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Japanese S&T Minister Iwao Matsuda Details Ambitious New Innovation Plan
After suffering years of economic stagnation, Japan has entered a period of sustainable expansion and is pursuing a visionary science and technology plan which aims to make the country a global innovation leader. Iwao Matsuda, Japan’s minister of state for science and technology policy, described his country’s urgent need to accelerate innovation and improve economic productivity during a 3 May lecture at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C. Japan is strongly committed to S&T innovation for a number of pressing reasons, Matsuda said, one of which is its dependence on other countries for its energy needs.
The two main pillars of the current government S&T investment strategy are basic research in a diversity of scientific areas and policy-goal-oriented research and development. In determining which research subjects should receive concentrated investment, the Council for Science and Technology Policy (CSTP), created in January 2001 to determine the course of Japan’s S&T policy, consulted with many experts to come up with 62 strategic S&T priorities that meet people’s life needs and have potential to overcome increasingly intense international competition. These include global environment observation technology, medical technology for the early detection of microscopic cancers and the development of automobiles that do not use petroleum.
“This is the first time that such a clearly defined investment strategy has been introduced in the history of Japanese S&T policy,” Matsuda said. “I hope very much that setting priorities in this way should lead to more effective R&D investment and help achieve the policy goals that we set.”
In his first lecture in the United States in his current ministerial post, Matsuda delivered an animated, engaging talk to a packed auditorium at an event sponsored by AAAS, the Japanese Embassy and the Washington Science Policy Alliance (WSPA).
"Minister Matsuda's speech at AAAS not only provided us with an excellent overview of Japan’s S&T plans, but watching his energy and enthusiasm should serve as inspiration for our own efforts,” said Albert Teich, director of Science & Policy at AAAS and a WSPA member. “U.S. science policymakers need to pay close attention to Japan's plans in science and technology.”
Matsuda was appointed minister of state for science and technology policy in 2005 and is also minister of state for information technology. He was elected to Japan’s House of Councillors from Gifu Prefecture in 1998 and reelected in 2004. He served as senior vice minister for Economy, Trade and Industry in 2001 and chief director of the Committee on Economy and Industry from 2002 to 2004. Prior to his election to the House of Councillors, he served three terms in the House of Representatives.
The basis for Japan’s S&T policy dates back to 1995, when a law was enacted requiring the Japanese government to create a basic S&T plan. The basic plan has thus far included three five-year phases with targeted measures for meeting the policy needs of those particular times, said Matsuda. The first phase, from 1996 to 2000, included a major expansion in support for post-doctoral fellows and cost the government 17 trillion yen (about $150 billion over five years). The second, from 2001 to 2005, categorized government R&D investment into eight areas, with four given special priority: life sciences; information and communication technology; environmental sciences; and nanotechnology and materials. The second phase, costing the government 21 trillion yen ($186 billion), also called for the doubling of competitive research funding.
“Japan has been experiencing continuous, prolonged economic stagnation until recently,” Matsuda explained during his lecture. “It is noteworthy that even in these circumstances the government has set clearly defined targets for investment in research and development . . . [the] science and technology budget has been growing at a faster rate than other budget items.”
The third five-year phase of Japan’s basic S&T plan, which began this April, specifically addresses Japan’s most pressing problems, especially energy dependency and a rapidly aging population, and calls for government R&D investment of 25 trillion yen, or about $221 billion. Currently, Japan imports nearly 90 percent of its oil from the Middle East. According to Matsuda, no other country is quite this vulnerable, making the need to create technologies for new energy to replace oil an urgent matter. Also, Japan’s population is aging more rapidly than any other country’s. As a matter of fact, Matsuda said Japan’s population began to shrink last year. With this trend, and intensifying competition among Asian countries, economic productivity through the development of new technologies is essential to Japan’s future competitiveness in the world market.
“I do not regard science and technology just as a matter of competition between nations,” Matsuda said in his lecture. “The creation of sophisticated science and technology in Japan is not only a contribution to the world community, but an obligation for us. However, the aspect of international competition is also a reality.”
One key point of the third basic S&T plan, Matsuda said, is to reinforce government accountability by providing clearer explanations to the public of the plan’s S&T policy goals and the progress achieved in approaching these goals. “Science and technology should be supported by the public and also should return benefits to society,” Matsuda said.
Besides public support of and benefit from S&T policy, the third phase emphasizes the importance of human resource development.
“Science and technology in Japan will depend on whether or not we can nurture motivated researchers who enthusiastically engage in intellectually creative activity,” Matsuda said, explaining that this entails supporting young researchers, increasing the number of female researchers (Japan has the smallest proportion of female researchers among the developed countries), and attracting talented researchers from other countries.
But, Matsuda stressed, the sole determining factor for the future growth of Japan’s economy is innovation. To become a global innovator, as envisioned in the new S&T plan, will take a much work and readjustment, he said. Among other improvements, the third phase calls for the establishment of 30 world-level centers of excellence in researchwhich already started this year, according to Matsudaa drastic shift over to a merit-based system to encourage innovation by leading researchers, dynamic transformation of Japan’s R&D system throughout the private and public sectors and cohesion in the R&D budget system, which is currently dispersed among ministries or funding agencies.
In his closing remarks, Matsuda reinforced Japan’s intention to expedite reforms that will encourage innovation and put in place a thorough merit system, and said that he expects this progress will encourage recruitment of top researchers worldwide. With one hand stretched up into the air, Matsuda proclaimed to a room full of laughter: “And so I say, innovators of the world, come together to Japan!”
10 May 2006