Japan Update

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Economy Panel
Economic Security Panel
Foreign Policy and Politics Panel
Science and Technology Panel


Now in its tenth year, the Japan Update hosted by the Australia-Japan Research Centre and the ANU Japan Institute at The Australian National University was held on September 7, 2023. Hosted by Shiro Armstrong (ANU), Fujiwara Ippei (Keio and ANU), and Llewelyn Hughes (ANU) the full-day event once again brought together world-leading scholars, business leaders, and government officials to analyse the multidimensional challenges confronting Japanese leaders in an era of intense international and domestic upheaval.

In his welcome address Dr Armstrong reflected that the Japan Update in its tenth year was taking place against another anniversary, the fiftieth anniversary of the Japan-ASEAN relationship which had grown in strategic and economic importance in recent decades. Turning to the strategic convergence between Australia and Japan, Armstrong struck an upbeat note, arguing that despite challenges and some friction over the climate transition and energy regulations, the relationship had never been stronger. Casting an eye to the future, Armstrong praised the strong student exchanges between Japan and Australia, with the ANU at the forefront of the relationship.

Economy Panel
The first panel hosted by Professor Fujiwara centered on the state of the Japanese economy and had as its keynote speaker Mr Masaki Kaizuka, a thirty-five-year-old veteran of the Ministry of Finance and current executive director of the Bank of Japan. In his presentation Kaizuka outlined the promising signs of Japanese economic recovery, highlighting the surprising resilience of the economy even in the face of external shocks. His presentation ended with a caution of the risks facing Japan – from inflationary pressures to the volatile economic situation in the United States, European Union and China. Kaizuka was followed by ANU Professor Renee McKeeby who delivered an in-depth review of the reforms undertaken by the RBA in Australia in the context of Japan concluding a review of its central bank. The discussion centred on reflections of monetary policy and the challenges facing central bankers in Japan and globally.

Economic Security Panel
The second panel on economic security in Japan featured prominent representatives from the worlds of academia and business. The keynote address was made by Urata Shujiro (chairman of Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry RIETI) who reviewed Japan’s economic security framework. His speech ended pointing out the incongruence between Tokyo’s commitment to welcoming foreign investment while also restricting investment based on national security concerns. Dr. Richard Dyck, a leading business figure heading up Japan Industrial Partners, and a prominent student of the late Ezra Vogel (Harvard). Dyck’s talk took us deep inside Japanese technological sector. He highlighted the challenge Japanese firms – which had grown into major technological suppliers to Japanese firms – now faced against Chinese firms which in contrast to Japanese firms were focused from their beginning on the global market. Melanie Brock, a businesswoman in the Australia-Japan relationship drew on her experience in Japanese boardrooms to underscore the transformation in Japanese business and ended on a note of real hope that the 30% aim to have women in leadership positions in corporate and government was swiftly met.

Foreign Policy and Politics Panel
The afternoon session began with a panel on international politics and foreign affairs hosted by Dr. Amy King (ANU). The panel featured prominent Keio University professor Soeya Yoshihide whose work on middle power diplomacy has been a leitmotif of discussions about Japan’s role in world politics for over two decades. Prof. Soeya began by contextualizing Japanese defense transformation within wider preoccupations with how middle power states can navigate a region dividing into hostile blocs. In addition to Japan’s Washington alignment, Soeya promoted the importance of Japanese relations with states such as ROK and Australia. The second speaker, Prof. Oba Mie followed Soeya’s conclusions by delving into the history of Japan-ASEAN cooperation in a particular highlighting major political markers in the relationship such as the 1977 Fukuda speech and doctrine. The Q&A was particularly lively with a back and forth between Prof. Soeya and Dr. Michael Green (USYD) over the direction of Japanese foreign and defense polices. Their debate over the nature of power and international politics represented two possible alternatives for Japanese political leaders in the years ahead.

