This is a comparative study of lifelong learning policies in England and Japan. The study offers a fresh and critical interpretation of the political and social framing of the policies, as well as of the adaptability of lifelong learning as an ideology. In both England and Japan, ‘lifelong learning' has been positioned as central to educational reform. However, their lifelong learning policies are different: skills development which leading to economic growth is emphasised in England, whereas community building aiming at social reconstruction is prioritised in Japan. This study asks why the policies are different and how these differences have developed.