Japan (chapter 24) is facing a fairly unique set of structural challenges. The Japanese market is shrinking as the population ages, leading companies to purchase enterprises abroad to ‘buy time and labour’. As a result, investment is leaving Japan’s shores, hollowing out the country’s industrial base. To compound matters, inward investment flows remain low, suggesting that the business environment might be losing its attractiveness abroad.  

To address these challenges, the government adopted Society 5.0 in 2017, a blueprint for a super-smart society. It is the centrepiece of the country’s new growth strategy, which envisions a transformation to a sustainable, inclusive socio-economic system enabled by digital technologies, including AI and robotics.  

The rising price of electrical power in industry poses an acute challenge. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, nuclear power plants suspended operations for mandatory inspections and upgrades over 2013–2015. To compensate, imports of oil, gas and coal have risen and self-sufficiency has declined. The government has restarted nuclear reactors since 2016 to bolster energy security. Plans to build new coal power plants could compromise targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Fukushima Prefecture, itself, plans to be fully powered by renewables by 2040.  

Government research expenditure has declined, reflecting the tight fiscal situation. Industry was the only sector to see a rise in research expenditure over 2014–2017, with strong growth observed in space-related expenditure as companies embraced the ‘space business’.  



In 2019, the government launched a ‘Moonshot’ programme to develop disruptive technologies, with a focus on problem-solving tied to such challenges as large-scale natural disasters, cyberterrorism and global warming. By setting ambitious targets, the programme hopes to attract researchers from around the world. 

Universities have developed closer ties with the private sector, as reflected in the growing number of university start-ups over 2013–2018. This development follows efforts under way since 2004 to reform the university system which have led to the semi-privatization of national universities. 

These reforms have also impinged on academic productivity by diversifying researchers’ workload. Japan is one of the rare countries to have seen the volume of its scientific publications decline since 2011.  

In parallel, enrolment in master’s and doctoral degree programmes has dropped, suggesting that the young may have become disillusioned with an academic career.  

  • Figure 24.1: Socio-economic trends in Japan 
  • Figure 24.2: Trends in Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions and power supply 
  • Table 24.1: New projects under the Japan Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development, 2019 
  • Figure 24.3: Trends in Japanese research expenditure 
  • Figure 24.4: Trends in scientific publishing in Japan 
  • Figure 24.5: Trends in intellectual property in Japan 
  • Figure 24.6: Trends in higher education in Japan 
  • Figure 24.7: Trends in human resources in Japan