Known as the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan is a major economic and political power in Asia. Yet it is a North American nation–the United States–that became the number one purchaser of Japanese export products during 2019.
The world’s fourth-largest exporter, Japan shipped $705.7 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.
Applying a continental lens, 57.3% of Japanese exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 22.7% were sold to North American importers. Japan provided 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%).
Japan’s Top Trading Partners
Below is a list showcasing 15 of Japan’s top trading partners, countries that imported the most Japanese shipments by dollar value during 2018. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total Japanese exports.
- United States: US$140.4 billion (19.9% of total Japanese exports)
- China: $134.7 billion (19.1%)
- South Korea: $46.3 billion (6.6%)
- Taiwan: $43 billion (6.1%)
- Hong Kong: $33.6 billion (4.8%)
- Thailand: $30.2 billion (4.3%)
- Germany: $20.2 billion (2.9%)
- Singapore: $20.2 billion (2.9%)
- Vietnam: $16.5 billion (2.3%)
- Australia: $14.5 billion (2.1%)
- Indonesia: $14 billion (2%)
- United Kingdom: $14 billion (2%)
- Malaysia: $13.3 billion (1.9%)
- Netherlands: $11.9 billion (1.7%)
- India: $11 billion (1.6%)
Four-fifths (79.9% by value) of Japanese exports in 2019 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
Taiwan and Vietnam were the only top importers that increased purchases from Japan from 2018 to 2019, up in value by 1.5% and 0.5% respectively. Among the remaining 13 supplying countries, declines ranged from a minimum of -0.2% for the United Kingdom up to -15.3% for Australia.
Japan incurred an overall -$15.2 billion trade deficit for 2019, increasing by 49.6% the -$10.2 billion in red ink one year earlier.
As defined by Investopedia, a country whose total value of all imported goods is higher than its value of all exports is said to have a negative trade balance or deficit.
It would be unrealistic for any exporting nation to expect across-the-board positive trade balances with all its importing partners. Similarly, that export country doesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports.
In 2019, Japan incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries.
- China: -US$34.5 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2019)
- Australia: -$31 billion
- Saudi Arabia: -$22.5 billion
- United Arab Emirates: -$19 billion
- Qatar: -$12 billion
- Russia: -$7.2 billion
- Italy: -$7 billion
- Vietnam: -$6 billion
- Ireland: -$5.9 billion
- France: -$5.2 billion
Among Japan’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, Japanese deficits with France (up 40.5%), Vietnam (up 27.7%) and China (up 16.9%) grew at the fastest pace from 2018 to 2019.
Based on Investopedia’s definition of net importer, a country whose total value of all imported goods is lower than its value of all exports is said to have a positive trade balance or surplus.
In 2019, Japan incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries.
- United States: US$59.1 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2019)
- Hong Kong: $31.6 billion
- South Korea: $16.6 billion
- Taiwan: $16.1 billion
- Singapore: $12.4 billion
- Netherlands: $8.7 billion
- Panama: $6 billion
- United Kingdom: $5.8 billion
- India: $5.6 billion
- Thailand: $4.8 billion
Among Japan’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, Japanese surpluses with Panama (up 9.7%), Taiwan (up 5.7%) and United States (up 3.7%) grew at the fastest pace from 2018 to 2019.
These positive cashflow streams clearly indicate Japan’s competitive advantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for Japan to develop country-specific strategies to optimize its overall position in international trade.
Companies Servicing Japanese Trading Partners
According to the Japan Import Export Directory, the following are examples of entrepreneurial companies that ship products from Japan to its trading partners around the globe. Shown within parenthesis is the product category that the Japanese business specializes in.
- Aiza Corporation Japan (consumer electronics)
- Akasaka Diesels Limited (marine engines, generators)
- Aktio Corp. (construction equipment)
- Fuji Latex Co., Ltd. (shock absorbers)
- Japan Algae Co., Ltd. (dietary supplements)
- Kiramek, Inc. (vehicle security products)
- Kyodo Co., Inc. (steel)
- Ochadokoro Sanwa (Japanese Green tea)
- TMO International Limited (gold, gemstones)
- Whn Co., Ltd. (new/used cars)
See also Japan’s Top 10 Imports, Japan’s Top 10 Exports, Top Japanese Trade Balances and Japan’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Central Intelligence Agency, The World FactbookCountry Profiles. Accessed on January 31, 2020
IMPORTERS.com The Online Market for G20 Importers, Japan Import Export Directory. Accessed on January 31, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on January 31, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on January 31, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on January 31, 2020
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on January 31, 2020