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

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