Science and Technology Panel
The final panel of the Update focused on Science and Technology and was led by Prof. Hughes who with Prof. Yarime Masaru (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) called on Japan and Australia to deepen collaboration in innovation and development of green technologies and hydrogen production. Yarime in particular focused on the role Australia and Japan could play in helping to draft new laws and governance to regulate technologies such as AI. Professor Anna Moore (ANU) turned our attention from earthly powers to space focusing on human exploration, rocks and space travel. A central theme of her talk was collaboration across the Asia Pacific to leverage space for regional problem-solving, particularly in areas like climate adaptation. For instance, she discussed initiatives aimed at predicting bushfires and monitoring groundwater levels to assist towns in managing their water usage. The final speaker, Izuhara Takero emphasized the depth of opportunities for collaboration between Japan and Australia in the realm of science and technology. He highlighted two projects to demonstrate potential collaboration: The Japanese government’s Digital Garden City Nation initiative and the Yamakoshi DAO project, both of which exemplify the blending of technology with community welfare.

As the proceedings drew to a close Professors Hughes and Fujiwara shared their closing remarks on the day’s events. Thanking the speakers, Hughes reflected again on the connections between the panels, drawing out lines of argument that link changing definitions of economic security to structural shifts in geopolitics and the new and growing challenges of climate change, energy security, and the balance between sovereign capabilities and a fragmenting multilateral system. Finally, Prof. Fujiwara reflected on the decade of history of the Japan Update and the importance of the event to maintain and expanding the knowledge infrastructure that undergirds the Australia-Japan relationship.

Author: Dr Andrew Levidis

Japan Update 2022


On 7 September 2022, the Australia-Japan Research Centre and the ANU Japan Institute hosted the 10th annual Japan Update at Crawford School, The Australian National University. The esteemed group of presenters and panellists discussed the contemporary economic, social and security challenges that Japan faces. A total of 688 attendees signed up for the event, with 288 registered for in-person attendance, 400 registered online and 2.2k views as of 4 November 2022.

The agenda can be viewed here: Japan Update 2022 Agenda.


Summary: panels and keynotes

Economy keynote
The opening keynote speech was given by the former governor of the Bank of Japan, Professor Masaaki Shirakawa. Professor Shirakawa discussed many of the societal and economic problems Japan is experiencing, such as its rapidly ageing society. He noted that the term ‘Lost Decade’, used to describe Japan’s low GDP growth rate since the 1990s, masks the reality that Japan’s GDP growth per working-age population is higher than the United States. He underscored the difficulty for Japan to increase birth rates through government spending as Japanese politics favours spending on the elderly — the largest demographic of voters. Shirakawa highlighted that ultimately Japanese society needs to forge a consensus that will lead to a sustainable economy and society, and that every country is faced with a similar challenge.

Japan and the global economy
In this session, Professor Noriyuki Yanagawa gave a presentation which illustrated that Japanese prices do not respond sensitively to changes. This minimises the signalling effect of Japanese prices, preventing structural change to the market and the economy. He also raised that increasing the potential growth rate is the most important issue facing the Japanese economy. He suggested that this could be achieved in part by increasing labour force productivity by utilising market mechanisms to increase labour mobility and nurture Japan’s emerging start-up industry. This was followed by a panel discussion with Professor Yanagawa and Professor Shirakawa. They argued that increased immigration is essential to boosting Japan’s economy. Additionally, increasing worker productivity is also necessary to combat the challenges Japan’s economy faces.

Japanese society keynote
Professor Sawako Shirahase spoke about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Japanese society. She emphasised that Japan faces the dual problem of a rapidly aging society and a falling fertility rate, both of which were exacerbated by the pandemic. She also said that while female participation in the workforce has increased, a large gender imbalance in the workforce remains, with many women only engaged in part-time work. A greater proportion of women also left employment during the pandemic. She argued that greater diversity, flexibility and investment are needed to create an inclusive future to tackle Japan’s problems.

Japanese society post-COVID-19
Shirahase’s keynote was followed by a panel discussion on Japanese society post-COVID-19, chaired by Dr Lauren Richardson. Professor Hiroshi Ono noted that many Japanese firms are structurally inefficient, and many operations have still not been digitalised. He said that COVID-19 accelerated some parts of digitalisation in Japan. The transition to remote work revealed that some aspects of Japanese working culture — previously viewed as essential — proved to be unnecessary. Professors Shirahase and Professor Ono then debated the possible reasons why Japan has few women in managerial positions.

