Japan Data

The Shrinking Role of Japanese Think Tanks

Politics Economy

There has been an explosive increase in the number of think tanks around the world over the last few decades. Yet, although it still has some important bodies, Japan’s institutes are becoming less influential.

In January 2015 the University of Pennsylvania released the 2014 Global Go To Think Tank Report, an influential and comprehensive ranking of 6,618 policy institutes around the world. On the combined US and non-US list, the Japan Institute of International Affairs placed thirteenth and was the highest-placed entry from Asia. The only other Japan-based think tank in the top 100 was the Asian Development Bank Institute, which was ranked twenty-eighth.

The Brookings Institution, a US think tank, topped the list, followed by Britain’s Chatham House. As might be expected, US think tanks dominated the ranking with a total of 1,830 organizations, way ahead of China (429), Britain (287), Germany (194), and India (192). With 108 think tanks, Japan appeared in ninth place. In Asia, the top three of China, India, and Japan were followed by Taiwan (52), South Korea (35), Hong Kong (30), and Indonesia (27).

The JIIA was founded in December 1959 through an initiative by former Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru, who served as its first chairman. Modeled after Chatham House and similar bodies, it promotes research and dialogue about global issues. In September 1960 it became an incorporated foundation affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ADBI was founded in Tokyo in 1997 and supports long-term growth in developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region. It is funded by the Japanese, Australian, and South Korean governments.

Japanese Think Tanks Less Active

While the number of think tanks in Asia has dramatically increased since the turn of the millennium, Japan’s institutes are becoming less active and have lost significant economic clout. Even the JIIA, which focuses principally on foreign policy, is not highly regarded in this category in the University of Pennsylvania’s report, placing only fiftieth in the Top Foreign Policy and International Affairs Think Tanks.

Japanese think tanks tend to have a smaller social role and be less influential than those in Europe and North America. A major reason for this is that many were founded at the instigation of business lobbies or corporations and focus on contributing to these organizations rather than taking a broader outlook and exerting influence in wider politics, economics, diplomacy, and culture. Another factor is that Japan’s bureaucracy has long dominated policy formation and agenda setting. Think tanks are also hemmed in by numerous restrictions on establishment, funding, and taxation.

The Global Go To Think Tank Report states that “think tanks are a global phenomenon because they play a critical role for governments and civil societies around the world by acting as bridges between knowledge (academia) and power (politicians and policymakers).” Given the report’s assessment, Japan may need to have more independent and proactive policy institutes so that it can better address the numerous issues it faces in the coming decades.

Top Think Tanks Worldwide (US and Non-US)

1 Brookings Institution United States
2 Chatham House Britain
3 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace United States
4 Center for Strategic and International Studies United States
5 Bruegel Belgium
6 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Sweden
7 RAND Corporation United States
8 Council on Foreign Relations United States
9 International Institute for Strategic Studies Britain
10 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars United States
11 Amnesty International Britain
12 Transparency International Germany
13 Japan Institute of International Affairs Japan
14 German Institute for International and Security Affairs Germany
15 Peterson Institute for International Economics United States

From the 2014 Global Go To Think Tank Report produced by the University of Pennsylvania.

(Originally written in Japanese by Harano Jōji of Nippon.com and published on February 12, 2015. Banner photo: Chatham House, central London.)

JIIA think tank ADBI