Natural resources and energy
The Japanese industry is almost entirely
dependent on imports of raw materials and fuels. The
country has many minerals but only in small quantities.
Japan is therefore forced to import almost all iron ore,
bauxite (which provides aluminum) and copper ore. Japan
also imports a lot of oil and liquefied natural gas
In order to both reduce oil dependency and meet the
Kyoto Treaty's demand for reduced greenhouse gas
emissions, Japan has invested in nuclear power with the
goal of becoming fully self-sufficient with energy. In
2008, the nuclear power industry had 55 reactors in
operation. Japan's nuclear power plant accounted for
nearly a third of electricity generation at the
beginning of the 2010s.
Major exports by Japan with a full list of the top products exported by the country. Includes trade value in U.S. dollars and the percentage for each product category.
But after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011,
energy policy was changed. The powerful earthquake and
the accompanying tsunami caused serious damage to four
of the six reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear
power plant. After a few months, all 50 undamaged
nuclear reactors that were in use were closed for safety
In order to meet its electricity supply, Japan was
forced to import large quantities of natural gas and
coal, which led to increased greenhouse gas emissions as
well as rising expenditure on imports.
After the tsunami disaster, political disagreement
arose over the use of nuclear power. Prime Minister Abe
and many within the LDP wanted to start using nuclear
power again a few years into the 2010s, but they seemed
to have the opinion against it.
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Statistics from 2012 showed that nuclear power then
accounted for just under 2 percent of electricity
production, while the rest came mainly from natural gas
(38 percent), coal (29 percent), oil (18 percent),
hydropower (8 percent) and just over 1 percent from
solar power, wind power and geothermal energy
Several previous accidents from the 1990s have also
led to popular resistance to nuclear power. In 1999,
over 400 people were exposed to leaking radioactivity
from a Tokaimura reprocessing plant 14 miles from Tokyo.
In 2001, the inhabitants of a village at the world's
largest nuclear power plant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in
Niigata Prefecture voted no to the use of reprocessed
so-called MOX fuel (mixture of plutonium and uranium) in
the plant. The result was not binding but still negative
for the government, which wanted to invest in MOX as the
energy source of the future.
In 2004, Japan suffered yet another severe nuclear
accident. Five workers were scalded to death when a
pipeline of boiling water burst at Mihama's nuclear
power plant in Fukui Prefecture in western Japan. The
accident was due to poor maintenance and the power
company emphasized that no radioactivity had leaked.
However, the fact that many nuclear power plants are
located in seismically sensitive areas with a risk of
earthquakes complicates the matter.
In order to reduce coal and oil consumption, the
government wants to increase energy savings, as well as
invest in other energy sources such as solar energy,
wind power, biomass and geothermal energy. Such
alternatives still account for a relatively small part
of the total energy supply, but they are growing
A reverse of Japan's rapid development (see Industry)
has been severe environmental problems as a result of
population pressure, land scarcity and an economic
philosophy that put export success on top of everything.
Most famous is the environmental disaster in Minamata,
where mercury from a local industry in the 1950s and
1960s poisoned the water and caused illnesses,
malformations and hundreds of deaths.
When the problems began to be noticed, a special
environmental protection authority was set up in 1971 to
clean up after past neglect and prevent new pollution.
In 2009, the government sharpened its climate target
- instead of aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
by 8 percent before 2020, compared with the 1990 level,
a reduction of 25 percent was promised. But in 2013,
the government lowered its ambitions. A new target was
set to reduce emission levels by 3.8 percent from 2005
FACTS - ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Energy use per person
3,433 kilograms of oil equivalent (2015)
Electricity consumption per person
7829 kWh, kWh (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions in total
1 214 048 thousand tonnes (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant
9.5 tonnes (2014)
The share of energy from renewable sources
6.3 percent (2015)
Continued support for Abe
Abe's government coalition continues to receive
support from the voters in the elections to the lower
house on December 14. LDP wins 290 seats and Komeito 35.
DPJ goes ahead with 11 seats. The turnout is record low,
only 52 percent.
Futenma-critical candidate is selected
In the governor's election on Okinawa, a candidate
who is negative to keep the US air base Futenma on the
The economy is shrinking
New economic statistics show that the Japanese
economy continued to shrink with negative growth during
the period July to September. The VAT increase from
April is considered to be one of the reasons for the
Abe and Jinping meet
During the ongoing meeting with Apec (Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation) in Beijing, Xi Jinping and
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet for the first
time in over two years. A few days earlier, both
countries had announced that they would hold talks on
the disputed islands of Diaoyu / Senkaku and also openly
admitted that there were differing positions on the
islands. A decision had also been made to create a
special crisis mechanism to prevent the aggravation of
Female ministers resign
Two of the government's seven female ministers
resign. Justice Minister Midori Matsushima leaves the
government after receiving criticism for violating
electoral laws, while Commerce and Industry Minister
Yuko Obuchi resigns after reports that money intended
for campaigns was used for the wrong purpose.
Sanctions against Russia are tightened
Japan tightens sanctions on Russia for its
involvement in the Ukraine crisis. The sanctions are
aimed at Russian banks in Japan and against arms
New minister appointed
Yashuisa Shiozaki is appointed as new Minister of
Health, Welfare and Labor Market Affairs, which will,
among other things, prepare a more active role in the
markets for the state's huge pension fund.
