Fujio Ohnishi

Japan or Nihon in Japanese means a country from which the Sun rises. In general, the word Sun is often used as a metaphor for Japan. This commentary explains Japan's Arctic engagement by focusing on its three pillars, and also considers its policy prospects.

Japan's Arctic engagement has centered on three pillars, namely the pillars of diplomacy, science and business, although these pillars are self-sustained by ministries concerned rahter than coordinated among them. The oldest pillar is the diplomatic one, since it dates back to Japan's signing of the Svalbard Treaty in 1920. However, this pillar had been dormant until recent years. In July 2009, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) officially submitted its offer to be a permanent Observer to the Arctic Council. In March 2013, MoFA appointed an ambassador in charge of Arctic affairs. As a result of various diplomatic efforts, Japan was admitted to Observer status of the Arctic Council in May 2013.


The most substantial engagement was conducted in the pillar of science. Both the National Institute of Polar Research and Marine Science and Technology Center (now called the Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology) have been the main organs which conducted observational research in the Arctic since the beginning of the 1990s. More recently, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology inaugurated the five-year GRENE Arctic Climate Change Research Project 2011-2015, which was succeeded by the Arctic Challenge for Sustainability Project 2015-2019 (ArCS).

The less emphsized but embracing huge potential is the pillar of business. The pilot case was the Kalaallit Nunaat Marine Seismic (KANUMAS) project 1990-1962. More recently, the Japanese government showed interest in the utilization of the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) performed feasibility research on shipping and logistics through the NSR for the private sector including shipping companies, trading companies, and electric power companies. MLIT organizes a Public-Private Partnership Council for the Northern Sea Route.

When the government adopted the second version of the Basic Plan on Ocean Policy in April 2013, the Arctic-related measures among others were for the first time installed at the Cabinet level. Although most such measures were not brand-new, what was unprecedented was that it instituted two primordial linkages among the three pillars: to utilize the pillar of science for the pillar of business, and to make efficient use of the pillar of diplomacy for the pillar of science.

In an attempt to pursue a more developed and comprehensive Arctic policy promoting full-fledged interests for Japanese stakeholders such as governmental agencies, academic communities and industries, the Japanese government is now drafting an Arctic policy document including facilitation of observational research, promotion of international cooperation, utilization of the NSR, and securing safety navigation and national interests. Japan's new Arctic policy document is scheduled to be announced at some point whithin this year.

To conclude, Japan will show its flag in teh Arctic more clearly, and thus we watch a true sunrise at hand.

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