Japan’s impressive year-on-year performance in the rankings, finishing just outside the top 5 this year, suggests a bright future for the country’s soft power. As leaders around the world grapple with unexpected and unprecedented geopolitical shifts, Japan has been a beacon of stability, especially with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set to become Japan’s longest serving leader in 2018. This stability – coupled with an increasingly global outlook and greater involvement in international affairs – has helped Japan climb the index. While the government seems to be pivoting towards a harder power approach to public diplomacy – Prime Minister Abe has long signalled his intention to revise the pacifist constitution – Japan continues to wield considerable global influence through its soft power. The country’s efficiency; high standards for quality; innovative tech industry; unique culture; and world renowned cuisine have all contributed to a strong result in the international polling this year. However, Japan is also facing considerable challenges in the coming years – an ageing and declining population, the rise of China as economic powerhouse, and the nuclear threat from North Korea, to name a few. The country must continue advancing its soft power agenda by promoting Japanese culture and playing an ever-greater role as a peaceful and democratic nation on the global stage. The 2020 Olympics will provide an ideal opportunity for Japan to showcase its strongest assets to the world.
Japan is one of the most widely represented states diplomatically, with 142 embassies abroad, and is also an active contributor to international development, with a net ODA of $9,287 million in 2016. Culture is also a consistently strong asset for Japan, with the country welcoming more than 13 million tourists in 2016 and boasting the second-largest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world.
With a relatively low score on gender equality and a comparably poor performance in press freedom, Japan ranks 17th in the Government sub-index. And despite being a leader in technological innovation, Japan doesn’t feature in the top 10 of our Digital sub-index, indicating government bodies should be doing more to increase international engagement by leveraging existing technological skills and capabilities.
As it looks to invest more in its military capacity, Japan shouldn’t loosen its grip on its cultural assets. Building on the cultural strengths that have made it a nation loved and respected by many – while addressing any weaknesses in public policy and digital diplomacy efforts – will help Japan to strengthen its position as a regional and global power.