Japan at a Glance

No matter your intention for travelling to Japan, by informing yourself beforehand you will be able to get more out of your stay. On this page you can find some succinct, useful information.

  • Basic Data
  • Economy
  • External Trade
  • Political System
  • Society
  • Natural Disasters
© iStock/Rat0007

Basic Data

Japan is the world’s fourth largest island nation. With a surface area of 378,000 square kilometers, it is a bit larger than Germany. Japan lies east of the Asian mainland on roughly the same longitude as North and South Korea. Its other neighbors are China, Taiwan and Russia. Japan consists of four main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Honshu occupies 61 percent of the country’s total land area, Hokkaido 22 percent, Kyushu eleven percent and Shikoku five percent. Besides these, there are over 6,800 smaller islands.

  • Surface area: 377,915 km2
  • Climate: subarctic (Hokkaido) to subtropical (Okinawa)
  • Population 2018: 126.4 million*
  • Population density 2018: 334.5 inhabitants per km2*
  • Population growth 2017: -0.2 percent*
  • Fertility rate 2016: 1.4 births per woman
  • Birth rate 2017: 7.7 births per 1,000 inhabitants* 
  • Age distribution 2017 in percent: 0–14 years: 12.8 | 15–24 years: 9.6 | 25–54 years: 37.5 | 55–64 years: 12.2 | 65 years and over: 27.9*
  • University graduates 2016: total 974,794 (graduations in total)
  • Agricultural produce: fish, poultry, pork, beef, diary products, vegetables, legumes, yams, taro, fruits, rice, wheat, barley, sugar cane, tea, flowers

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Japan at a Glance

© GTAI Wirtschaftsdaten kompakt 
* estimation/forecast

© iStock/TommL

Economy

No globally active business should overlook the dynamic economy of the Asian region. Japan is considered a key country; with a population of 127 million people, it is a leading economy with very high spending power. The country is also a leader in technology: Japanese firms are among the trendsetters for future technologies such as photovoltaic cells, carbon fibers, and batteries for electric vehicles or robotics.

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP, nominal) in billion yen: 2017: 546.608 | 2018: 557.006* | 2019: 570.532*
  • GDP per capita (nominal) in million yen: 2017: 4.3 | 2018: 4.4* | 2019: 4.5*
  • GDP distribution (percent) 2016: mining/industry 22.5 | trade/hospitality/hotels 16.9 | transport/logistics/communication 10.3 | construction 5.5 | agriculture/forestry/fishing industry 1.1 | others 43.8
  • GDP components (percent) 2016: personal consumption 55.9 | gross fixed capital formation 23.1 | government spending 19.8 | net exports 1.0 | inventory changes 0.2 
  • Economic growth as percentage change in GDP (real): 2015: 1.4 | 2016: 1.0 | 2017: 1.7 | 2018: 1.1* | 2019: 0.9*
  • Inflation rate (percent): 2017: 0.5 | 2018: 1.2* | 2019: 1.3*
  • Unemployment rate (percent): 2017: 2.9 | 2018: 2.9* | 2019: 2.9*

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Japan at a Glance

© GTAI Wirtschaftsdaten kompakt
* estimation/forecast

External Trade

  • External trade (in billion U.S. dollars, possible deviations due to rounding):
2015%2016%2017%
Imports625.6-23.0606.9-3.0 671.510.6
Exports624.9-9.5644.9 3.2698.18.2
Balance-0.738.026.6
  • Foreign trade ratio (exports and imports/GDP in percent): 2015: 28.5 | 2016: 25.3 | 2017: 28.1
  • Export ratio (exports/GDP in percent): 2015: 14.2 | 2016: 13.0 | 2017: 14.3
  • Imported goods by SITC (percentage of total imports) 2017: electronics 12.9 | chemical products 10.0 | crude oil 9.5 | food products 8.2 | machinery and equipment 6.6 | raw materials (excluding fuels) 6.3 | gas 6.0 | textiles/clothing 5.4 | electrical equipment 5.0 | coal 3.5 | medicines 3.5 | others 26.7
  • Exported goods by SITC (percentage of total exports) 2017: motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts 21.0 | machinery 19.0 | chemical products 10.2 | electronics 9.0 | electrical equipment 7.5 | iron and steel 4.2 | measuring and instrumentation 4.1 | other vehicles 2.6 | optics 1.8 | NF-metals 1.7 | others 19.2
  • Main import partners 2017 (percentage share) 2017: China (24.5), USA (11.0), Australia (5.8), South Korea (4.2), Saudi Arabia (4.1), Taiwan (3.8), Germany (3.5)
  • Main export partners (percentage share) 2017: USA (19.3), China (19.0), South Korea (7.6), Taiwan (5.8), Hong Kong (5.1), Thailand (4.2), Singapore (3.2)

