But the health system only partly explains why the Japanese are some of the healthiest people on the planet. I often give students a population health quiz. One question asks which country wins the health Olympics—the one with the highest life expectancy. The answer is Japan. The next question asks why. The answer is its social cohesion and relative parity of incomes—factors that researchers say are every bit as important in improving health as the kind of insurance system a country has.
Income disparity is not like it is in the U.S., with its ever-widening gaps between the top and the bottom. In Japan, a salaryman obviously earns more than a tea lady, and the head of Mitsubishi obviously earns more than a salaryman. But they all benefit from the same health care system. An MRI costs the same for each. They’re all in it together, as they are in resurrecting their country from this latest disaster.