Based on statistics from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, Japan’s total Gross Domestic Product amounted to $4.842 billion in 2015.
Therefore, exports accounted for about 12.9% of total Japanese economic output.
From a continental perspective, 58% of Japanese exports by value are delivered to other Asian countries while 23.1% are sold to North American importers. Japan ships another 12% to Europe.
Given Japan’s population of 126.9 million people, its total $625.1 billion in 2015 exports translates to roughly $4,925 for every resident in the island nation.
Japan’s unemployment rate was an estimated 3.6% in 2016.
Japan’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Japanese global shipments during 2015. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Japan.
- Vehicles: US$134 billion (21.4% of total exports)
- Machines, engines, pumps: $117.7 billion (18.8%)
- Electronic equipment: $95.6 billion (15.3%)
- Medical, technical equipment: $35.7 billion (5.7%)
- Iron and steel: $27.5 billion (4.4%)
- Plastics: $22.5 billion (3.6%)
- Organic chemicals: $17.9 billion (2.9%)
- Ships, boats: $11.4 billion (1.8%)
- Oil: $11.4 billion (1.8%)
- Rubber: $10.3 billion (1.6%)
All of the above product categories suffered declines in value from 2011 to 2015, led by ships and boats which fell by 56.1%.
International sales for Japanese iron and steel dropped in value by 34.7%, followed by a 31.3% decrease for exported machinery and a 31.2% downward bounce for rubber.
The slowest declining category among the top 10 Japanese exports was vehicles which was down by 9.5%.
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.
- Vehicles: US$114.9 billion (Down by -11.8% since 2011)
- Machines, engines, pumps: $58.2 billion (Down by -45.9%)
- Iron and steel: $21.3 billion (Down by -30.7%)
- Medical, technical equipment: $12.5 billion (Down by -39.4%)
- Ships, boats: $10.9 billion (Down by -57.6%)
- Plastics: $8.7 billion (Down by -42.1%)
- Rubber: $6 billion (Down by -18.2%)
- Electronic equipment: $5.4 billion (Down by -85.4%)
- Copper: $4.6 billion (Down by -17.1%)
- Other chemical goods: $4 billion (Down by -31.6%)
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.
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.
- Oil: -US$139.6 billion (Down by -46% since 2011)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$20.8 billion (Down by -46.2%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$19.7 billion (Up by 21.9%)
- Clothing (not knit or crochet): -$13.3 billion (Down by -14.8%)
- Knit or crochet clothing: -$13.2 billion (Down by -12.4%)
- Wood: -$9.9 billion (Down by -20.7%)
- Fish: -$8.9 billion (Down by -27.9%)
- Meat: -$8.5 billion (Down by -17.3%)
- Furniture, lighting, signs: -$6.6 billion (Up by 13.3%)
- Cereals: -$5918.1 million (Down by -38.5%)
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
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on January 30, 2016
The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on January 30, 2016
Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on January 30, 2016
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