Chapter 2

JAPANESE SCIENCE

George Gamota
David K. Kahaner

OVERVIEW OF JAPANESE SCIENCE

This report makes no attempt to duplicate the many surveys of Japanese science. A partial list of these may be found in Science (Kinoshita 1994, 266: 1169-90). This summary is brief, designed only to orient readers and to place the Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) and Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology (PRESTO) programs in the context of overall science policy in Japan. In addition, see Gamota and Frieman (1988), Shelton (1994), and Holdridge (1994) for reviews of this topic.

Japanese government science policy (and funding) is primarily determined by government ministries. Several of the key organizations are listed below, ranked by decreasing size of budget:

The STA is part of the prime minister's office and functions as the coordinating and overall policy-making organization for government funding of science in Japan, with two major exceptions: industrial research and development is funded by MITI, and research and development in universities is handled and funded by Monbusho.3 The STA also controls Japan's "big" science projects, e.g., its space and nuclear programs. The STA, like a ministry, runs laboratories including the National Aerospace Lab, the National Research Lab for Metals, and several others. The STA has also created several public corporations funded by the Japanese government. The four most notable examples are the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, the Japan Information Center of Science and Technology, and the Research Development Corporation of Japan (JRDC).4 Figure 2.1 is an organization chart showing STA's role in the context of the overall government R&D funding structure.


Fig. 2.1. Administrative structure of science and technology in Japan (JRDC 1995, 2).

In budgetary terms, Monbusho administers about half the Japanese government's science and technology budget, mostly because of its responsibilities for funding many universities, including all the associated costs of teaching, research, and infrastructure. The STA with its smaller budget, however, has had the greatest impact on basic research in Japan by implementing new and often innovative programs such as ERATO. MITI's impact, of course, must be viewed not by its small budget, but by its enormous impact on industrial research and development and on technology. Its role in stimulating new technologies, commercializing the resultant products, and spawning new industries is also well documented. See, for example, previous JTEC studies by Brandin (1984), Elkus (1991), and Tannas and Glenn (1992).

Japanese government policy, at least since the mid-1940s, has been focused as follows (Kawasaki 1994):

1945-1955: Development of industrial structure after war-related destruction 1956-1969: Integration of science and technology policy with economic growth, based on the theory that investment invites further investment 1970-1980: Shift from economic growth to social welfare 1980s: Globalization of science and technology 1990s: Increase of world knowledge base by increasing support for basic research

Since the early 1990s, Japanese policy has placed a much higher emphasis on the growth of basic research and on Japan's role and obligation to increase the world's stock of knowledge. Although programs and policies have been moving in this direction for many years, especially through university research funded by Monbusho, the desire and ability to contribute is currently at the highest level ever seen. For example, one specific priority listed in a March 1992 major cabinet decision was to double government funding for research and development "as soon as possible." More recently, Science magazine (1995, 1207) has reported that the Japanese government has told its ministries to set aside an additional 140 billion to support research and infrastructure. The increase was designed to be a response to cuts made in the private sector that are due to economic problems. This new policy has been very sorely needed in Japan as government research funding for the country's universities and national laboratories had stagnated through the 1980s. As Japan has begun to pull out of the economic recession of the early 1990s, additional government funding increments for science and technology have been announced, including a new JRDC program for funding large, long-term research projects that is slated to grow to an annual budget of $500 million per year (Science 1996, 272:645).

The government's role in pushing basic science comes at the same time that there is a reduction in all but highly focused research within most Japanese corporations, even large well-known ones. Research and development expenditures by all major Japanese industry sectors have been at best flat and have been decreasing regularly since the early 1990s (NSF 1995). It should be noted, however, that while Japan's ratio of research and development to domestic gross product is the highest in the world, its ratio of government funded research and development is lowest in the developed countries (Hayashida 1996).

Westerners frequently characterize the best Japanese science and technology as occurring primarily in industrial laboratories, rather than in the universities or public institutes. This has certainly been the observation of many past JTEC panels. However, the two trends mentioned above are changing the situation rapidly. The following trends are also affecting Japanese science at a time when it is only now beginning to make itself known:

It should be noted that the shift from industry- to government-funded research in industrial laboratories is changing research from very applied and directed to more basic and unfettered projects. The long-term effect of this shift remains unclear.

In the meantime, the basic research community in Japan is enjoying a resurgence of government interest. The 1996 fiscal year, which began on April 1, gives a 7% boost to research and development (Science 1996, 271:22). Some selected programs that will benefit are listed in Table 2.1 below. The postdoctoral program is particularly timely since a growing number of such researchers will now find support to continue their work. However, as we have found in the United States, those postdoctoral positions will eventually have to become "real" jobs in industry or academia. If they do not, a class of perpetual postdoctors will continue to hunt for nonexistent jobs.

Table 2.1
Selected Programs with Major Increases for 1996

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Published: September 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian