Japan shipped $705.8 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a -4.4% decline since 2018 but a 12.9% increase from 2015 to 2019.
Japan’s exported goods totaled $518.3 billion during the first 10 months of 2020. Assuming an annualized $621.9 billion in exports for all 2020, Japan is on track for an estimated -11.9% drop in value for its shipments from 2019 to 2020.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the Japanese yen has appreciated by 9.9% against the US dollar since 2015 and increased by 1.3% from 2018 to 2019. Japan’s stronger local currency since 2015 make exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive in 2019. Japan’s exports are also relatively costlier from 2018 to 2019 for international buyers starting from Japanese yen.
From a continental perspective, 57.3% of Japanese exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 22.7% were sold to North American importers. Japan shipped another 13.5% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Oceania led by Australia (2.6%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (also 2.6%) then Africa (1.3%).
Given Japan’s population of 126.2 million people, its total $705.7 billion in 2019 exported products translates to roughly $5,600 for every resident in the East Asian island nation.
Japan’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Japanese global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Japan.
- Vehicles: US$148.8 billion (21.1% of total exports)
- Machinery including computers: $137 billion (19.4%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $103.1 billion (14.6%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $39.1 billion (5.5%)
- Iron, steel: $26.1 billion (3.7%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $25.2 billion (3.6%)
- Organic chemicals: $17.8 billion (2.5%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $14 billion (2%)
- Ships, boats: $13.8 billion (2%)
- Other chemical goods: $11.9 billion (1.7%)
Japan’s top 10 exports accounted for over three-quarters (76.1%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
The capital-intensive ships and boats category was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 9.2% from 2018 to 2019. In second place for improving export sales was mineral fuels including oil which was up by 5%, led by refined petroleum oils and petroleum coke. Japan’s shipments of miscellaneous chemical goods posted the third-fastest gain in value thanks to a 0.1% increase.
The leading decliner among Japan’s top 10 export categories was iron and steel which fell -12.8% year over year.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Japan’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
The following types of Japanese product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus for 2019. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
1. Vehicles: US$125 billion (821.2% of total exports)
2. Machinery including computers: $66.5 billion (436.9%)
3. Iron, steel: $18.4 billion (120.8%)
4. Ships, boats: $13.1 billion (86.1%)
5. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $10.8 billion (71.2%)
6. Plastics, plastic articles: $9 billion (59.4%)
7. Other chemical goods: $6 billion (39.3%)
8. Rubber, rubber articles: $5.7 billion (37.3%)
9. Copper: $4.8 billion (31.3%)
10. Photo/cinematographic goods: $4.6 billion (30%)
Japan has highly positive net exports in the international trade of automobiles thanks to world-leading automotive corporations including Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors. In turn, these cashflows indicate Japan’s strong competitive advantages under the vehicles product category.
Japan incurred an overall -$15.2 billion trade deficit for 2019, expanding by 49.6% the -$10.2 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Japan that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Japan’s goods trail Japanese importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$141.6 billion (Down by -12.2% since 2018)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$22 billion (Down by -1.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$20.9 billion (Up by 4.5%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$14 billion (Down by -2.7%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$13.4 billion (Down by -0.7%)
- Meat: -$10.5 billion (Up by 3.9%)
- Wood: -$10.4 billion (Down by -4.5%)
- Fish: -$10 billion (Down by -2.6%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: -$7.2 billion (Up by 4%)
- Leather/animal gut articles: -$6.3 billion (Up by 5.1%)
Japan has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for crude oil, petroleum gases and coal.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Japan’s competitive disadvantages in the international fossil fuel market, but also represent key opportunities for Japan to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Japanese Export Companies
Wikipedia lists many of the larger international trade players from Japan:
- Toyota Motor (cars, trucks)
- Japan Tobacco (tobacco)
- Denso (automotive parts)
- Canon (business products, supplies)
- Takeda Pharmaceutical (pharmaceuticals)
- Hitachi (electronics)
- Fanuc (industrial products)
- Panasonic (electronics)
- Astellas Pharma (pharmaceuticals)
- Nippon Steel (iron, steel)
- Mitsubishi Electric (electrical equipment)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are also examples of leading Japanese exporters.
