Japan’s research community facing decline on the world stage: Can it bounce back?


Japan has long been known for its outstanding contributions to scientific research. However, according to a report by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan’s global standing in high-impact research is wavering. The report reveals that despite having one of the world’s largest research communities, Japan’s research output has significantly declined in recent years. In this article, we will explore the factors contributing to this decline and potential strategies for Japan to improve its research environment and regain its international standing.

Title 1: The Disturbing Trend: Japan’s Research Decline

Overview of the Report Findings

The report highlights that Japan ranks third globally in terms of the total number of researchers. However, it also reveals that Japan’s research workforce is not producing the same level of high-impact research as it did twenty years ago. Japan’s global share of research papers in the top 10% of most-cited articles has slipped from 6% to 2%, raising concerns about its dwindling international reputation.

Title 2: Identifying Areas for Improvement

Understanding the Research Environment

Masatsura Igami, the director of the Center for S&T Foresight and Indicators at the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) in Tokyo, emphasizes that Japan’s current research environment is far from ideal and unsustainable. To improve Japan’s global standing, the research environment must be revamped and enhanced.

Title 3: Funding Challenges

The Role of Funding in Research Output

One potential factor contributing to Japan’s research decline is inadequate funding. The report points out that research spending in countries like the United States, Germany, France, South Korea, and China has experienced substantial growth over the past two decades, while Japan’s funding has only increased by 10%. This disparity places Japanese researchers at a disadvantage in terms of resources available for their work.

Title 4: Time Constraints and Research Productivity

The Impact of Limited Time on Research Output

Even if researchers secure more funding, another critical challenge they face is the lack of time dedicated to research. Japanese scientists, according to a 2020 analysis by MEXT, have experienced a significant decrease in the proportion of time spent on scientific research, declining from 47% to 33% between 2002 and 2018. This reduction in research time directly affects the quality and quantity of high-impact research output.

Title 5: Job Dissatisfaction and the Research Time Factor

The Connection between Limited Research Time and Job Satisfaction

The report’s findings align with a survey conducted among early-career researchers, suggesting that the lack of time for research is a leading cause of job dissatisfaction. The reduced time spent on scientific research not only impacts research outcomes but also serves as a demotivating factor among researchers.

Title 6: Strategies for Japan’s Research Renaissance

Addressing the Research Environment

To reverse the declining trend, Japan needs to prioritize improving its research environment. This includes increasing funding in the university sector, providing researchers with ample time to focus on research, and fostering collaboration between academia and industry.

Title 7: Strengthening International Collaborations

Enhancing Global Research Partnerships

Japan’s research community can benefit from strengthening international collaborations. By expanding partnerships and promoting knowledge sharing across borders, Japanese researchers can leverage global expertise and resources, leading to more impactful research outcomes.

Title 8: Fostering a Culture of Innovation

Encouraging Innovation and Entrepreneurship

To enhance research output, it is crucial for Japan to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. By providing researchers with the necessary resources and support to turn their ideas into commercially viable products and services, Japan can create a virtuous cycle that fuels further research excellence.


Japan’s declining research output raises concerns about its international standing. However, by addressing funding challenges, increasing research time, and fostering innovation, Japan can reverse this trend and regain its position as a world-class research powerhouse. It is imperative for policymakers, academia, and industry leaders to collaborate and devise effective strategies to revitalize Japan’s research community and propel it towards new heights of scientific excellence.

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