Weekly Briefing: Japan ushers in Reiwa

A weekly round-up of relevant IEP data providing insight into the world around us.

3 May, 2019: It’s the dawn of a new era in Japan. This week saw Emperor Akihito abdicate the Chrysanthemum throne after a 30-year reign over the Heisei era, meaning “achieving peace”. While the last three decades were peaceful and without war, Japan was rocked by immense and harrowing tragedies. In 1995, the Kobe earthquake left more than 4000 dead and tens of thousands homeless. Then the 2011 earthquake and tsunami wiped out entire towns and more than 15,000 people, leaving the Fukushima nuclear disaster in its wake. Now, succeeding Emperor Naruhito takes over. The imperial shift is marked with an elaborate traditional ceremony that involves inheriting the throne as well as mysterious objects, such as a sacred mirror, sword and gem. The treasured items are said to be passed down from gods and ancestral emperors, and symbolise imperial power in lieu of a crown.  The rising Reiwa era symbolises order and harmony, values that will set the tone for Japanese daily life in the decades to come.

Japan by the numbers

Global rank: 9 out of 163 countries, on the Global Peace Index.
Regional rank: 3 out of 19 Asia-Pacific countries.
Positive Peace: 19 out of 163 countries, on the Positive Peace Index.
Terrorism: Japan ranks 67, showing low level risk.


Peacefulness in Japan slips

While Japan can still count itself among the top ten most peaceful countries in the world, its ranking has drifted from number 8 to number 9, out of 163 countries, since the year 2014.

The country of more than 126 million people is well-known for its post-World War II constitution that forbids an advanced military army, but in recent years current Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has found ways to strengthen the nation’s forces and even flagged the idea of plans to amend its pacifist laws.

As China exerts itself, both militarily and politically in the Asia-Pacific region, alongside the ever-present North Korean nuclear threat, Japan is not the only country in the region to increase military capacities.

The Asia-Pacific region retained its place as the third most peaceful region in the world, but has seen a slight fall in its overall peacefulness.

Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Taiwan, all of which score relatively strongly on peacefulness, saw their scores deteriorate recently.

Low homicide rate

In Europe, North America and Japan, homicide rates have been trending downwards for the past two decades. However, this decrease in homicide has been offset by increasing incarceration in some places.

Homicide data is considered one of the most consistent and reliably comparable aspects of societal violence, and is integral to making comparisons of peacefulness between countries. Other kinds of violent crime are difficult to compare due to the variances in collection systems, classification, laws and reporting procedures between different countries and municipalities.

Only 21 countries have homicide data before 1920. Of those 21 countries, 14 are European, three are from Asia-Pacific, and none are from Africa, Central or South America, MENA or South Asia.

Low incarceration rate

Trends among countries that maintain census data about incarceration offer a few useful insights into peacefulness in the developed world. Incarceration data is scarce for most countries in the first half of the 20th century, while census data from the US, UK and Japan provides incarceration data from 1918. Only eight other countries have data from 1950 to 2018, and five of those are European.

Within those countries with long-term data, the rate of change in incarceration rates is varied. Ireland, the UK and New Zealand increased quickly over the last half-century. Others maintained slow growth, notably Spain, Italy and France. Canada stayed effectively unchanged, fluctuating between 115 and 130 for most of the period.

Japan was the only other country that didn’t increase, instead decreasing to 48 in 2015, down from a peak of 109 in 1950 and 13 percentage points lower than the next lowest country, Sweden.