Based on average exchange rates for 2020, the Japanese yen appreciated by 1.9% against the US dollar since 2016 and increased by 2.1% from 2019 to 2020. Japan’s strengthening local currency makes Japanese imports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive when converted starting from the US dollar.
From a continental perspective, 59.6% of Japan’s total imports by value in 2020 were purchased from fellow Asian countries. European trade partners supplied 15.7% of import purchases by Japan while 13.8% worth originated from North America. Smaller percentages arrived from Oceania (6.4%) led by Australia, Latin America (3.1%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, and Africa (1.4%).
Given Japan’s population of 125.8 million people, its total $634.6 billion in 2020 imports translates to $5,000 in yearly product demand from every person in the densely populated Asian island country.
Japan’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in Japan’s import purchases during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into Japan.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$105.3 billion (16.6% of total imports)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $96.8 billion (15.3%)
- Machinery including computers: $67.1 billion (10.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $28.6 billion (4.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $25.9 billion (4.1%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $21.2 billion (3.3%)
- Vehicles: $19.8 billion (3.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $15.9 billion (2.5%)
- Organic chemicals: $15.8 billion (2.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $15 billion (2.4%)
Japan’s top 10 imports accounted for under two-thirds (64.8%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.
Gems and precious metals posted the fastest-growing increase in value among the top 10 import categories, up 24.7% from 2019 to 2020. The only other top imported product category generating higher import costs was pharmaceuticals via its 5% year-over-year gain.
Leading the declining categories were imported mineral fuels including oil (down -32.4%), vehicles (down -16.6%) and optical, technical or medical apparatus (down -8.2%).
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more detailed view of imported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Japan’s Most Valuable Import Products further down near the bottom of this article or under the adjacent product folder tabs.
In 2020, Japanese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of fossil fuel.
- Crude oil: US$43.4 billion (down -40.7% from 2019)
- Petroleum gases: $34.1 billion (down -24%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $15.9 billion (down -31.5%)
- Processed petroleum oils: $11 billion (down -16.2%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $521.3 million (down -34.5%)
- Coke, semi-coke: $135.3 million (down -47.7%)
- Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation): $97.4 million (down -32%)
- Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $79.8 million (down -17.8%)
- Peat: $31.7 million (up 2.7%)
- Distilled tar: $8.7 million (down -43.8%)
Among these import subcategories, only Japan’s purchases of peat (up 2.7%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported mineral fuels-related goods among Japanese businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Japanese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electronics products.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$25 billion (up 3.2% from 2019)
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: $18.8 billion (up 1.3%)
- Insulated wire/cable: $7.1 billion (down -7%)
- Solar power diodes/semi-conductors: $4.5 billion (down -9.6%)
- TV receivers/monitors/projectors: $4 billion (up 5.8%)
- Electrical converters/power units: $3.3 billion (up 2.3%)
- TV/radio/radar device parts: $3 billion (down -10.9%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $2.8 billion (down -4.7%)
- Electrical machinery: $2.7 billion (down -3.6%)
- Microphones/headphones/amps: $2.4 billion (up 6.9%)
Among these import subcategories, Japan’s purchases of microphones, headphones and amplifiers (up 6.9%), TV receivers, monitors and projectors (up 5.8%) then phone system devices including smartphones (up 3.2%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among Japanese businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Japanese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery.
- Computers, optical readers: US$19.7 billion (up 13.7% from 2019)
- Turbo-jets: $4.9 billion (down -28.8%)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: $4.8 billion (up 29.8%)
- Printing machinery: $3.7 billion (down -9.5%)
- Air conditioners: $2.5 billion (down -6.4%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $2.4 billion (down -8.4%)
- Computer parts, accessories: $2.4 billion (down -23%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $2.3 billion (down -7.6%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $2.1 billion (down -6.8%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $1.8 billion (up 6.3%)
Among these import subcategories, Japan’s purchases of machinery for making semi-conductors (up 29.8%), computers including optical readers (up 13.7%) then centrifuges, filters and purifiers (up 6.3%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among Japanese businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Japanese importers spent the most on the following subcategories of pharmaceuticals.
- Medication mixes in dosage: US$16.9 billion (up 1.7% from 2019)
- Blood fractions (including antisera): $10.3 billion (up 12%)
- Sutures, special pharmaceutical goods: $632 million (down -9%)
- Medication mixes not in dosage: $337.8 million (up 9.9%)
- Packaged dressings: $236.9 million (up 0.6%)
- Dried organs, heparin: $132.9 million (up 10.9%)
Among these import subcategories, Japan’s purchases of blood fractions including antisera (up 12%), dried organs and heparin (up 10.9%) then medication mixes not in dosage (up 9.9%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported technical equipment among Japanese businesses and consumers.
