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Science and research in Japan - statistics & facts

Japan is one of the leading countries in the field of research and development (R&D) of science and technology. Japan has kept a comparatively high level of science and technology indicators such as R&D expenditures, number of researchers, and paper publications for decades. As of the fiscal year 2020, Japan’s R&D expenditures exceeded 19.2 trillion Japanese yen including expenses of public and non-profit organizations, tertiary educational institutions, and business enterprises. Around 93 percent of the spending was used for research in natural sciences such as engineering, agricultural science, and medicine. Proportionally, most are spent on life sciences and telecommunications.

Science and Technology Basic Plan

Japanese governmental measures for the administration of science, technology, and innovation are executed under the Basic Act on Science and Technology enacted in 1995. Under the act, Science and Technology Basic Plans are renewed every five years to set the direction and guidelines for scientific and technological development and promotion.
The sixth edition of the plan was approved by the Cabinet in March 2020. The plan continues the focus on the realization of “Society 5.0,” first introduced in the fifth edition in 2016. “Society 5.0” describes an idealized smart society supported by technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data. This concept was introduced to alleviate existing societal issues such as labor shortage and inter-regional gap resulting from the shrinking Japanese population. To achieve the Society 5.0 infrastructure, the government promotes the advancement of, for example, super computers, quantum technology, and semiconductors. As Japan aims for carbon neutrality by 2050, R&D in energy and environment-related areas such as biotechnology and agricultural technology is a further focal point. Japan plans to invest a total of 120 trillion yen in R&D between 2020 and 2024, including 30 trillion yen of government financing, according to the sixth plan.

Growth slowdown of R&D

Despite the government’s efforts to promote R&D, other countries such as China and the United States have shown faster growth in this field in comparison to Japan in recent years. The global share of citations of papers published in Japan and collaborative projects with institutions overseas has also gradually declined. This can be due to a tight budget structure, especially at universities, or also inadequate job opportunities for young researchers. The number of students obtaining doctoral degrees per 100,000 inhabitants, for example, has decreased from 124 in 2009 to 120 in 2018. To accelerate growth in the R&D sector, the government announced to multiply the number of Ph.D. students receiving the fund for living expenses threefold by the fiscal year 2025. An increase in open positions per year both in the academic field and industries is also planned in the coming years. How this can be realized in the context of a shrinking workforce, however, is to be seen.

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