Essential three topics to talk about health promotion in Japan

By Yuta Taniguchi, Regional Coordinator for the Northern Part of the Western Pacific

In this article, I briefly summarize the current situation of health promotion in Japan from the following three perspectives: Super-aged society of Japan, work style reforms, and passive smoking.

  1. Super-aged Society of Japan

In 2014, the average life expectancy in Japan reached about 87 years old (for women)1. Also, Japan has the highest proportion of the elderly in the world, and 26.7% of the population are aged 65 or above2. Not all the elderly, however, are able to spend the last days of their life as they wish and die peacefully. In fact, the life that one can live in a healthy state, so called healthy life expectancy of Japanese women, is 74 years3. Therefore, there is a 10-year gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.

Prolonging health life expectancy is essential to improve the people’s quality of life, and also to control the cost of health care. Therefore, preventive activities especially for elderly people are taking place. For example, local governments or spontaneous groups are organizing exercises or artistic activities for the older adults to maintain the physical and neurological functions4.

  1. Karoshi and work style reforms

In Japan, about 25,000 people commit suicide every year1. The reasons are different from person to person, but the most common reasons are health problems, followed by financial problems, and family problems5. Also, “Karoshi”, or death by overworking, has recently attracted much attention after a 24-year-old office worker killed herself on Christmas Day in 2015 due to being overworked6. More than half of Japanese employees do not take paid vacation, which they are entitled to take7.

In February 2017, the Japanese government started a campaign called “Premium Friday”, which encourages the public to finish their work at 3pm on the last Friday of every month and to spend more time with their family or friends to refresh themselves8. However, on the first “Premium Friday”, only 17% of the employees left their office earlier than usual9. The future of this campaign remains unclear, but in order to reduce “Karoshi” and to enable people to live mentally healthily, it is essential to reform the stressful work culture.

  1. Passive smoking and Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking kills more than 7 million people every year10. WHO also asks governments to implement strong tobacco control systems. In Japan, the prevention of passive smoking has been discussed. For now, you are still allowed to smoke in some public places in Japan. However, as the host country of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, the idea of prohibiting all the smoking in every public places has been discussed among policy makers. Pro-tobacco people are insisting that it could have a bad influence on economy if they ban smoking in a small bar or some such. In any case, we must take into consideration not only Japanese people’s health, but also the health of all tourists and guests who come to Japan for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.


  1. “Handbook of Health and Welfare Statistics 2015”, Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, Japan (accessed on June 11, 2017)
  1. “Annual report of the aging society: 2016”, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (accessed on June 11, 2017)
  1. “Current status of each goal of Health Japan 21 (the second term) ”, Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, Japan (accessed on June 11, 2017)
  1. “Preventive care”, Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, Japan (accessed on June 11, 2017) (in Japanese)
  1. ”Statistics of suicide” Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, Japan (accessed on June 11, 2017) (in Japanese)
  1. “Time to consign ‘death by overwork’ to Japan’s history” , October 23 2016, The Japan Times  (accessed on June 11, 2017)
  1. “General study on the working conditions: 2016”, Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, Japan (accessed on June 11, 2017) (in Japanese)
  1. “Premium Friday’ drive kicks off to energize weary workers, feeble economy”, February 24 2017, The Japan Times on June 11, 2017)
  1. “Factual investigation of the first Premium Friday on February 24, 2017 ”, Premium Friday Committee on June 11, 2017) (in Japanese)
  1. “Brochure: Tobacco threatens us all”, World Health Organization (accessed on June 11, 2017)
  1. “Pro-tobacco LDP clouds chances of indoor smoking ban in time for Tokyo Games”, March 31 2017, The Japan Times on June 11, 2017)
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