Japan Population Health Overview


The health and demographics of the population can play a major role in how the pandemic has affected each region. In this section, we discuss Japan’s population prior to the pandemic. Much of this information was taken from OECD’s “Health at a glance” (https://www.oecd.org/japan/health-at-a-glance-japan-EN.pdf).)

One of the most commonly known facts about Japan is its citizens’ longevity. Japanese people live the longest in the OECD (average life expectancy for men: 81.1 years, women: 87.3 years) ). Nearly 30% of its population is aged 65+.

Source: Population pyramid in Japan, as of October 1, 2019 https://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/jinsui/2019np/index.html

In general, as indicated by the highest life expectancy in the world, Japanese people are considered healthy. Obesity if lowest among OECD countries at 25.9% among adults. Alcohol consumption rates are relatively low as well.

In addition to such indicators, most people have access to medical care thanks to the universal health insurance system that was established in 1961. Costs covered by public sources are 3rd highest among OECD countries. With regards to COVID-19 specifically, cost of PCR testing is covered through the combination of the health insurance (copays occur like any other medical care) and  government through the Infectious Disease Control Law on the condition that the testing is conducted at designated facilities as per doctor’s orders. Furthermore, the cost associated with hospitalizations are also covered by the government as such admission is based on the infection control law. 

There are also some concerning risk factors, particularly when thinking about COVID-19. Smoking rates are around average compared to OECD countries, but 8th highest when only looking at men.

Even so, critical issues facing Japan are largely attributable to its population’s age structure. Fiscal sustainability and resource use have become a hot topic as people have lived longer, requiring longer term care. This has resulted in Japan having the highest number of hospital beds among OECD countries. It also has the highest number of CT scanners and MRIs among OECD countries.

While there are real challenges Japan faces in the future, there were key factors that contributed to Japan’s handling of COVID-19.


It cannot be stated enough that Japan benefited greatly from having great access to high quality medical care with universal health insurance system. Through a combination of employee-based and community-based social health insurance schemes, nearly everyone is insured and has been insured since 1961.

Lastly, Japan’s high quality care cannot be possible without the strong network of regional health centers around the country.