Japan is one of the world’s elites in Research and Development (R&D). Well-known for its cutting-edge technology such as the bullet trains and robots; and international corporate conglomerates like Nintendo, Panasonic, Sony, and Toyota – it has proven superlative performance in dozens of advanced industries. Furthermore, the nation remains a major player in the world market supplying the most sophisticated and high-technology products and dominates in hosting of the crucial underlying technologies that have driven the information technology revolution.


However, over the past decade, it seems like Japan’s status in science and technology has been losing its steam and competitiveness and sinking at an alarming pace despite a bevy of Nobel Prizes awarded to its scientists over the past years.

As reported by the Asian Scientist, according to Nature Index – a database that provides absolute counts of publication productivity of high-quality researches globally – Japan has failed to keep pace with other leading nations in terms of scientific output.

Between 2012 and 2016, Japan’s share of high-quality researches that are included in the Nature Index has dropped by 6 percent; while, over the last five years, publications by its authors in high-quality natural science journals fell by 8.3 percent.

Also, data from the largest databases of peer-reviewed literature – such as Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science and Elsevier’s Scopus database – illustrated a downward trend of performance reporting that as compared in 2005, Japan has published fewer articles in 2015. Furthermore, a fall of 10 percent and 37.7 percent in publications were observed in the fields of material science and engineering and computer science, respectively.

This downturn has led to a very challenging situation for Japan whose rivals have significantly increased their research spending while Japan’s has remained flat since 2001 – most especially against China which keeps on ramping up efforts to dominate a wide range of fields.

In terms of the number of patents registered each year, China currently sits at the top (where Japan used to be) with a higher number of total patents (one million filed last year) as compared to Japan and the United States. Japan, however, has still a lot of patents (more than three hundred thousand last year). But examining closely, it actually decreased by 2.5 percent last year – still, an alarming rate.

And although experts claim that Japan still holds an advantage over China in terms of the quality of research publications, China has progressed rapidly in the most advanced areas of research while Japan’s performance remains stagnant.

In August, China became the first country to launch a satellite for research in quantum communications which is used for experiments for developing advanced technology based on quantum cryptography – an experiment which Europe has been working on for quite some time now.

In addition, China’s dominance in the science and technology field can be clearly seen and felt with its rise in the latest list of the fastest supercomputers in the world. In November, the Top500 Project – a detailed ranking of the 500 most powerful supercomputers in the world – has shown China overtaking the U.S. and Japan, getting both the first and second spots.

China has been on a very aggressive drive toward technological innovation refocusing their goals on improving innovation capabilities rather than on production abilities. Aside from focusing on technology, software production, electronic components, and nuclear power plants – it is also planning to tap the medical science field in the treatment of AIDS and development of drugs. Moreover, China’s space exploration technology has been going on for almost a year.

China has indeed rocketed to the top of the line and is likely to take the leading role in the development of technological standards, as stated by Masahide Sasaki, a distinguished researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology.

Japan and China have been rivals for almost a century for a number of reasons, dated back to the ancient times which until today are still the primary sources of misunderstandings – such as the World War II,Nanking, and territorial issues. The battle to win the science crown which has been ongoing between the two countries might be a new addition to the growing tension – where seemingly, China will win in the years to come.

As Mr. David Swinbanks, Founder of Nature Index stated, “Japan has long been a world leader in scientific research. However, this supplement’s data, from the Nature Index and our partners, illustrate the scale of Japan’s challenge in the coming decade.”