- Honda Motor (vehicles, automotive parts)
- Nissan Motor (vehicles, automotive parts)
- Kubota (tractors, excavators, other heavy equipment)
Searchable List of Japan’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Japan during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
|Rank||Japan's Export Product||2019 Value (US$)||Change|
|4||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$22,624,608,000||-8.6%|
|5||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$13,664,737,000||+10.3%|
|6||Processed petroleum oils||$10,957,801,000||+6.8%|
|7||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)||$9,931,167,000||-6.8%|
|10||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$8,606,572,000||-5.9%|
|12||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$7,494,817,000||-8.2%|
|13||Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$7,356,814,000||-8.5%|
|14||Piston engine parts||$6,604,898,000||-5.1%|
|18||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$5,565,056,000||-3.3%|
|20||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$5,434,110,000||+3.3%|
|21||Rubber tires (new)||$5,166,486,000||+1.4%|
|23||Air or vacuum pumps||$5,003,668,000||-6.2%|
|25||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$4,900,358,000||-10.3%|
|26||Medication mixes in dosage||$4,731,549,000||+19.9%|
|27||Electric storage batteries||$4,653,689,000||-9.7%|
|28||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$4,651,125,000||-6.6%|
|29||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$4,626,094,000||+3.2%|
|30||Other measuring/testing machines||$4,569,632,000||-1.2%|
|33||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$4,416,633,000||+13.5%|
|34||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$4,383,042,000||-4.6%|
|35||Ball, roller bearings||$4,260,252,000||-5.7%|
|36||Flat-rolled other alloy steel products||$4,158,238,000||-15.4%|
|37||Electrical converters/power units||$4,056,338,000||+0.9%|
|38||Chemicals used in electronics||$4,018,124,000||+2.4%|
|39||Liquid pumps and elevators||$3,737,863,000||-1.9%|
|40||Chemical industry products/residuals||$3,630,752,000||-7.9%|
|42||Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools||$3,547,831,000||-19.2%|
|43||Refined copper, unwrought alloys||$3,337,046,000||-18.6%|
|44||Electric ignition/start equipment||$3,218,788,000||-6.5%|
|46||Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers||$2,985,166,000||-12.7%|
|47||Electric motors, generators||$2,970,843,000||+1%|
|48||Phone system devices||$2,935,336,000||-24.2%|
|49||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$2,839,231,000||-16.6%|
|50||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$2,829,552,000||-7.7%|
|52||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$2,768,594,000||-7.3%|
|54||Iron or steel tubes, pipes||$2,743,851,000||+14.7%|
|55||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$2,734,662,000||-15.7%|
|56||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$2,603,818,000||-1.5%|
|59||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$2,552,188,000||-2.4%|
|60||Iron or steel scrap||$2,539,998,000||-18.6%|
|63||Self-adhesive plastic in rolls||$2,366,114,000||-3.4%|
|64||Table games, bowling equipment||$2,352,559,000||-7.9%|
|65||Interchangeable hand/machine tools||$2,322,497,000||-6.4%|
|66||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$2,273,259,000||-12.2%|
|68||Miscellaneous plastic items||$2,153,631,000||-0.6%|
|69||TV/radio/radar device parts||$2,091,347,000||-6.8%|
|70||Lenses, prisms, mirrors||$2,016,114,000||-12.2%|
|71||Oxometal/peroxometal acid salts||$1,964,100,000||+29.8%|
|76||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,776,714,000||+2.9%|
|79||Computers, optical readers||$1,696,301,000||-7.1%|
|80||Paint/varnish non-aqueous solution||$1,665,232,000||-1.7%|
|81||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$1,663,045,000||-12.4%|
|82||Other machine parts, accessories||$1,619,771,000||-12.6%|
|83||Unrecorded sound media||$1,554,672,000||-13.4%|
|84||Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters||$1,544,484,000||-15.3%|
|85||Vulcanized rubber items||$1,516,277,000||-6.9%|
|87||Computer parts, accessories||$1,511,575,000||-14.1%|
|88||Initiators/accelerators, catalytic preps||$1,495,263,000||+17.2%|
|91||Vinyl chloride polymers||$1,403,214,000||+8.3%|
|92||Sanitary towels, baby napkins/liners||$1,377,152,000||-11.7%|
|93||Cold-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$1,369,923,000||-18.8%|
|94||Iron or non-alloy steel products (semi-finished)||$1,368,572,000||-22.5%|
|95||Miscellaneous engines, motors||$1,357,066,000||-6.7%|
|97||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$1,335,976,000||+3.4%|
|100||Metal soldering/hot-spray equipment||$1,235,111,000||-10.2%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$518.5 billion or 73.5% by value for all products exported from Japan during 2019.
In macroeconomic terms, Japan’s total exported goods represent 12.3% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($5.747 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 12.3% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2019 compares to 13.2% for 2018, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Japan’s total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Japan’s unemployment rate was 3.1% at October 2020, up from an average 2.433% for 2019 according to the International Monetary Fund.
See also Japan’s Top 10 Imports, Japan’s Top Trading Partners, Top Japanese Trade Balances and Japan’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
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International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on December 8, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on December 8, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on December 8, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on December 8, 2020
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on December 8, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Japan. Accessed on December 8, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on December 8, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on December 8, 2020
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on December 8, 2020