Japan’s Health Outcomes Compared to the USA


Japan’s health care sector outperforms many developed countries (Kawachi, Fujisawa, & Takao, 2007). This is unusual because it does not have the highest health care expenditure. For example, America outspends Japan in this regard. However, Japan has better health outcomes (Kawachi et al., 2007). This paper investigates this issue, in detail, by exploring the reasons for the health disparities between the two countries. It also highlights key legal and political features that contribute to Japan’s contemporary health performance. However, before delving into the details of this analysis, it is, first, important to understand how Japan’s reconstruction process, after World War II, contributed to its contemporary health status.

How Reconstruction after World War II Contributed to Japan’s Contemporary Health Status

To understand Japan’s health care system, it is important to explore the intention of the ruling regime that took power in the post-war period (under the leadership of General MacArthur). MacArthur focused on improving the social welfare of the Japanese people by providing them with an opportunity to experience post-war success (Bezruchka, Namekata, & Sistrom, 2008). His first priority was to deconstruct the Japanese power and wealth structures that concentrated wealth to only a few people (mostly war elites) (Yamagishi, 2011). He intended to give people more power to control the country’s social welfare structures, such as health and education. This strategy helped to increase Japan’s profile as an emerging social welfare society.

Political and Legal Features of Japan’s Health Care System that Contributed to its Population Health

  • Legal: Constitutional amendments in Japan’s postwar period greatly contributed to its contemporary health status. For example, after the war, Japan’s newly adopted constitution removed all service provision barriers. In this regard, health care became a fundamental right for all Japanese citizens (Yamagishi, 2011).
  • Political: The quest for the Japanese government to deconstruct wealth and power structures in the Asian nation made sure quality health care was free for all. Therefore, even poor people enjoyed the best health care amenities. This system contributed to Japan’s good health outcomes (Bezruchka et al., 2008).

Reasons for the Health Disparities between Japan and America

The reasons for the health disparities between Japan and America are many. However, varying social and political factors drive this trend (Bezruchka et al., 2008). This section of the paper explains some legal and cultural contributions for the health disparities.

  • Legal: Japan’s health care system focuses on prevention, as opposed to cure (Okamoto, 2008). Japan’s health care system also stems from a welfare model that has improved the access to health care services for its citizens (World Health Organization Western Pacific Region, 2012). Comparatively, the US uses a private insurance scheme that has locked out millions of people from seeking quality health services.
  • Cultural: Lifestyle differences in Japan and America also contribute to the health disparities between the two countries. For example, HIV, obesity, and dietary complications stem from lifestyle differences between the US and Japan. Collectively, these factors have contributed to the varying health outcomes between both states (Bezruchka et al., 2008).

Lessons that the US can learn from Japan’s Health Care System

The US could learn many lessons from the Japanese health care model. First, America could learn the need to focus on upstream health factors to improve its health outcomes. For example, reducing negative lifestyle factors, such as violence, smoking, and drinking, could significantly improve the country’s health outcomes. Japan has succeeded in this regard (Kawachi et al., 2007). Secondly, to reduce America’s high health care costs, the US should regulate the activities of multiple insurers. This strategy would standardize health care costs by eliminating “cartel-like” behaviors in the industry.


This paper highlights the health disparities between the US and Japan. It shows that lifestyle factors and administrative issues contribute to this disparity. In this regard, the US can improve its health outcomes by focusing on providing upstream health interventions and overhauling its health administration structure. These strategies would help it to improve its health outcomes.


Bezruchka, S., Namekata, T., & Sistrom, M. (2008). Interplay of politics and law to promote health: Improving economic equality and health: The case of postwar Japan. American Journal of Public Health, 98(4), 589–594.

Kawachi, I., Fujisawa, Y., & Takao, S. (2007). The health of Japanese—What can we learn from America? Japanese National Institute of Public Health, 56(2), 114–121.

Okamoto, E. (2008). Public health of Japan 2008. Web.

World Health Organization Western Pacific Region. (2012). Health Service Delivery Profile: Japan. Web.

Yamagishi, T. (2011). War and Health Insurance Policy in Japan and the United States: World War II to Postwar Reconstruction. Baltimore, Maryland: JHU Press.