Japan’s Top 10 Exports

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Japan shipped US$645.2 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2016, up by 11.1% since 2009 when the Great Recession kicked in and up by 3.2% from 2015 to 2016.

Japan’s top 10 exports accounted for over three quarters (77.6%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Based on statistics from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, Japan’s total Gross Domestic Product amounted to $4.932 trillion in 2016.

Therefore, exports accounted for about 13.1% of total Japanese economic output.

From a continental perspective, 57.3% of Japanese exports by value are delivered to other Asian countries while 23.1% are sold to North American importers. Japan ships another 13% to Europe.

Given Japan’s population of 126.7 million people, its total $645.2 billion in 2016 exports translates to roughly $5,100 for every resident in the island nation.

Japan’s unemployment rate was an estimated 3.1% in 2016 down from 3.6% during 2015, according to Trading Economics.

Japan’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Japanese global shipments during 2016. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Japan. At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code, Japan’s number one export product is motor cars followed by automotive parts and accessories, electronic integrated circuits then machinery used to make semiconductors.

  1. Vehicles: US$141.9 billion (22% of total exports)
  2. Machinery including computers: $124 billion (19.2%)
  3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $98.3 billion (15.2%)
  4. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $35.9 billion (5.6%)
  5. Iron, steel: $24.5 billion (3.8%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $23.4 billion (3.6%)
  7. Organic chemicals: $15.9 billion (2.5%)
  8. Gems, precious metals: $14 billion (2.2%)
  9. Ships, boats: $12.8 billion (2%)
  10. Rubber, rubber articles: $9.8 billion (1.5%)

Product categories with the greatest value increases from 2012 to 2016 were: gems and precious metals (up 74.1%), vehicles (up 38.3%) and optical, technical and medical equipment (up 25.3%).

Leading the declining products were large capital expenditures for ships and boats (down -42.4%), organic chemicals (down -16%) and iron or steel (down -13.6%).


The following types of Japanese product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. 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 is 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$121 billion (Up by 31.9% since 2009)
  2. Machinery including computers: $64.6 billion (Up by 15.5%)
  3. Iron, steel: $18.8 billion (Down by -19.8%)
  4. Ships, boats: $12 billion (Down by -45.5%)
  5. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $11.7 billion (Up by 11.6%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $9.5 billion (Down by -20.6%)
  7. Electrical machinery, equipment: $8.3 billion (Down by -80.4%)
  8. Rubber, rubber articles: $5.8 billion (Down by -6.8%)
  9. Other chemical goods: $4.5 billion (Up by 6.8%)
  10. Copper: $4.3 billion (Down by -15.2%)

Japan has highly positive net exports in the international trade of automobiles. In turn, these cashflows indicate Japan’s strong competitive advantages under the vehicles product category.

Japan posted an overall $38 billion trade surplus for 2016, a vast improvement from Japan’s -$694.9 million deficit during 2015.


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.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$101.3 billion (Down by -28.6% since 2009)
  2. Pharmaceuticals: -$20.4 billion (Up by 111.7%)
  3. Ores, slag, ash: -$17.2 billion (Down by -14.1%)
  4. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$13.1 billion (Up by 10.2%)
  5. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$12.8 billion (Up by 8%)
  6. Wood: -$9.9 billion (Up by 15.5%)
  7. Fish: -$9.4 billion (Down by -0.5%)
  8. Meat: -$9.0 billion (Up by 22.6%)
  9. Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: -$6.5 billion (Up by 46.3%)
  10. Leather/animal gut articles: -$5.5 billion (Up by 15.5%)

Japan has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for crude oil, an essential driver for growing the Japanese economy.

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 for 2014:

  • Honda Motor (vehicles, automotive parts)
  • Nissan Motor (vehicles, automotive parts)
  • Kubota (tractors, excavators, other heavy equipment)

Japan’s capital city is Tokyo.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also Capital Facts for Tokyo, Japan, Japan’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, Japan’s Top Import Partners, Top Japanese Trade Balances and Highest Value Japanese Export Products

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 4, 2017

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 4, 2017

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on February 4, 2017

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on October 22, 2015

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Japan. Accessed on October 22, 2015

Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on October 22, 2015