Japan Society and Human Rights

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Population and society

According to localbusinessexplorer.com, Japan is among the first countries in the world by population density. With a territory slightly higher than the Italian one, it has more than double the residents. More than a third of the population resides in the greater Tokyo area, the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The area is characterized by a very high population density (about 2500 people per km 2), seven times higher than the national average; its GDP is slightly lower than that of France. The Japanese are the oldest population in the world ahead of Germany and Italy and behind the Principality of Monaco. In addition, the country also holds the record for the share of people over sixty-five (25.8%) and eighty (7.9%), while it has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world (1.4 children for woman).

The relevance of these data emerges even more clearly if analyzed from a historical perspective: if it is common for an industrialized country to have about 20% of the population over sixty years old, the percentage increase that occurred in Japan over the course of thirty years normally requires a century. At the end of the Second World War, the Japanese median age was half of the current one and, until the mid-1970s, the fertility rate exceeded 2%, which allowed for a certain demographic stability. In the five-year period 2005-10 there was the first contraction of the population, with a reduction of 0.07% (91,000 people). An even faster decline is expected in the coming decades. A similar trend demographic is fraught with implications, primarily of an economic nature. One of the most immediate is the growing incidence of pensions on public spending: today it does not exceed 20% of GDP, but it is estimated that in 2035 it could exceed 35%.

Another fact that characterizes Japanese society is the very strong linguistic, cultural and historical homogeneity: 99.4% of the population is Japanese and shares a strong pride and feeling of national unity. The only distinct ethnic group is the Ainu, which numbers 25,000 people and is concentrated almost exclusively on the island of Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands.

Freedom and rights

Despite Transparency International’s good index regarding perceived corruption, the close link between the industrial, bureaucratic and political worlds, that is the so-called ‘iron triangle’, is at the origin of close transversal relationships on a personal level. Despite having signed the United Nations ‘Convention against Corruption’, Tokyo has not yet ratified it.

As for the media sector, although Japan’s five largest newspapers are the best-selling in the world, freedom of the press is also threatened by the government’s practice of using press clubs (kisha kurabu) to ensure control of information. Joining the latter represents the highest aspiration for Japanese journalists. Being within public structures, these clubs have the exclusive right to a lot of official information, provided directly by politicians, but they do not develop an autonomous investigative journalism.

Other freedoms are instead better protected: the Internet is free. The Constitution also guarantees full freedom of association and religion. The trade unions are independent and the right to strike is foreseen, except for members of the police and firefighters. Although the Constitution protects gender equality, women are frequently discriminated against at work.

The Japanese Democratic Party

From 1955 to 2009, Japan saw governments under constant liberal-democratic management: the Liberal-Democratic Party had established itself as the country’s largest political force, gathering around it a large part of the Japanese bureaucratic elite. In 1998 a group of reformist politicians who were part of various opposition factions formed the Democratic Party, to create an opposition force that could truly compete with the political domination of the Liberal Democratic Party. Unlike the latter, made up essentially of bureaucrats, the new party has also welcomed into its ranks personalities from civil society, such as journalists, lawyers and members of non-governmental organizations. The Democratic Party has seen a rapid growth in consensus and in 2007 obtained for the first time a majority of the votes in the elections for the renewal of half the members of the House of Councilors. Political victory was achieved in the 2009 elections, in which he won 308 seats out of 480, relegating the Liberal Democratic Party to second place for the first time in the history of Japan. Yukio Hatoyama thus became prime minister, succeeded by Naoto Kan in 2010 and Yoshihiko Noda in 2011. The parenthesis in government of the Democratic Party ended in December 2012, with the dissolution of the lower house and the calling of early elections, which they handed the country back to the Liberal Democratic Party.

Japan Society

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