Economic and Political Overview

flag Japan Japan: Economic and Political Overview

In this page: Economic Outline | Political Outline | COVID-19 Country Response

 

Economic Outline

Economic Overview

Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is highly exposed to external impacts due to its heavy reliance on exports. This vulnerability has manifested itself in recent years, as its economy has experienced periods of recession alongside the global economic slowdown. Following a robust first half of 2023, economic activity in Japan tapered off during the latter part of the year, influenced by sustained high inflation and subdued global demand. The International Monetary Fund projected a growth rate of 2% for 2023, reflecting a slowdown in domestic demand and a rebound in imports. Real GDP growth is expected to decelerate to 1% in 2024 and further to 0.7% in 2025 (IMF), as the cyclical downturn compounds structural challenges, including a swiftly ageing society, diminishing labour supply, and limited innovative capacity within the economy, all of which curtail Japan's potential growth trajectory.


Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world: estimated at 260.1% in 2022, it declined to 255.2% last year. The government's financing capacity benefits from low bond yields, which are sustained by the central bank's monetary strategy and the broad domestic investor base. The IMF sees the debt ratio declining to 250.6% of GDP by 2025. In 2023, the fiscal deficit stood at approximately 5.7% of GDP, driven by a substantial array of measures introduced to offset the escalating cost of living. These measures included subsidies for electricity, gas, and oil, as well as cash assistance to families with children. In October 2023, a new round of fiscal stimulus was unveiled, extending energy subsidies until the close of 2023 and offering support to small and medium-sized enterprises. Additionally, the government plans to augment military spending over the next five years to achieve a target of 2% of GDP by 2027. However, fiscal support is anticipated to gradually diminish within the projected timeframe, with the fiscal deficit expected to decrease steadily to 2.6% of GDP by 2025. Following its peak at 4.3% in January 2023, headline inflation moderated to 3% by September 2023, attributed to decreased energy prices and special policy-related factors such as subsidies for gas and electricity. For the year as a whole, the IMF estimated inflation at 3.2%. Annual average inflation is expected to decline gradually to 2.9% in 2024 and further to 1.9% in 2025 (IMF), as softening domestic demand is partly offset by increasing wage pressures and the discontinuation of energy subsidies. Monetary policy is likely to remain accommodative throughout the forecast horizon. However, the increasing disparity between headline interest rates in Japan and globally may lead to additional yen depreciation and upward pressure on government bond yields.

The demographic troubles faced by Japan are getting more serious. An ageing society causes a big challenge for the country, as the government’s expected spending on pensions and health care is set to keep on rising. Additionally, a declining birth rate leads to a significant decrease in the population, and as a result a decrease in the number of taxpayers. Japan’s working-age population has been declining for a few decades, but that has been offset by rising participation, helping in employment growth and maintaining a low unemployment rate (at 2.5% in 2023, with a marginal decline to 2.3% expected over the forecast horizon as per the IMF).

 
Main Indicators 20222023 (E)2024 (E)2025 (E)2026 (E)
GDP (billions USD) 4,237.534,230.864,286.194,524.634,710.14
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) 1.02.01.00.70.5
GDP per Capita (USD) 33,85433,95034,55536,65738,358
General Government Balance (in % of GDP) -6.8-5.7-3.8-2.6-2.7
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 260.1255.2251.9250.6251.1
Inflation Rate (%) n/a3.22.91.91.6
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labour Force) 2.62.52.32.32.3
Current Account (billions USD) 90.62141.18157.01164.55165.01
Current Account (in % of GDP) 2.13.33.73.63.5

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, Latest data available.

