FINDING DATA ON FISCAL POLICY, FINANCIAL
AFFAIRS, R&D AND HIGH TECHNOLOGY FOR JAPAN
--- by Jon Choy
During my 18 years of tracking the Japanese economy at the Japan Economic Institute, sources of data have multiplied and improved. The Internet has accelerated this trend, altering my task from searching out information to filtering it. While the government has embraced the World Wide Web as a channel for disseminating information, the commitment of each ministry and agency to this new medium varies. The same can be said of the private sector's response to the Internet. Printed materials, particularly those offered only in Japanese, remain an important source of facts about Japan.
Fiscal Policy - The Ministry of Finance's Web site (http://www.mof.go.jp) offers in a relatively timely fashion overall numbers on the general account budget both in English and in Japanese. More detailed figures, however, are available only in print, either in the form of the actual budget documents or in the Ministry of Finance Monthly Statistics. In any case, complete specifics are not released to the public until the budget bills emerge from the Diet.
On the revenue side, MOF's Web site provides links to the National Tax Administration Agency, which posts summary data on a monthly and a fiscal-year basis. Other sources are the Economic Planning Agency and the Statistics Bureau of the Management and Coordination Agency. Both maintain Web sites that can be reached through the home page of the Office of the Prime Minister (http://www.kantei.go.jp).
Financial Affairs - The Financial Services Agency is a key source of information on financial matters, particularly since it absorbed MOF's Financial System Planning Bureau this past July. Data on the nonperforming loans of Japanese financial institutions are posted on the FSA's Web site (http://www.fsa.go.jp) in both English and Japanese. Internal policy discussions are available mostly in Japanese, however.
The Financial Reconstruction Commission makes less use of the Web. In fact, its site is managed by the FSA (http://www.fsa.go.jp/frc). Only basic information and press releases are posted. This could change after January 1, 2001, when the FRC is slated to merge with the FSA.
Of course, many other actors are involved in Japanese financial matters. The Bank of Japan, the Federation of Bankers' Associations of Japan, the Japan Securities Dealers Association, the Tokyo Stock Exchange and individual financial institutions all maintain Web sites that offer varying amounts of useful information.
Research and Development - For data on government spending on R&D, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science's periodical, Gakujitsu Geppo (Japanese Scientific Monthly), is the primary source. The results of JSPS's annual survey usually are presented in the July or the August issue, although they can be later if the budget is not approved on time. The group compiles the research projects and the activities of each ministry and agency, offering a brief description of each item as well as its funding level. The survey also provides an overall picture of Tokyo's R&D spending relative to the economy and to the general account budget. This publication, entirely in Japanese, is available only through JSPS on an annual subscription basis. The society maintains a representative office in Washington, D.C.
For aggregate information on R&D spending in Japan, three options exist. The Management and Coordination Agency releases the results of its annual study of R&D in Kagaku Gijitsu Chosa Hokoku (Report on the Survey of Research and Development). Published only in Japanese, this document is the source of many of the tables in JEI's periodic reports on R&D (see JEI Report No. 41A, October 26, 1999). Many caveats are associated with MCA's study, particularly with regard to its comprehensiveness. Nonetheless, it is the only source that presents information on research expenditures by industry, the government and research institutes as well as data on outlays per researcher for each of these three groups. MCA's report also tracks foreign-funded research in Japan although in a very general way.
The Bank of Japan conducts an annual survey of R&D expenditures, with a particular emphasis on the macroeconomic level. Usually released as a special report, the study explores the link between R&D spending and economic growth. BOJ's paper also is a source of comparative data for Japan and the United States, the central bank's usual benchmark.
Finally, respected business publisher Toyo Keizai Inc. offers the results of its annual R&D poll in its economic and statistical monthly, Toyo Keizai Tokei Geppo. Titled "Kenkyu Kaihatsu Hi No Saishin Mudo (Latest Trends in Research and Development Spending)," the Japanese-language article ranks companies by their reported R&D budgets on an overall and an industry basis. It reports not only each firm's planned outlays for the current fiscal year but also, when available, expenditures earmarked for the next fiscal year.
Information on specific R&D projects often is posted on the Web site of the sponsoring organization, particularly if it is a ministry, agency or government-affiliated entity. Nippon Hoso Kyokai (Japan Broadcasting Organization), for example, offers a wealth of data on its work on advanced displays, high-definition television and other cutting-edge projects. Like NHK, most government laboratories and private institutes publish summaries of their research and often provide them gratis on request. The trick is in finding and contacting each of these organizations since no comprehensive list exists. The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, however, does have a relatively extensive directory.
High Technology and the Internet - Tokyo is even further behind Washington in collecting official data on the rapidly moving Internet business and most high-technology industries. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry and EPA conduct some surveys, but they often are not publicly released nor particularly revealing if they are. The best sources of information about these fast-moving fields are the involved companies themselves. The key point to remember when drawing on such primary sources is to separate the hype from the reality.
A final note on government sources. The planned January 1, 2001 reorganization of the central government bureaucracy surely will have a long-term impact on data collection and dissemination. While currently available Web sites and information sources most likely will be maintained in the short term as they were before the reorganization, the merging of ministries and agencies probably will be reflected in their presence on the Internet and in their publications roster.