsiders compared to the homeless in other counties. Part of this low visibility seems to be rooted in the Japanese culture’s emphasis on politeness. Based on Confucian values, there is a significant focus on loyalty, justice, shame, refined manners, modesty and honor.

For the homeless people of Japan, these cultural emphases often make them feel ashamed of themselves. Visitors to Japan, for example, often observe that the homeless of Japan rarely ask for money from pedestrians. In addition, the Japanese culture’s emphasis on politeness also means the homeless try to stay out of everyone’s way. Oftentimes, the homeless will set up their shelters along remote locations such as riverbanks. If the homeless have shelter in crowded areas like subway stations, they will remove themselves during peak hours. However, there are homeless populations in Japan even less visible than this.

Internet Café Refugees

Many nonprofit and advocacy organizations in Japan claim that the Japanese government’s count of the homeless population is under-researched. These organizations claim the government’s figure doesn’t account for the Japanese homeless who live in fast-food restaurants and internet cafés. The term “internet café refugees” refers to a group of homeless who spend their nights at internet cafés because they do not have a stable residence.

The metropolitan government survey in 2018 revealed there were an estimated 15,000 people who stayed at these cafés every day during the week. Approximately 4,000 of these people were homeless. In addition, 3,000 of these people did not have stable jobs. For these irregular workers, there are internet cafés that offer amenities such as private booths, showers and laundry services. A Japanese worker named Fumiya said it costs him about $750 a month to live in an Internet café.

Alleviation of Homelessness

There are many organizations in Japan that are actively trying to alleviate the current state of homelessness in the country. Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund, for example, aims to provide housing, employment and a place of belonging to the homeless of Japan.

Tsukuroi House, a shelter run by Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund, turns abandoned, vacant homes and rooms into shelters for the homeless. Tsuyoshi Inaba, the director of the organization, claimed about 40 to 50 people used these housing facilities in 2017. He further claimed that these formerly homeless people were able to start living on their own afterward.

The organization also established “Shio no Michi,” a café run by the organization. The café hires numerous homeless people, with or without mental or physical ailments, to work the shop.

Moving Forward

The current state of homelessness in Japan is characterized by the low-visibility of the homeless. While efforts by organizations like Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund are having a significant impact, more needs to be done to bring this issue into the spotlight. Moving forward, the Japanese government and other humanitarian organizations need to prioritize finding solutions to the economic and financial issues that cause homelessness in the nation.

– YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Innovation Capabilities
Innovation is essential for countries to develop, but there are countless barriers to innovation capabilities. Innovation capabilities are the parts of a production process that people cannot buy but are critical to supporting and driving innovation. Companies must learn and develop these elements. These elements include basic organizational skills, human resource management, planning routines and logistical abilities.

The Importance of Innovation

Without innovation, companies cannot evolve and be sustainable. This, in turn, impacts the progress of whole countries. A lack of innovation leads to people being unable to leverage their resources.

According to the World Bank, many developing countries suffer from low innovation. Low innovation includes the following:

  1. Weaker managerial and technological capabilities and the lack of ability to cultivate them.
  2. Weaker government capabilities.
  3. A general lack of physical, human and knowledge capital.
As a result, developing countries often have a difficult time progressing through innovation. In 1900, many now developed countries were in a similar state to developing countries today. These developed countries were able to capitalize on their innovation capabilities and successfully manage new technologies. This is what developing countries must now do to progress.

Innovative Examples

There are several examples of how developed countries have capitalized on innovation, compared to those still developing:

  1. Brazil was able to upgrade technologically after a slump in its iron industry.
  2. Japan took its textile technologies and modified them for the needs of different locales. It also diversified into machinery, chemicals, cables, metals and banking. This enabled Japan to establish its first leading manufacturing industry.
  3. The United States leveraged its copper resources. It pushed the frontiers of metallurgy and chemistry through a combination of high-level human capital and a network of universities and laboratories.

Developing countries, however, have had trouble reaching the same goals. While Norway was able to leverage its oil and gas deposits with its high-tech sector, Nigeria was not. Spain and Chile were unable to successfully identify and adopt new advances in mining and metallurgy for their copper industries. This eventually leads to these country’s selling out to foreign interests who could.

Production Capabilities: Management and Government

Two subsets of capabilities directly impact innovation including production and technology. Production includes management and government, while technology includes incentives and the environment.

Management focuses on the organization and maintenance of a company. Developing countries tend to have weaker managerial capabilities than developed countries. In these developing countries, managers tend to not have as much education. This greatly impacts their capabilities to properly identify and understand high-return on potential projects, take responsibility for long-term planning and implement new talent.

Limited competition can prop up inefficient companies. A lack of government support, however, makes it difficult for more efficient companies to effectively incentivize their workforce and upgrade their technologies.

A country’s productivity can illustrate an example of the effects of different management practices. There is a 25 percent difference in productivity between developing countries and those in the United States.

Governments organize and support how effectively companies run. In developing countries, governments generally do not have enough human resources or they are unable to efficiently organize policies. The organization, design and implementation of these policies help to rectify market or systemic failures and promote innovation.

These capabilities are the rationale and designing of a policy, efficacy of implementation, comprehensibility for the National Innovation System (NIS) and consistency. Most developing countries, however, are unable to meet these requirements.

Technology and Innovation: Organization and Environment

Governments and management often work to organize companies. It is the organization of the company itself, however, that allows it to implement and expand new technologies. Companies must incentivize workers so they can receive the tasks that make them the most productive. This also empowers workers to brainstorm new ideas and improvements for products or systems.

This type of organization creates an innovation-friendly environment for the company. These incentives show positive influences on creativity and innovation in workers and the company as a whole.

An example of innovation at work is the Aquafresh company in Ghana. It dealt with fierce competition from Asia, eventually discovering that the best way to confront this competition was not to address it at all. Aquafresh started as a clothing company but later reinvented itself, turning to soft drinks. This was possible due to its innovation-friendly environment and organization. This environment eased the transition and sustained them through the change.

Solutions for the Barriers to Innovation Capabilities

Adopting better managerial and organizational practices can push companies to innovate in products, processes and quality. This can also inspire companies to create innovative projects, which can lead to new products and technologies.

Access to human, knowledge and technological capabilities increases a developing country’s innovation potential. This renders foreign aid less important as the countries learn to become self-sustainable.

Companies in developing countries need help with overcoming the barriers to innovation capabilities. If the National Innovation System could focus on supporting companies with better capabilities, investing in higher-level human capital and management and the development of capable governments, a larger innovation system could come into fruition for developing countries. This, in turn, would benefit the entire world.

– Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Flickr