The Japanese rank second only to the United States in spending on scientific research and technology development. However, in Japan, 80% of all research and development is carried out by industry, in contrast to the United States, where industry undertakes about half of all research and development (the US government supports the rest). This is important because industry is more likely to support the type of research that will result in new technologies and products. For many people, this breakdown of research and development funding explains why Japan has become such an economic powerhouse: much more of the total research and development budget is focused on near-term and commercial science and technology. Some of the more successful applications of the fruits of Japanese research and development include high-speed trains, robotics, semiconductor chips, telecommunications, cancer research, and environmental technologies.
In 1987–97, science and engineering students accounted for 21% of college and university enrollments. Nearly 5,000 scientists and engineers per million population worked in research and development in 1987–97. Despite Japan's economic downturn in the 1990s, it is likely that investments in both equipment and personnel will grow. In 1998, high-tech exports were valued at $94.8 billion and accounted for 26% of manufactured exports.
In terms of the Japanese government's role in national science and technology, three ministries are important. The Ministry of Education, or Monbusho, provides most of the support and funding for scientific education and training at the university level in Japan. In the 1990s, Monbusho led a national effort to improve science and technology education at universities, particularly in "basic" research (areas where research does not necessarily have to pay off in commercial products). Another organization, the Science and Technology Agency (STA) promotes science and technology policies, and acts as the Prime Minister's leading policy and budgetary agency. It performs this function through annual "white papers" which describe the current state—and future goals—of Japanese science and technology. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) is probably the ministry best known by Americans. MITI promotes and protects Japanese industry by sending them signals and giving guidance to those firms which undertake research and development. MITI has been instrumental in providing close government-industry cooperation in many high technology fields, including computers, electronics, and biotechnology.
Regional research institutions such as Tskuba Science City and Kansai Science Park also play a role in fostering Japanese research and development. Their growth since the 1970s has begun to shift some of the focus and power of the national government and industry in Tokyo to the regional prefectures. International cooperation with the United States in areas like global warming and space launches may create new opportunities for greater scientific research at local, regional, and national levels in Japan.
Japan has numerous universities and colleges that offer courses in basic and applied sciences. The country's National Science Museum, founded in 1877, is located in Tokyo. The University of Tokyo has botanical gardens that were established in 1684.