A newly established digital agency was unveiled in Japan on 1 September 2021. The agency, located in an Akasaka skyscraper, is unprecedented in every way. Under the direct supervision of the prime minister, with 120 of its 500 officials hired from the private sector, the new agency has the authority to manage IT system budgets across Japanese government ministries.
The Japanese labour market has undergone significant change since the early 2010s when the baby boomer generation began to retire, expanding opportunities for women, the elderly and other groups. But COVID-19’s economic impact is challenging the gains of the past decade. The employment rate has reversed its upward trend, declining along with salaries and hours worked, while unemployment rose from 2.4 per cent in 2019 to 2.9 per cent in June 2020.
The dysfunctionality of Japan–South Korea relations led many to despair about whether the two Northeast Asian neighbours can l ever get along. Efforts by US officials to create trilateral opportunities on security, climate or cybersecurity have largely foundered.
Different technological regimes give rise to and require different business institutions. When circumstances change, so must the institutions. Otherwise yesterday’s strengths become today’s weaknesses, and economic growth slows. This is unfortunately Japan’s plight, with its analogue era champions failing to adapt to today’s digital world. No longer does Sony churn out one must-have product after another.
In March 2021, Japan marked ten years since the 3/11 Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. All nuclear power plants in Japan were stopped and only a handful have been restarted after meeting new and more stringent nuclear safety standards. This has led to a significant loss of baseload power, which has largely been compensated by natural gas and coal. Since Japan has no domestic fossil fuel resources, its energy self-sufficiency ratio dropped to the lowest among OECD economies. As an island nation, Japan does not have pipeline or grid connections with neighbouring countries. All of this exposes Japan to higher geopolitical risk.
On Thursday, Japan commemorates the 10th anniversary of the 3/11 Great East Japan Earthquake triple disaster. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck northeast Japan’s Tohoku region triggered a tsunami with waves reaching 40 meters high washing away whole buildings. The tsunami also caused nuclear meltdowns in three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the second worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl in 1986. While Japan has learned a number of tough lessons from the disaster, its legacy still continues to haunt the country today.
Japan’s 2021 defence budget is set to be its largest ever, continuing a near decade-long trend set in motion by former prime minister Shinzo Abe. Under Abe’s watch, Japan has increased its defence budget every year since 2005. The uptick in spending has continued since Abe left office in September 2020 — last December, the Ministry of Defense released its revised budget request for the 2021 fiscal year totalling approximately 5.3 trillion yen (US$50.2 billion).
In 2020, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, under the UN Commission on Human Rights, levelled criticism against Japan’s asylum system. The Working Group’s Opinion was primarily adopted to urge the Japanese government to review its inhuman treatment of long-term detainees, the vast majority of which are seeking asylum. The Opinion also touched on a more fundamental issue: Japan’s strict refugee screening system.
Japan is facing a third wave of COVID-19 infections and the waves are getting higher each time. Debate is once again raging about the government’s balancing act between pandemic control and preservation of economic activity.
In his inaugural speech before the Japanese Diet, newly-appointed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga laid out his policy plan for the nation. It included policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis, regulatory reforms, government digitalisation, international affairs and economic policy for rural areas.