Last month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development cataloged Japanese dissatisfaction in a survey of Japan and the 33 other members of the OECD. The compiled results in OECD’s “Your Better Life Index” show that despite the relatively good aspects of life in Japan, many more parts of Japanese life desperately need change.

The new OECD index surveyed citizens of the member countries about 11 aspects of life such as housing, income, community, education and work-life balance. Japanese reported very low life satisfaction, with only 40 percent of people satisfied with their lives, compared with the OECD average of 59 percent.

Japan was just below South Korea and a far below the most highly satisfied countries of Denmark, Canada and Switzerland. Even worse, Japan was third from the bottom in its evaluation of work-life balance, just above Turkey and Mexico.

In their evaluation of their government, Japan ranked in the bottom third, together with Mexico and Hungary. As for the environment, Japan was already in the bottom third, just above Israel and Spain, but after the Tohoku disasters, which occurred after the survey data was gathered, Japan would likely drop to the very bottom.

On the positive side, Japan ranked first in safety, fourth in education, and among the top third in jobs. Despite the economic slowdown, Japanese income was eighth, falling between Germany and the Netherlands, but below top-ranked Luxemburg, the United States and Switzerland. Those positive factors were not enough for Japanese to see their lives as satisfactory, however.

Forcing a no-confidence vote about a prime minister is easier than responding to a no-confidence vote about a way of life. The government needs to start improving the quality of life while the country reconsiders its way of life in the wake of the recent disasters. Changing out-of-date workplace practices, expanding gender equality, and building social trust are key starting points. Now is the time to enact initiatives that will improve the quality of life beyond what a stable economy can provide.

The better life index was designed to compare life among the OECD member countries in order to influence best practices in public policy. Learning what other countries have done right, and what some have done wrong, is a sensible way to reinvigorate Japanese life. Subjective evaluations of the quality of life really do matter. They form the basis for renewal and provide the foundation for future improvements.

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