Japan’s Top 10 Exports

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Japan shipped US$698.2 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2017, up by 8.3% since 2016 but down by -2.4% from 2013 to 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Japan’s exported goods and services represent 17.8% of total Japanese economic output or Gross Domestic Product. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.

From a continental perspective, 58.4% of Japanese exports by value are delivered to other Asian countries while 22.3% are sold to North American importers. Japan ships another 12.9% worth of goods to Europe compared to just 1.1% destined for customers in Africa.

Given Japan’s population of 126.5 million people, its total $698.2 billion in 2017 exports translates to roughly $5,500 for every resident in the island nation.

Japan’s unemployment rate was an estimated 2.8% as of December 2017 down from 3.1% in 2016, 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 2017. 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 most valuable export products are motor cars followed by automotive parts and accessories, electronic integrated circuits then machinery used to make semiconductors.

  1. Vehicles: US$146.2 billion (20.9% of total exports)
  2. Machinery including computers: $138.4 billion (19.8%)
  3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $105.6 billion (15.1%)
  4. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $39.8 billion (5.7%)
  5. Iron, steel: $28 billion (4%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $25.1 billion (3.6%)
  7. Organic chemicals: $17.9 billion (2.6%)
  8. Gems, precious metals: $15.2 billion (2.2%)
  9. Ships, boats: $12.3 billion (1.8%)
  10. Mineral fuels including oil: $11.4 billion (1.6%)

Japan’s top 10 exports accounted for over three-quarters (77.3%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Product categories with the greatest value increases from 2013 to 2017 were: mineral fuels including oil (up 21.3%), iron and steel (up 14.2%) and organic chemicals (up 12.2%).

Only one of these top 10 export category posted a decline, specifically the -5% drop for Japanese international sales of ships and boats.


Japan posted an overall $26.9 billion trade surplus for 2017, a -29.1% setback from Japan’s $38-billion in black ink during 2016.

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$123.8 billion (Up by 2.4% since 2016)
  2. Machinery including computers: $73.2 billion (Up by 13.5%)
  3. Iron, steel: $20.6 billion (Up by 9.5%)
  4. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $14.3 billion (Up by 22.4%)
  5. Ships, boats: $11.5 billion (Down by -4.9%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $10.1 billion (Up by 6.6%)
  7. Electrical machinery, equipment: $8 billion (Down by -3.4%)
  8. Rubber, rubber articles: $5.6 billion (Down by -3.1%)
  9. Other chemical goods: $4.9 billion (Up by 8.6%)
  10. Copper: $4.7 billion (Up by 9.6%)

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.


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-$130 billion (Up by -50.9% since 2016)
  2. Ores, slag, ash: -$20.3 billion (Up by -36.5%)
  3. Pharmaceuticals: -$17.8 billion (Down by 1.2%)
  4. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$13.3 billion (Up by -16.2%)
  5. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$12.6 billion (Down by -18.8%)
  6. Fish: -$10.3 billion (Up by -1.3%)
  7. Wood: -$10 billion (Up by -19.3%)
  8. Meat: -$9.9 billion (Up by 13.9%)
  9. Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: -$6.7 billion (Up by -3.6%)
  10. Aluminum: -$6 billion (Up by 11.6%)

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 2, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 2, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on February 2, 2018

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