Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would have liked to see more robust wage growth and private consumption under his "Abenomics" policy mix, but he is still claiming credit for one thing: an improving job market.
Female labor participation has been markedly on the rise, with the jobless rate for women staying at a 24-year low, as Abe has made a push for mobilizing untapped human resources to shore up the economy.
Behind the recent uptick, however, Japan faces an unresolved dilemma.
Childcare support is still lacking despite the need to encourage more women, particularly those raising children, to join the workforce, which is expected to shrink further.
As Japanese voters go to the polls on Oct. 22, major political parties are more or less on the same page over childcare, promising to make early education and child daycare services free even as they differ on how to fund it.
"Making education free sounds good, but it depends on where the money will come from," said a 40-year-old woman in Tokyo. "If future generations have to pay it back later, I'm not so sure."
The woman, who asked not to be named, had a full-time job as a librarian before giving birth to her son. She hopes to start working again next year as she plans to send her 2-year-old son to a nursery school.
The biggest reason for her to rejoin the workforce is that she needs to earn an extra income for her family, now supported by her husband.
"I didn't know what it was like to raise my first child and I was worried about child-rearing, partly because of my age, so working wasn't really an option at first," she said.
Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party is seeking voter approval for expanding childcare support by changing how additional revenue from a consumption tax hike in 2019 will be used, allocating less for paying down debts.
By fiscal 2020, Abe has vowed to make expenses free for preschool education and daycare services for all children aged between 3 and 5, and from birth for low-income families.
Headed by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, the fledgling Party of Hope also supports free preschool education but draws a clear line with the ruling coalition of the LDP and the Komeito party by vowing to freeze the planned sales tax hike from 8 percent to 10 percent and drawing funding from expenditure cuts and other steps.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, another force newly created by the liberal wing of the moribund main opposition Democratic Party, is promising higher wages and better treatment for nursery school and kindergarten teachers.
Ikumi Murata, a 35-year-old Tokyo resident, believes it is a "clear and bold" move for Japan to have higher tax rates to achieve sustainable childcare support and alleviate future worries.
"It's for the benefit of children," said Murata, who got married recently.
Japan's declining birth rate has already raised the alarm among policymakers and experts, as the number of babies born in 2016 fell below 1 million for the first time.
Economists agree Japan faces a pressing need to tackle the falling birthrate and improve the child-rearing environment for the sake of sustainable growth.
Worries about the cost of raising children are seen as one major factor behind low fertility, but it remains to be seen how effective free preschool education and day care services would be in stopping the trend and encouraging more mothers to work at the same time, they say.
"More people would want to send their children to nursery schools if they are free, and this will worsen the already tight supply situation," said Shunsuke Kobayashi, an economist at the Daiwa Institute of Research.
Kobayashi argues that the entry of more private companies into the daycare service industry should be encouraged so the number of facilities will increase and treatment for nursery staff can be improved.
The government has already pushed back the timing for eliminating waitlists for nursery schools -- a pressing issue in city areas -- by three years to the end of fiscal 2020.
In campaign advertising addressed specifically to working women, Abe promises to make it easier for them to engage in work, private life, and child-rearing through "active and diverse work styles."
The country's labor participation rate for women in their 30s and 40s has risen to levels that are much closer to those in the United States and some European countries.
It came when Japan's overall employment rate has increased at a faster pace than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average since 2007, though job creation largely took the form of non-regular employment.
Still, an estimated 2.5 million women were potential workers who were willing to work but opted out of the workforce for reasons such as giving birth, child-rearing, and taking care of aging parents in 2016, according to a government survey.
Murata says she does not want to end up doing only child-rearing and household work. She is thinking of finding a job, probably part-time, to prevent her work from becoming an excessive burden.
"Definitely I want to take good care of my family. I will think hard about what the best future plan would be," she said.