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October 17, 2012

Creating Happier Communities: Over 22 Local Governments in Japan Preparing a "Happiness Index" to Measure Progress

from Japan for Sustainability (JFS) Newsletter No.121

Japan for Sustainability (JFS) has, in its newsletters and other webpages, covered the topics of economic growth and true happiness, key issues when considering sustainability, from the aspect of using indexes to move society forward. The JFS newsletter issues that covered such subjects include:

"Institute for the Study of Happiness, Economy, and Society (ISHES)" Launched in Japan, "Dilemma of Economic Growth" Survey Results Released (February 2011)
Happiness Indexes -- A Discussion (September 2011)
Re-Examining GDP Growth Projections to Plan Japan's Future Energy Policy (May 2012)

JFS is also the overseas outreach partner of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society (ISHES), whose President is Junko Edahiro, the Chief Executive of JFS, serving as a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world in this field. ISHES issued the "Life Beyond Growth" report, produced by the AtKisson Group based in Sweden, led by Alan AtKisson, under a commission from ISHES. This report overviews how the era of economic growth began, developed, and reached its present-day status, what alternatives and indexes have been proposed and adopted, and other issues.

Now called Gross National Product (GNP), the original Gross Domestic Production (GDP) index was developed by economist Simon Kuznets for the U.S. Congress in 1934. It became an index to measure the country's war production during World War II, and since then it has been established as an index to measure the country's economic growth.

Although Kuznets himself warned that the country's welfare can hardly be measured using GDP, it has been used in Japan and the rest of the world as a measure for the progress and influence in countries. At the local government level, too, the gross regional product is regarded as an important index to measure the local government's or region's welfare.

At the same time, discussions on "GDP has increased, but are we really happy?" or "What are truly important things?" are increasingly becoming brisk throughout the world.

In Japan, "The New Growth Strategy," which was decided upon by the Cabinet in June 2010, sets forth the promotion of new growth and research/studies on well-being. Following this move, the Cabinet Office established the "Commission on Measuring Well-Being" in December 2010 and released the "Proposed Well-Being Indicators" in December 2011. The draft proposed the concept of subjective well-being and the image of a new indicator with the three pillars of "socio-economic condition," "health," and "relatedness."

Measuring National Well-Being: Proposed Well-being Indicators

ISHES conducted a survey on the trend of initiatives by local governments in Japan to develop indicators and/or policy targets regarding happiness and true affluence.

A questionnaire survey and a website study to complement the survey were conducted. ISHES conducted its survey with a total of 101 local governments: 47 prefectural governments, 52 governments of ordinance- designated cities and prefectural capitals, and two municipalities whose efforts have been reported by the media (Arakawa City of Tokyo and Himi City of Toyama Prefecture). The response rate was 55% in total (62% of prefectural governments and 50% of city municipalities responded).

From this study, it was revealed that 22 of those prefectural governments and municipalities who responded are currently engaged in initiatives to establish indicators to measure people's well-being or the level of true affluence among people. Thirteen prefectures are participating in one of those initiatives and among them, Kumamoto Prefecture has also started its own separate initiative. In total, 11 kinds of initiatives to develop an indicator were identified.

Prefectural Governments and Municipalities Developing Indicators to Measure Well-Being or True Affluence, and Names of Indicators

  1. Local Hope Index (LHI)
    13 prefectural governments: Fukui (lead prefecture), Aomori, Yamagata, Ishikawa, Yamanashi, Nagano, Mie, Nara, Tottori, Shimane, Kochi, Kumamoto and Miyazaki
  2. Toyama Indictors related to Well-Being
    Toyama Prefecture
  3. Kyoto Index
    Kyoto Prefecture
  4. New Index for Affluence (tentative name)
    Hyogo Prefecture
  5. Comprehensive Index: Aggregate Kumamoto Happiness (AKH)
    Supplemental Index: Smile Index (SI)
    Kumamoto Prefecture
  6. Sapporo "Smile" Index
    Sapporo City (Hokkaido Prefecture)
  7. Net Personal Happiness (NPH)
    Niigata City (Niigata Prefecture)
  8. Gross Happiness in Hamamatsu (GHH)
    Hamamatsu City (Shizuoka Prefecture)
  9. Sakai Town Development GPS
    Sakai City (Osaka Prefecture)
  10. Gross Arakawa Happiness (GAH)
    Arakawa City (Tokyo)
  11. KOKORO (Heart) Index
    Himi City (Toyama Prefecture)

There are two ways being used so far to measure the degree of people's happiness and true affluence -- one is based on a questionnaire survey asking about their subjective view of happiness with questions, like "Are you happy?," and the other is based on objective statistical data considered to be linked to happiness. The results can be shown as one numerical indicator by assigning a weight to each data component and then consolidating them into one number, or as a set of numbers not consolidated into one indicator.

The initiatives of local governments, categorized based on the methodology mentioned above, are shown in the following table (Click an image to see larger version).

This survey shows that each local government has been devising ways of indicating the data.

It has also been found that 25 local governments (25 percent of those surveyed) said they take happiness and true affluence into consideration when developing their policy goals. This indicates that a considerable proportion of local governments have adopted happiness and true affluence as policy goals, regardless of whether they have established their own indexes yet to measure them.

From this survey, we found that quite a few local governments in Japan have launched various efforts to use happiness and true affluence as indexes to measure their policies and their progress, following this kind of movement at both national and international levels. Compared with the national government, local governments operate much closer to their residents and thus can recognize their needs and those of local communities. We will report to you, as things develop, how each local government thinks about and establishes their happiness indexes, as well as how they see how these should play a role in their regional development. We will also report on their actual changes and achievements.

JFS will continue to encourage this kind of movement in Japan and disseminate relevant information to the world, while also conveying information on the movements and insights occurring around the world to people in Japan, with the aim of promoting efforts worldwide.

Written by Junko Edahiro

The report (in Japanese) can be downloaded from the website at:

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