Global Practices

The Delicate State of Trust in Japan



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The most interesting discovery at the Japanese launch of the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer was the receptivity to our definition of “trust.” We outlined how reputation and trust were entirely different things – reputation being the perception arising from the sum of your words and deeds up until this point in time; trust is the perception of how you will act in the future. We commented that many Japanese institutions were fixed in a rut of trying to improve their reputation, which is already set in the minds of stakeholders and not easily changed. Instead, we proposed that Japanese organizations needed to concentrate on building trust. This definition and concept was extremely well received by our various audiences. Tom Taniguchi, who is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speechwriter and was one of our panelists, mentioned that he thought it was the most striking thing he had learned from the presentation.

Given the background of “Abenomics” and the high popularity rating of the Abe government, we had expected that there would be much discussion and debate of the 13 point rise in trust in government in Japan. We were somewhat surprised that while this was the topic of much discussion from our non-Japanese clients in the audience, the Japanese were considerably more sanguine about the rise. Our panelists agreed that the 13 percentage point rise was more to do with expectation than reality. One bureaucrat commented, “Oh, that’s just an indication we haven’t messed up yet.” The Japanese seemed much more focused on the low intensity (8 percent) of the rise in trust in government and broadly suggested that any mistakes going forward could have negative consequences for trust in Japan’s government.

Trust in Goverment and Business Improving

Intensity of Trust Remains Low

Also surprising to our audience was that although we have seen a rebound in trust in all institutions following the year of the tsunami disaster, trust in spokespeople has seen almost no rebound and the most trusted spokesperson, a technical expert, is trusted by only 35 percent of informed publics. Put another way, the most trusted spokesperson is not trusted by nearly two thirds of the population. Many of our audience agreed that the need to use multiple spokespeople in Japan was paramount to communications success.

Trust in SpokespeopleTechnical Expert Most Trusted







Search Trumps Traditional Media

In the week prior to our launch, the chairman of Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, indicated that he saw NHK as having to toe the government line on political, social and geopolitical issues. In this context, a number of journalists were very interested in our data, which showed that television was now the most trusted source of information on companies and breaking news. However they were also interested to see how the skeptical Japanese now seek to validate that information through search engines. However, different to other countries, trust in social media was not high. In fact, only six percent of people trust bloggers in Japan. This highlights the need for Japanese organizations to effectively use their owned media assets and to employ strategies aimed at amplification and discovery in their communications activities.

We learned a great deal on the levels of Japanese trust through our data, and we appreciate our panelists and those in the audience for providing context to the striking figures in Japan.

Learn more about Trust Around the World.

Ross Rowbury is president, Edelman Japan.

Image by APEC 2013.
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