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Quality of life in Japan compared to other developed countries
Last update : March 2010

Political rights

Freedom, democracy, gender inequality and corruption

Quality of life in Japan

The World Audit on corruption, democracy and freedom of press in November 2009, ranks Japan 14th in terms of corruption, behind Germanic countries in Europe (except UK), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, but faring better than the USA, Britain, France and southern European countries. It is an improvement over the past years. In 2005, Japan ranked only 21st.

Japan is ranked 29th for democracy, after all developed countries but Italy, Greece and Singapore, and even after three developing countries: Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile. There has been no improvement over the last 5 years.

Regarding freedom of press, Japan ranks 20th, positioning itself in Eastern European average, but well behind all other Western countries.

The World Audit has classified Japan in division 2 in terms of democracy, along with South Korea, Israel, Ghana, Greece and Panama. All Western countries apart from Greece and Italy are in division 1.

Freedom in decision making is the lowest among developed countries. As for political rights and civil liberties, Freedom House has classified Japan as rank 1.5. It isn't bad on a worldwide basis, but Japan is in fact behind all Western countries and some others regarding political freedom.

According to the U.N. Human Development Reports for 2009 (PDF, see table K, page 186), Japan ranks 57th worldwide for Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), well behind not only developed countries, but many developing countries too (e.g. Uganda, Namibia and South Africa !). This means that the Japanese still have a long way to go in regard to equality between men and women. Unfortunately, Japan's ranking has been falling over the years instead of ameliorating.


Nationmaster ranks Japan 34th in term of life satisfaction, behind all Western countries. The OECD's 2009 report ranks Japan 20th out of 30 countries.

As for Happiness, the Japanese get the 19th position, only happier than the Spaiards, the Italians and the Portugese among the Western nations.

Human Development Index

The United Nations Development Program created a composite Human Development Index taking into account life expectancy, education, and GDP to assess a nation's human development. The 2009 Report gives Japan a score of 0.960 corresponding to a very high human development. Japan ranks as the 10th most developed country in this regard, sandwiched between Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Health & Society

According to the United Nations and the CIA World Factbook, Japan's life expectancy is the highest in the world.

Obesity (Excel) is the lowest among OECD countries along with South Korea.

However Tobacco consumption (PDF) is the 3rd highest of OECD countries after Turkey and South Korea.

According to the World Health Organization, Japan has the 4th highest female suicide rate in the world after Sri Lanka, China and South Korea. Japan's male suicide rate is still the highest among rich nations, although Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania have higher rates.

Quality of accommodation

This is a slightly controversial point. Although Japan ranks quite high when looking at the number of TV per household or other electronic equipments, housing is typically poorly built, smaller than in the West, and lack what is considered as basic in some Western countries, such as insulation, central heating or double glazing. 1/3 of houses are built in non-fire-proof wood (data from the Japan Statistics Bureau.

What is more, recent scandals have revealed that at least 20% of houses in Japan use potentially life-threatening asbestos.

Notwithstanding the lack of comparative statistics, the above data on housing (and the author's own field study) are sufficient to determine that the quality of accommodation in Japan is inferior to that of OECD countries.


GNI/GDP per capita

As of 2009, Japan was listed 16th by the International Monetary Fund and 18th by the World Bank and the CIA World Factbook in terms of nominal GDP per capita (ranging from $38,443 to $39,700). When adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), Japan ranks respectively 24th, 18th and 29th. (Sources)

Japan's GDP per capita at PPP is almost exactly equal to the European Union's average. It is worth noting that the GDP per capita in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area is about twice higher than the national average, due to the concentration of major companies' headquarters and governmental organisations. A similar phenomenon can be observed between London and the rest of the UK, although not in more decentralised countries like Germany or Spain.

Income inequality

The Gini coefficient is used to measure the inequality of income or wealth in disciplines as diverse as health science, ecology, and chemistry. The CIA World Factbook gives Japan a Gini coefficient of 38.1 (in 2002), while the United Nations estimated it at 24.9 in 2008. These are very different figues. The UN makes Japan the country with the lowest income inequality after Denmark. The CIA assesses Japan to have greater income inequality than India (!) and far more inequality than the EU. By the OECD's calculations, the Japanese Gini coefficient in the mid-2000's was of 44 before taxes and transfers and 32 after taxes and transfers. The Japanese usually see themselves as egalitarian.

Public debt

The CIA Factbook's public debt ranking shows that Japan's public debt in 2009 was 192.10% of its GDP, the second highest figure in the world after Zimbabwe. Among Western countries, the highest figures are for Italy (115.20%), Greece (108.10%), Belgium (99%) and Iceland (95.10%). Other Western countries stand between 7.50% (Estonia) and 80% (France). The UK's public debt is 68.5%, while the USA's is 40%.


Apart for its high life expectancy, relatively good health, low crime rate, and reasonable GDP per capita (far from exceptional though), Japan ranks well behind Western countries in all other fields, with regard to freedom, democracy and gender issues, but also quality of accommodation, life satisfaction and happiness.

Based on these statistics, can Japan be considered an ideal place to live from the point of view of quality of life ? It certainly isn't a bad place by global standards, but is lower than average by Western standard.

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