Japan in the last 80 years has earned nearly 30 Nobel Prizes, which is more than any other Asian country (at least two of which dwarf it in terms of population). In the 21'st century, only the United States has more (with 3 times the population).

How did this relatively small nation achieve this? Was there some kind of concerted effort specifically to get Nobel Prizes, or has there been something special about that country that has caused it to organically get that many?

  • 1
    I'm not sure I have time to craft an answer for this, but I did stumble across an interesting article (sadly only cached) about Japanese fears that their era of prizes may be over which might give some interesting info on what the Japanese themselves think was responsible: webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 4, 2019 at 14:53
  • 1
    @T.E.D. Thanks! It's much better than my expression.
    – JLL
    Apr 4, 2019 at 14:59
  • 3
    Nobel Prizes are awarded to people, not countries.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 4, 2019 at 16:54
  • China, Japan and Korea have the highest average IQ scores in the world. East Asians are also famous for being very conscientious. Apr 4, 2019 at 19:35
  • 1
    You call Japan a small nation, but it is a large country when you compare it to e.g European countries both by GDP and population. Science and technology are expensive and happen mostly in economically developed places.
    – Greg
    May 9, 2019 at 18:43

1 Answer 1


When I was young (in 1960-80) there was a notion of "(industrially) developed country" and "developing country" (a. k. a. the 3-d world). Japan was the only country in the whole Asia which qualified as "developed". Perhaps this division is out of date. But when you count the number of Nobel prizes you surely count from the beginning, and they are awarded roughly from the beginning of 20-th century. Another consideration is a time lag between the time when the country becomes "developed" and the time when Nobel prizes are awarded to its citizens. (I do not even mention the time lag between a particular discovery and its recognition, which can be long).

In think this explains the phenomenon that you notice. "Developed country" means good education system and a lot of jobs for educated people, and their high status in the society. Also information infrastructure and other things which help first-class research.

Japan developed extremely fast: less than one generation passed between the "Meiji revolution" and introduction of science on the highest level. In this respect it is unique. But the discussion of why the Meiji revolution happened, and why it was so successful will lead us too far. You may start with Wikipedia "Meiji revolution". This revolution transformed Japan from the "3-d world status" to a competitor of Western Europe in less than one generation. Competitor in everything: economy, military might, and science.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.