Searchable List of Japan’s Most Valuable Import Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, Japan’s top import products are crude oil, petroleum gases, mobile phones trailed by computers then integrated circuits and medication mixes.
The following searchable table displays 100 of Japan’s most in-demand imported goods during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total import value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Japan's Import Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|3||Phone system devices including smartphones||$25,043,368,000||+3.2%|
|4||Computers, optical readers||$19,662,761,000||+13.7%|
|6||Medication mixes in dosage||$16,939,092,000||+1.7%|
|7||Coal, solid fuels made from coal||$15,918,363,000||-31.5%|
|8||Processed petroleum oils||$11,017,109,000||-16.2%|
|9||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$10,323,306,000||+12%|
|11||Iron ores, concentrates||$9,625,546,000||-11.3%|
|12||Copper ores, concentrates||$9,305,508,000||+12.2%|
|15||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$6,475,836,000||-7.5%|
|17||Miscellaneous articles, dress patterns||$5,256,660,000||+277.7%|
|19||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$4,815,256,000||+29.8%|
|20||Cases, handbags, wallets||$4,734,425,000||-19.8%|
|21||Precious metal waste, scrap||$4,640,888,000||+36.5%|
|22||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$4,481,526,000||-9.6%|
|24||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$4,040,373,000||-12%|
|26||Miscellaneous plastic items||$3,795,596,000||+13.4%|
|30||Electrical converters/power units||$3,269,771,000||+2.3%|
|31||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$3,164,925,000||+8.1%|
|32||Fish fillets, pieces||$3,092,865,000||-11.7%|
|34||Miscellaneous meat (preserved/prepared)||$3,053,238,000||-3.6%|
|36||TV/radio/radar device parts||$2,979,858,000||-10.9%|
|37||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$2,968,041,000||-16.8%|
|39||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$2,758,548,000||-4.7%|
|40||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$2,729,106,000||-8.4%|
|42||Whole fish (frozen)||$2,694,357,000||-12%|
|43||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$2,631,681,000||+1.7%|
|45||Air or vacuum pumps||$2,443,688,000||-8.4%|
|46||Computer parts, accessories||$2,424,736,000||-23%|
|48||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$2,320,542,000||-5.9%|
|49||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$2,294,057,000||-7.6%|
|50||Other measuring/testing machines||$2,267,014,000||-10.6%|
|51||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$2,262,067,000||+1.1%|
|54||T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)||$2,139,764,000||-11.8%|
|55||Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)||$2,126,824,000||-17.5%|
|56||Fuel wood, wood chips, sawdust||$2,111,890,000||-20.5%|
|59||Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys||$2,054,300,000||-10.6%|
|60||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$2,034,985,000||-8.9%|
|61||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$1,976,262,000||-14%|
|62||Fresh or chilled beef||$1,961,365,000||-7.7%|
|65||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$1,901,227,000||-14.8%|
|66||Table games, bowling equipment||$1,897,741,000||+10.2%|
|67||Electric storage batteries||$1,860,937,000||-1.9%|
|68||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$1,843,436,000||+6.3%|
|74||Radar, radio communication items||$1,673,759,000||-7%|
|75||Wrist/pocket watches (no precious metal case)||$1,623,643,000||-23.3%|
|76||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$1,620,008,000||-4.2%|
|77||Electric motors, generators||$1,594,699,000||-13.8%|
|78||Unrecorded sound media||$1,590,143,000||+1.7%|
|79||Fish, caviar (preserved/prepared)||$1,568,422,000||-11.9%|
|80||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,567,111,000||-7.2%|
|83||Nickel matte, oxide sinters||$1,528,294,000||-2.1%|
|85||Piston engine parts||$1,510,860,000||-23.1%|
|87||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$1,463,842,000||-10.3%|
|89||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$1,451,249,000||-19%|
|91||Wood carpentry, builders' joinery||$1,418,475,000||-12.3%|
|92||Liquid pumps and elevators||$1,406,876,000||-10.6%|
|93||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$1,388,981,000||-9.2%|
|96||Women's clothing (knit or crochet)||$1,338,640,000||-13.4%|
|98||Crustaceans, molluscs (preserved/prepared)||$1,296,717,000||-10.1%|
These 100 imported goods were worth a subtotal of US$443.5 billion or 69.9% by value for all products imported into Japan during 2020.
See also Japan’s Top 10 Exports, Japan’s Top Trading Partners, Top Japanese Trade Balances and Japan’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Central Intelligence Agency, The World FactbookCountry Profiles. Accessed on February 13, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on February 13, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 13, 2021