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Japan at a Glance

© GTAI Wirtschaftsdaten kompakt
* estimation / forecast

© Wikimedia/Junpei Abe (CC BY 3.0)

Political System

Japan is a parliamentary democracy. The Emperor (tenno) is the symbolic head of state, but has no actual power to govern. The governing power is divided between the National Diet (kokkai), the Cabinet (naikaku) and the judiciary led by the Supreme Court (saiko-saibansho). The Cabinet is Japan's executive branch, at the head of which stands the Prime Minister, who determines the direction of Japan's domestic and international policy. The Prime Minister is also responsible for appointing the Cabinet. The Prime Minister is not directly determined by the electorate, but by the Diet. The Diet is Japan's legislative branch and thereby has the authority to issue new laws. The Diet consists of an upper house with 242 members and a lower house with 465. The majority of Diet members belong to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Besides the LDP, there are dozens of other parties in Japan, but none of them holds sufficient representation in the Diet to influence the political landscape to the same extent as the LDP.

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Japan at a Glance

© iStock/LawrenceKarn

Society

Various phenomena shape Japan's society. As in other industrialised countries, the ageing of society (koreika) has been a continuing theme of public debates since the 1970s, also because it raises concerns over the financing of the country's social security systems. Japan has one of the world's lowest fertility rates. At the same time, the number of seniors is increasing rapidly. Over a quarter of the population was aged over 65 as of 2017. By now, deaths outnumber births, and the population is declining quicker than in any other industrialised nation. In the coming decades, it is possible that Japan's population will drop from 127 million to less than 100 million.

The proportion of foreigners in Japan, approximately two percent of the population, is very low compared to other industrialised nations. Nonetheless, the figure has risen noticeably over the last 30 to 40 years. Among non-Asian nationals, Americans are the most numerous, with several tens of thousands of residents. The number of German residents lies at a few thousand.

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Japan at a Glance

© Cabinet Public Relations Office, Cabinet Secretariat

Natural Disasters

Four tectonic plates meet below Japan including three of the seven largest: the North America Plate in the north, the Eurasia Plate in the west, the Philippine Sea Plate in the south and the Pacific Plate in the east. Any movements of these plates lead to earthquakes and tsunamis. In fact, one fifth of the world's earthquakes occur in Japan. In addition, Japan lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a chain of volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean on three sides. The majority of the world's volcanic eruptions occur in this region. In Japan itself there are many dormant as well as several active volcanoes. About half of the approximately 110 active volcanoes are constantly monitored. Residents and visitors are warned and, for reasons of precaution, sometimes even evacuated when volcanic activity increases. Warnings and advices are issued by the Meteorological Office.

This likelihood of natural disasters has led Japan's residents being well prepared at all times. Schools and communities frequently hold disaster drills, and businesses are constantly developing new and innovative products such as escape pods for tsunamis to make survival possible.

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Japan at a Glance

Videos

Market Access

Marcus Schürmann, CEO of the AHK Japan, comments on the Japanese market in the series "IHK Konkret" of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Stuttgart (IHK Stuttgart). This video was recorded for the Japan Desk of the IHK Stuttgart. The language of the video is German.


Company Location: Japan

The AHK Japan video "Japan: schwierig, wichtig, möglich!" ("Japan: difficult, important, possible!") explains, why Japan is a attractive market. The language of the video is German.