Note : (E) Estimated data

 

Main Sectors of Industry

Even though Japan has some deposits of gold, magnesium, coal and silver, the country has very limited natural resources overall and, as a result, is highly dependent on imports to meet its raw material and energy needs. On the other hand, thanks to its large maritime area, the country is one of the world’s largest producers of fishing products. However, given that only 11% of Japan’s surface is suitable for cultivation, the agricultural sector is small, contributing marginally to GDP (1%) and employing only 3% of the workforce (World Bank, latest data available). Tea and rice are the country’s two largest crops, though the sector as a whole is highly subsidised and protected. Other major crops are corn, wheat, soybeans, barley, peanuts, rapeseed, and oats. The 5-year average harvested area for various crops is as follows: rice covers 1.5 million hectares (MHA), wheat 214,000 hectares (ha), soybeans 146,000 ha, barley 62,000 ha, peanuts 8,000 ha, and corn 1,200 ha. In terms of production volume, rice leads with an average of 10.4 million metric tons (mmt), followed by wheat at 991,000 metric tons (mt), soybeans at 224,000 mt, barley at 218,000 mt, peanuts at 20,000 mt, corn at 5,400 mt, rapeseed 4,000 mt, and oats 1,000 mt (data USDA).

Japan’s industrial sector represents 28.8% of GDP and employs 24% of the workforce (World Bank). The Japanese industrial sector is a multifaceted landscape characterized by a blend of traditional and innovative industries. Historically, Japan has been renowned for its manufacturing prowess, particularly in the automotive, electronics, and machinery sectors. Companies like Toyota, Sony, and Panasonic have shaped the global industrial landscape. Additionally, Japan leads in advanced manufacturing technologies, robotics, and precision engineering, fostering a competitive edge in industries such as robotics, semiconductors, and high-tech materials. With a focus on innovation, Japan continues to explore emerging sectors such as renewable energy, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence, leveraging its strong research and development capabilities and skilled workforce to maintain its position as a global industrial leader. The country was the world’s third-largest producer of cars and of ships in 2022.

The service sector accounts for around 69.9% of GDP and employs over 73% of the workforce. Dominating this sector are finance, insurance, and real estate, reflecting Japan's status as a global financial hub. Retail and wholesale trade also play significant roles, with iconic Japanese brands like Uniqlo contributing to both domestic and international commerce. Moreover, Japan's hospitality and tourism industry attracts millions of visitors annually (25 million tourists in 2023, reaching 79% of pre-COVID level, data JNTO). Emerging sectors in Japan's tertiary landscape include healthcare and eldercare services, driven by the country's ageing population, as well as information technology and digital services.

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 3.2 23.7 73.1
Value Added (in % of GDP) 1.0 28.8 69.9
Value Added (Annual % Change) 3.3 4.9 2.3

Source: World Bank, Latest data available.

 

Find more information about your business sector on our service Market Reports.

Indicator of Economic Freedom

Definition:

The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.

Score:
74,1/100
World Rank:
23
Regional Rank:
6

Economic freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation

 

Business environment ranking

Definition:

The business rankings model measures the quality or attractiveness of the business environment in the 82 countries covered by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Country Forecast reports. It examines ten separate criteria or categories, covering the political environment, the macroeconomic environment, market opportunities, policy towards free enterprise and competition, policy towards foreign investment, foreign trade and exchange controls, taxes, financing, the labour market and infrastructure.

Score:
7.79/10
World Rank:
20/82

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit - Business Environment Rankings 2020-2024

 

Country Risk

See the country risk analysis provided by Coface.

 

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Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
Emperor: Naruhito (since 1 May 2019); succeeded his father who abdicated on 30 April 2019
Prime Minister: Fumio Kishida (since 4 October 2021)
Next Election Dates
House of Representatives: October 2025
House of Councillors: July 2025
Current Political Context
The ruling coalition, comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, commands a majority in the House of Representatives, holding 63% of the seats, and in the House of Councillors, with 58% representation, following their victory in the upper house election shortly after the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe. However, support for Fumio Kishida's government has sharply declined to below 30% amidst revelations regarding the enduring connections between the LDP and the controversial Unification Church, as well as a succession of forced ministerial departures due to scandal.
The Japanese government is concerned about the intensification of regional security imbalances, especially regarding China’s growing assertiveness: Japan identified the situation around Taiwan as a national security threat, with some representatives of the LDP party explicitly mentioning that a ”major incident” over Taiwan would trigger the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Against the backdrop of escalated geopolitical tensions, Japan’s government has redirected its focus towards enhancing supply-chain resilience and fortifying energy security. Meanwhile, diplomatic relations with South Korea have been improving, with Korean President Yoon proclaiming that South Korea and Japan “share universal values” and pursued common interests.
Main Political Parties
The main political parties in Japan include:

