The Ministry of Health and Welfare has become the central administrative agency responsible for maintaining and promoting public health, welfare, and sanitation. All hospitals and clinics are subject to government control with respect to their standards and spheres of responsibility. In 1990–97, there were 16 hospital beds and 1.8 doctors per 1,000 people. Every practitioner in the field of medicine or dentistry must receive a license from the Ministry of Health and Welfare. In addition, the ministry recognizes and authorizes certain quasi-medical practices, including massage, acupuncture, moxa-cautery, and judo-orthopedics, all based upon traditional Japanese health professions.
Expanded examination and treatment have brought about a dramatic decrease in the death rate from tuberculosis, the major cause of death in the 1940s. In 1999 there were 29 cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people. At the same time, death rates from cancer and heart disease have risen considerably and now rank among the leading causes of death, trailing cerebrovascular diseases. In 1990, the number of cancer patients increased 60% (to 810,000) from 1985. Japanese medical researchers have been working on research for a new cure for breast cancer.
Infant mortality dropped to 4 per 1,000 live births in 1999, in contrast with the 1930 rate of 124. The overall mortality rate was estimated at 8.5 per 1,000 people in 2002. Only 3% of children under age five during 1989–95 were malnourished. The total fertility rate was 1.4 as of 2000. Immunization rates for children up to one year old in 1997 included diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 100% and measles, 94%. Average life expectancy was 81 years in 2000, among the highest rates in the world. The likelihood of death by heart disease after 65 was 213 for a man and 264 for a woman per 1,000 people (1990–1993). In the mid-1990s there were nearly 300,000 deaths per year strictly from cardiovascular diseases.
As of 1999, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 10,000 and deaths from AIDS that year were estimated at 150. HIV prevalence was 0.02 per 100 adults.
A large portion of the male population smokes. Between 1986 and 1994, 66% of men and 14% of women smoked. In 1995, it was estimated that tobacco would cause 12% of all deaths (17% males and 5% females), numbers that are still increasing among males and, on current smoking trends, will eventually also increase in females.