Karen Makishima, Minister for Digital, Japan

By Sean Nolan

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

Digital Agency’s mission is ”Human-friendly digitalisation: No one left behind.“ To achieve this mission, we will strongly promote digitalisation and deliver the benefits of digitalisation to the citizens, while gaining their understanding by providing concrete and clear explanations of the improvement in convenience through digitalisation.

It is also important how to get close to people who feel some difficulties using digital or feel digital is “cold”. We aim to create a "warm-hearted digital society" that is unique to Japan, where the benefits of digitalisation can be delivered while staying close to people who are not good at digital.

In addition, to the digitalisation of government, we will also promote the digitalisation of society such as health, medical care, education, disaster risk management, and mobility. If we recognise current rules and laws are barriers to technology utilisation, we must reform them boldly.

We should change the rules and customs based on face-to-face and visual confirmation into those that are appropriate for the digital society. To achieve this, we will promote digital transformation, regulatory reform and administrative reform in an integrated and cross-sectional manner.

In particular,

1. People can check own health-related information at any time
With the Residence Card, which allows online identification, or Japan’s individual card “My Number Card”, people can use it as a health insurance card at a hospital, and check information on medical checkups, drug dispensing, and medical expenses on their portal site.

As a result, information will be shared with doctors, and patients can get treatment based on accurate medical information to date, increasing the safety and security of medical care.

2. People can receive digital vaccination certificates
We will deliver the smartphone application to provide a digital vaccination certificate at any time. This will support smooth confirmation of vaccination records while cross-border traveling and economical activities in Japan.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

Attending a roundtable discussion with female ambassadors to Japan. I had a very fruitful time exchanging views with 14 powerful female ambassadors from Latvia, EU, Mexico, Jordan, Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Kenya, Laos, Serbia, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Algeria, and Belgium, while also listening to their countries' digital policies.

Although the speed of economic development is different for each country, there were some common approaches and advanced cases in the topics of digital government, such as UI/UX and digital workforce. It was a stimulating time for me. I feel that we should continue to promote global cooperation.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

The term "digital" tends to give the impression that it is difficult to use, especially for the elderly people. However, for example, the integration of the health insurance card with the My Number card has made it possible to show data on specific medical checkups and drug histories to doctors and pharmacists, and its service has been very well received by the elderly. This is because when doctors asked elderly people what medications they were taking, many could not remember all the long names of the medications, and found it difficult to provide the accurate information.

Furthermore, some elderly people have difficulty handling small change when shopping with cash, and they have found cashless payments to be convenient. Measures to counter the digital divide are important, and we will also implement a digital promotion committee system to promote support for the elderly and others, but this does not mean that the elderly will not benefit from digital technology. Rather, many elderly people realise that the active use of digital technology makes their daily lives more convenient and leads to peace of mind in emergencies. This recognition by elderly people is an unexpected learning experience.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

We want to further explore better accessibility. We have two visually impaired people working as employees at the Digital Agency. We believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges we face in conveying information quickly to people with all kinds of disabilities. For example, it was pointed out that a visually impaired person did not notice the information about vaccination because the letter from the local government did not have Braille.

Furthermore, although surveys and questionnaires can now be completed online, the format is not machine-readable because it is designed to be paper based. Digitalisation that is accessible to people with disabilities should be easier for everyone to use. We aim to build a format and system that reflects the advice and assessment of people with disabilities.

Furthermore, we would like to use the power of digital technology to make it possible for people with various difficulties, disabilities, and challenges to smoothly participate in meetings, exchange opinions, and interact in the same space. For example, a two-way communication system using sign language and voice is under development.

By using an AI application that analyses sign language, converts it into text, and reads it out loud, it will be possible to communicate in real time between hearing-impaired people who speak in sign language and those who cannot sign. Furthermore, such apps are essential for visually impaired people who cannot see sign language and need information from audio.

The hearing impaired, the visually impaired, and people with various challenges have felt barriers that have made it difficult for them to interact with each other. In 2022, we want to use digital technology to overcome these barriers.