- The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP): centre-right, conservative, nationalist, liberal, populist
- The Democratic Party of Japan (CDP): centre to centre-right, liberal
- Komeito (NK): centre-right, conservative, pacifist, in coalition with the LDP
- Social Democratic Party (SDP): centre-left to left-wing, social-democratic
- Japanese Communist Party (JPC): left-wing to far-left, socialist; more than doubled its representation in the last election
- Japan Innovation Party (Ishin): conservative, right-wing, populist
- Free Education For All (FEFA): centrist, advocates for free education, raising the minimum wage, welfare policies and pacifism
- Okinawa Social Mass Party: local party represented in the parliament, social-democratic
- Democratic Party for the People (DPP): centre to centre-right
- Reiwa Shinsengumi: left-wing, populist and progressive
- NHK Party: populist
- Constitutional Democratic Party: centre-left to left-wing, liberal, pacifist; opposition party
- Japan Restoration Party (JRP): right-wing to far-right, nationalist, populist; third largest force, but is slowly losing representation.
Type of State
Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary regime.
Executive Power
The head of State is the Emperor and the role is largely ceremonial. The leader of the majority party or leader of the majority coalition in the parliament (House of Representatives) is designated as the Prime Minister for a four-year term. The Prime Minister is the Head of the Government and enjoys executive powers, which include implementation of the law and running of day-to-day affairs. The Cabinet is appointed by the Prime Minister.
Legislative Power
The legislature in Japan is bicameral. The parliament, called the National Diet, consists of the House of Councillors (the upper house) and the House of Representatives (the lower house). The House of Councillors contains 248 members, elected through a popular vote for six-year terms, with half of the membership being renewed every three years. The House of Representatives contains 465 members, elected through a popular vote for four-year terms. The Constitution of Japan states that the nation's 'highest organ of state power' is the National Diet. The executive branch of government is directly or indirectly dependent on the support of the National Diet, which is often expressed through a vote of confidence.
 

Indicator of Freedom of the Press

Definition:

The world rankings, published annually, measures violations of press freedom worldwide. It reflects the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists, the media and digital citizens of each country and the means used by states to respect and uphold this freedom. Finally, a note and a position are assigned to each country. To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) prepared a questionnaire incorporating the main criteria (44 in total) to assess the situation of press freedom in a given country. This questionnaire was sent to partner organisations,150 RWB correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It includes every kind of direct attacks against journalists and digital citizens (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, etc.) or against the media (censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment etc.).

World Rank:
67/180
 

Indicator of Political Freedom

Definition:

The Indicator of Political Freedom provides an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in a country as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The ratings process is based on a checklist of 10 political rights questions (on Electoral Process, Political Pluralism and Participation, Functioning of Government) and 15 civil liberties questions (on Freedom of Expression, Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights). Scores are awarded to each of these questions on a scale of 0 to 4, where a score of 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present. The total score awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist determines the political rights and civil liberties rating. Each rating of 1 through 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom, corresponds to a range of total scores.

Ranking:
Free
Political Freedom:
1/7
Civil Liberties:
1/7

Political freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Freedom in the World Report, Freedom House

 

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COVID-19 Country Response

Travel restrictions
Regularly updated travel information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related entry regulations, flight bans, test and vaccines requirements is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
To find information about the current travel regulations, including health requirements, it is also advised to consult Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on a daily basis by IATA.
Import & export restrictions
A general overview of trade restrictions which were adopted by different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic is available on the International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.
Economic recovery plan
For the general overview of the key economic policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (fiscal, monetary and macroeconomic) undertaken by the government of Japan, please consult the country's dedicated section in the IMF’s Policy Tracker platform.
Support plan for businesses
For an evaluation of impact of the Covid pandemic on SMEs and an inventory of country responses to foster SME resilience, refer to the OECD's SME Covid-19 Policy Responses document.
You can also consult the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.

 

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Latest Update: February 2024