The motto of the JGSS Research Center at Osaka University of Commerce is “Openness, continuity, internationalism, and innovation.” This motto reflects the background behind the establishment of the JGSS Research Project and the efforts we have made so far.
Back in 1986 when I was studying at Stanford University, my supervisor sighed about the lack of open data sources in Japan. In Social Statistics class at the university, instructors would collect open data from data archives, including General Social Survey (GSS) data and store the data in large-scale computers, and students would analyze the data by applying statistical methods learned in class and write reports. Such coursework was made possible by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), a data archive based at the University of Michigan. Through the payment of membership fees determined according to the scale of the university, the ICPSR allows the member universities and their students to access an extensive collection of downloadable data for educational and research purposes.
Started on a nationwide basis by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago in 1972, the General Social Surveys have been conducted 29 times up to 2012, answered by 55,000 respondents in total. The GSS data have been used to produce over 20,000 publications, and are accessed by more than 400,000 students annually. As such, the GSS data is far more substantial and far more widely available than the other open data sources of this kind. Similar surveys started in 1980 in Germany, in 1983 in the UK, and in 1984 in Australia. In 1989, another professor from Stanford University gave me a catalog of survey data prepared by ICPSR, as thick as a telephone directory, saying “some Japanese universities have joined the membership of ICPSR.” However, the Japanese membership was limited to a few universities in those days, including Hokkaido University, Doshisha University and Aoyama Gakuin University.
It was ten years later, in the autumn of 1998, that the Japanese General Social Survey (JGSS) Project was started. This project was launched at the initiative of those Japanese researchers who benefited from GSS data while studying abroad in the 1980s; after returning to Japan, they advocated the necessity of conducting General Social Surveys regularly in Japan and making survey data publicly available, thereby allowing researchers unable to participate in nationwide surveys to access the data for research and educational purposes in the field of social statistics. The initiative was directed by the research group led by Ichiro Tanioka (President of Osaka University of Commerce) and the Institute of Social Science of the University of Tokyo, which had just started constructing the SSJ Data Archive at its Information Center for Social Science Research on Japan. The project had its secretariat at Osaka University of Commerce, and initially was financed jointly by Osaka University of Commerce and the University of Tokyo. In April 1999, the Institute of Regional Studies of Osaka University of Commerce was designated as a Key Institution on the Frontiers of Academic Projects (from FY1999 to FY2003) by the then Ministry of Education, and, after repeated discussions on the style and scope of survey to be conducted, the first regular survey “JGSS-2000” was launched in October 2000 under the JGSS Research Project.
We have since carried out nine nationwide surveys involving thousands of people in a manner which represents the interests of researchers specialized in wide-ranging genres in the field of social sciences, and have published more than 20 collections of research papers, academic books and statistical textbooks so far. Rather than being used exclusively by the researchers involved in the surveys, the data collected through them have been immediately made available to the public through the Institute of Social Science of the University of Tokyo, ICPSR, and the Data Archive in Germany, and have been accessed by more than 45,000 researchers and students, both Japanese and foreign. The specialties of the researchers who have accessed the JGSS data encompass a variety of fields, including sociology, economics, demographics, statistics, political science, psychology, pedagogy, linguistics, geography, public health, and agriculture.
In 2004, we were again given the designation of a Key Institution on the Frontiers of Academic Projects (from FY2004 to FY2008) under the MEXT Program for Promoting Advancement of Academic Research at Private Universities. We have publicly called for research proposals for our surveys since JGSS-2005, and have invited researchers to submit research papers from 2003. To discover promising young researchers and further nurture their talents through these attempts, we launched the “JGSS Researcher Encouraging Program” in 2005. In 2006, we also started, as part of our JGSS Project, a joint research project with Taiwan, Korea, and China called the “East Asian Social Survey” (EASS) in order to conduct nationwide surveys comprising the same questions for these countries and region. The themes adopted for the first four of these surveys are, respectively, “Family (2006),” “Culture (2008),” “Health (2010),”and “Network social capital (2012)”.
“Innovation,” part of the JGSS Research Center motto, represents our commitment to pursuing optimal survey design. JGSS is Japan’s first national survey to approach each respondent by means of both an interview and a self-administered questionnaire. We have also taken various measures to address the problem of the low response rate often experienced when conducting social surveys, and have succeeded in improving the response rate in our JGSS-2006. In 2005, when the Personal Information Protection Law went into effect, we conducted the “Survey on Data Access and Sampling,” and identified the policies of local governments on providing lists of residents for sampling purposes, and established guidelines for the collection of needed data from the complicated arrangement of personal information in the lists of residents held by local governments. In JGSS-2003, we addressed the issue of respondent networks, and made the world’s first attempt, by means of a nationwide survey, to clarify how discussions in the three areas of “personal problems,” “work,” and “politics” overlap. In EASS 2006 we adopted, for the questionnaire, alternatives to the attitudinal questions, which could be applied equally well in both societies where people are comfortable expressing their feelings on a topic, and to those where people are more reserved about doing so. In the JGSS-2009 Life Course Study conducted in January 2009, we attempted a realistic appraisal of diversifying employment practices.In the JGSS-2013 Life Course Study conducted in January 2013 (follow-up of JGSS-2009LCS), questionnaires are designed to avoid inconsistency between responses.
For the past 15 years, the JGSS Research Project has proactively and consistently continued to achieve substantial research results, accumulate knowledge and academic information, construct a survey database, and promote joint research and joint usage of academic resources with other universities.
In June 2008, we were designated as a key research institution under the “Program for Promotion of Joint Research Centers in Humanities and Social Sciences” by MEXT, in recognition of our achievement of significant research results and our support to the parties involved in the joint research and joint usage initiatives. This Program started in FY2008 with the aim of promoting joint research and joint usage of academic resources among researchers, not only in the fields of humanities and social sciences, but also across the different disciplines, thereby enhancing the standards of research in humanities and social sciences, and also creating new fields of research through the integration of different disciplines. For the first year of the Program, five academic institutions were designated as key research institutions, which, later, all passed the screening of MEXT and were accredited as “Joint Usage/Research Center” by the Minister of MEXT on October 1, 2008. The system of “Joint Usage/Research Center” was newly established in July 2008 upon revision of the Ordinance for Enforcement of the School Education Act, with an aim to encourage further development of Japanese academic research in general by upgrading research institutions selected for their high potentials, whether national, public, or private, to “Joint Usage/Research Center.”
The JGSS Research Center at Osaka University of Commerce was inaugurated in July 2008 with a view to enhancing and strengthening the university’s research capabilities as a key joint research institution and promoting joint research with research institutions and researchers, both domestic and foreign. It was again accredited as a “Joint Usage/Research Center” in April 2013, while financial support from the MEXT was terminated in March 2013.
In concluding, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the 30,000 respondents to our surveys for their generous cooperation. I promise that the JGSS Research Center will remain fully committed to performing its role as a key joint research institution, under the leadership of the Steering Committee.