Digitalisation minister Takuya Hirai (R) poses for a photo during the launch ceremony of Japan's Digital Agency in Tokyo on 1 Sept 2021, alongside Hitotsubashi University honorary professor Yoko Ishikura, who assumed the top bureaucrat post of digital supervisor at the new agency which aims to accelerate digitalisation of local and central government services (Photo: Reuters/Kyodo)

Author: Naohiro Yashiro, Showa Women’s University

Japan’s most recent regulatory reform plan is digitalisation — a crucial part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s ‘New Capitalism‘ agenda that seeks to prevent excessive profit-seeking activities. Better utilisation of the digital economy is necessary to overcome labour force shortages brought about by a rapidly declining working-age population. Fortunately, the momentum for digital reform has survived the recent leadership transition.

Initiated by former prime minister Yoshihide Suga, the government’s Digital Agency was established in September 2021. Its primary task is to revise over 40,000 existing laws and legal procedures relating to online services — an undertaking that will take at least three years to complete in order to overcome the compartmentalised jurisdictions of various ministries of state.

There are three fundamental steps to realising digital administration in Japan.

The first step is to establish agile governance. Unlike existing rigid regulations, agile governance requires flexible rules that can quickly adapt to rapidly changing technologies and economic circumstances. Automatic monitoring systems should, for example, replace the current schemes based on human supervision. Drones and sensors could quickly replace human observation for regular safety checks on bridges and tunnels. Better regulation using recent technology would vastly reduce the costs of maintaining security for both government and the private sector.

The second step is establishing one-stop digital services to replace mandatory paperwork or in-person reporting. Although most residents in Japan are identified by a ‘My Number’ digital ID, many administrative procedures — such as a change of address — require in-person appointments and physical paperwork.

Most administrative procedures could be done online, as in many other OECD countries. When an individual reports their data to a government agency by using a service, the data should automatically be shared with other institutions — reducing administrative costs by an estimated 20 per …continue reading