The poverty rate in Japan is 15.4%, which means that one in six people is in poverty (Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 2019). However, poverty was a forgotten social issue in Japan for about 50 years from the 1960s to 2010. After the period of rapid economic growth, it became a common understanding that poverty was resolved and the modern after-the-war Japan no longer had poverty issues. After 1965, the government stopped announcing the poverty rate, and even in the academic field, poverty in Japan was no longer the subject of research. In sociology, the research on social stratification flourished, but there have been few studies that focus on lives, employment, health, and education of people in the lower-class, specifically. Even in the field of social welfare which focus on the needs of people, poverty is seen as a problem for people with special attributes, such as homeless people and single-mothers, and the word “poverty” has disappeared from textbooks. Furthermore, in various academic fields in social sciences, such as Education, Economics, Public Health, Psychology, and Nutrition, the assumption was that there were no poor people among the general population.
The situation changed with the economic crisis and the regime change in 2008-2009. In 2009, after 44 years, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced the poverty rate. The interests in poverty among the academia also increased, and poverty has been added as one of the factors to explain various social phenomena in various academic fields. As a result, the association (or even causality in some cases) between poverty and various phenomena (low academic performance, health conditions, isolation, behavioral problems, etc.) has been empirically proven even in Japan. However, poverty study in Japan is still in danger of survival.
The reason for this is that, first, except for some studies on homelessness, most poverty research in Japan has not been passed down for 50 years, and poverty only remains as researchers’ individual interest, making it an extremely minor topic in each academic field. Poverty is not treated as a main field in any academic department, nor is it positioned in undergraduate or postgraduate education. Therefore, poverty can easily become “forgotten” again once the individual interest in it fades. Second, researchers who study poverty are divided into various academic fields, and there is little communication among them. Although poverty is an extremely complex issue, they only see/study poverty within their own academic fields. Third, the poverty research in Japan failed to keep up with the refinement of poverty measurement abroad, leaving each researcher to define poverty as he/she pleases, ending up with an ambiguous understanding of poverty. Therefore, poverty remains as just another “control variable” and does not lead to an understanding of the phenomenon of poverty, such as the multifaceted aspects of poverty or their interactions. In Europe and the United States, there are many research institutes specializing in Poverty Research with interdisciplinary groups of researchers, and they are the brains responsible for EBPM in social policies in each country. But in Japan, there are no such research institutes or horizontal connections. Especially, young researcher who are interested in studying poverty are besieged not only by glass ceilings, but also by glass walls.