Government with more women
Prime Minister Abe is conducting a reform of
government - the first since the elections in December
2012. The most important change is that women's
representation in the government increases, as Abe
appoints 5 new female ministers. As a result, 7 of the
18 members of government are women. Abe has previously
described women as an "underutilized asset" in Japan,
and he has set a goal of having 30 percent women in
leadership positions by 2020. In Parliament's lower
house, 39 out of 480 members are women.
Sentenced to death
Two more convicts are executed. Thus, a total of
eleven prisoners have been hanged since Shinzo Abe
formed his government in 2012.
China is perceived as a threat
Japan's annual defense report denotes China's attempt
to control disputed sea areas as risky and very
dangerous. This is partly because it can trigger weapons
efforts that neither party wants, and partly because
China's growing ambition to control large sea areas is
perceived as a threat by both Japan and other countries
in the region.
Protests on Okinawa
Residents of Okinawa are organizing protest
demonstrations as construction workers begin work on
constructing new runways for military aircraft at Camp
Schwab. This is all part of the planned relocation of
the US air base on Okinawa from a densely populated area
to the northern part of the island (see December
Ministers visit temples
Two of the government ministers visit the Yasukuni
Temple on the anniversary of Japan's capitulation in
World War II to honor Japanese casualties.
Nuclear power restart permit
Japan's Nuclear Inspection provides preliminary
permit for the restart of two nuclear reactors near
Sendai on the southern island of Kyushu. If they receive
a definitive clearance, these reactors will be the first
to receive green light according to the stricter
requirements introduced after the nuclear accident in
Fukushima in 2011. At present, all reactors are
stationary in Japan.
Mitigation of sanctions
The government announces that some of Japan's
sanctions against North Korea will be alleviated as part
of the dialogue on the Japanese kidnapped by the North
Koreans in the 1970s and 1980s. The dialogue resumed in
May, after talks in Stockholm.
New interpretation of defense legislation
On July 1, the government adopts a new and
controversial interpretation of the Constitution to open
up the possibility of deploying Japanese military in
combat overseas under certain circumstances, according
to the report presented in May. The interpretation must
be approved by Parliament. The government thus avoids
trying to rewrite section 9 of the Constitution which
states that Japan may only use force in self-defense. A
strong popular opinion is opposed to such a change.
Abe comments on whaling
Prime Minister Abe is making a play about the
whaling, since the International Court of Justice in The
Hague in March decided that Japan's whaling cannot be
seen as scientific research. After the decision, the
Japanese whaling in Antarctica was stopped. Abe says he
intends to try to start a commercial election hunt in
this area again, "by conducting election research".
Reduction of corporate tax
The government announces that the corporate tax rate
will be reduced in a number of steps, starting next
year. For large companies based in Tokyo, the corporate
tax rate is now almost 36 percent, which is high
compared to other industrialized countries.
Statistics show that consumer prices rose at an
annual rate of 3.4 percent in May; the highest rate of
inflation measured in 32 years. The increase in prices
is largely due to the increase in VAT in April.
Abe wants to review defense laws
After the report, Prime Minister Abe announces that
he will try to get a review of the defense laws.
"Defense legislation should be changed"
In a new report, a group of advisers, appointed by
Prime Minister Abe, recommends that Japanese defense
legislation be changed. The panel, like Abe himself,
believes that Japan, together with allied countries,
should be able to intervene to defend a country from
outside attacks, as a form of collective self-defense.
Such a change would mean a new interpretation of the
Constitution that prohibits the use of force if it is
not about defending Japan against an attacker.
Warning from the IMF
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns in a
report that Prime Minister Abe's economic policies may
fail to meet their targets unless major structural
reforms to the economy are implemented.
Obama confirms security pact
At a visit to Japan at the end of the month, US
President Barack Obama confirms that the security pact
with the US, which guarantees Japan protection from an
external attack, also covers the islands of Senkaku.
China, which also claims the archipelago (called Diaoyu
in Chinese), criticizes the US position.
VAT is increased
Japan's VAT increases from 5 to 8 percent at the
start of the new financial year on April 1.
Mayor election is won by Masuzoe
Yoichi Masuzoe wins the mayoral election in Tokyo. He
has the support of the LDP government party and, like
Prime Minister Abe, is positive about the use of nuclear
power. His main challenger has highlighted his nuclear
resistance to get support from voters, many of whom are
negative to nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster,
but other issues came to dominate the electoral debate.
The government is awaiting publication
The government is waiting to announce a new long-term
energy plan following widespread public protests. The
plan would replace a previous 2011 government decision
to gradually phase out the use of nuclear power.
Instead, the government of Abe believes that nuclear
power is needed in the short term to meet the country's
energy needs. In the longer term, however, Abe wants to
reduce its dependence on nuclear power. An opinion poll
in January shows that close to two-thirds of thousands
of surveyed Japanese are against re-launching the
country's nuclear power plant.
Trade deficit for 2013
Economic statistics show a strong deficit in the
trade balance for 2013. Compared to 2012, the deficit
has increased by as much as 65 percent. The fact that
the value of the Japanese yen has fallen sharply against
the US dollar, as a result of the government's economic
policy, is one of the reasons why import costs have
increased. Exports, on the other hand, have benefited
from a weaker yen.
Mayor promises to stop the move
A mayor of the city of Nago in northern Okinawa is
re-elected in a local election. He promises to do
everything to stop the planned relocation of the US
military base (see December 2013) to
the Henoko district of Nago.