Japan’s strategic choices
The final panel on Japan’s strategic choices was chaired by Associate Professor Amy King. Ryo Sahashi argued that Japan needs to adjust its diplomacy and economy to deal with a more assertive China. The United States’ domestic issues mean that the United States is restricted in what it can do on the global stage, so Japan and Australia must work to create inclusive multilateral mechanisms such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Professor Evelyn Goh stated that Japan has propped up US hegemony in East Asia and that if Japan were to align itself more with China, it would tip the regional order. She also noted that any Taiwan Contingency assumes that Japan will support US defensive operations, but this may not always be the case. She highlighted that not enough attention is given to how domestic politics affects Japan’s decision-making. Professor Yoshihide Soeya discussed that Shinzo Abe’s legacy is that of divided politics in Japan, with conservative politics currently being dominant. He suggested that current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is more likely to focus on multilateral diplomatic efforts as part of Japan’s comprehensive security strategy. Yoko Iwama talked about the Japanese reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She said that the invasion had generated a change of atmosphere in Japan, with the population fearing something similar could happen to Japan. She noted Japan’s efforts to augment its deterrence capability, citing its increase in defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP. This is the first-time defence spending has reached this level in the post-war era.

The Japan Update 2022 was supported by the Japan Foundation.

Japan Update 2021 recordings

Session 1 (Opening, Keynote Speech & Panel 1: The Impact of COVID-19 on Japanese Society)

Session 2 (Panel 2: Science, Defence and Technology)

Session 3 (Panel 3: Governance Challenges)

Event Summary

The Japan Update 2021 was held on 8 September via webinar. Bringing together experts from Australia, Japan and the region, the Update focused on the impact of COVID-19 on Japanese society and prospects for recovery, governance challenges and science, defence and technology issues.

The Update is the flagship conference of the Australia-Japan Research Centre (AJRC) in the Crawford School of Public Policy and the Japan Institute at The Australian National University.

Holding the Update as a webinar provided our speakers with the unique opportunity to reach an audience that extended far beyond Canberra, with members of industry, business and academia from Japan, Australia and across the region in attendance. The 2020 Update featured three panels via Zoom webinar.

Professor Sawada Yasuyuki (University of Tokyo) delivered the opening keynote speech on Japan and Asia after COVID-19, highlighting the economic impact of the pandemic on the region and examining the role of the Asian Development Bank in its recovery.

Dr Lauren Richardson (ANU) chaired the first panel on the impact of COVID-19 on Japanese Society. Associate Professor Nana Oishi (University of Melbourne) outlined the impact of COVID-19 on migration in Japan, with a focus on government support for migrants, remaining challenges and what migration in post-COVID-19 Japan will look like. Professor Yoko Ibuka (Keio University) suicide in Japan in the context of COVID-19, the drivers of its increase throughout the pandemic and its implications for public policy.

The second panel was chaired by Professor Ippei Fujiwara (Keio University & ANU) and focused on science, defence and technology issues. Jun Mukoyama (Asia Pacific Initiative) outlined Japan’s challenges in digitalisation, particularly focusing on the transition away from fax machines and the embrace of new forms of digital modernisation. Yuki Tatsumi (Stimson Center) joined from Washington D.C. to share her insights on the existing and upcoming defence challenges for Japan, highlighting how Japan’s defence establishment is seeking to respond and adapt to the emergence of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data. Associate Professor Llewelyn Hughes (ANU) outlined the road ahead after Japan’s net-zero emissions announcement, and the challenge of reconciling these goals with Japan’s current public policy environment.

Professor Ippei Fujiwara (Keio University & ANU) chaired the final panel on Japan’s governance challenges. Professor Keiichiro Kobayashi (Keio University) shared his views on Japan’s governance issues on policy measures in response to COVID-19, citing inter-agency coordination failures, fiscal policy issues and loose border controls. Motoko Rich (The New York Times) the current political and crisis governance landscape in Japan, touching on the implications of the Olympics and Paralympics, factional politics and the Yoshihide Suga resignation and the rising influence and power of younger politicians and women and other traditionally marginalised voices in Japanese political leadership. Associate Professor Shiro Armstrong (ANU) outlined Japan’s new economic-security policies as a response to US-China strategic competition and an increasingly uncertain external environment.

The Japan Update 2022 was supported by the Japan Foundation.

Updated:  18 July 2024/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Services Team