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Japan overview

Relations with New Zealand

About Japan

Japan overview

Key facts

Official Name Japan
Land Area 377,923 sq km
Population 128.1 million (2010 census)
127.6 million (2012 estimate)
Population growth rate: -0.2% (2012 estimate)
Capital City Tokyo

Relations with New Zealand

Bilateral linksaq

Japan is a major bilateral and regional partner of New Zealand. Strong political ties are underpinned by a commonality of views, shared interest in stability, growth and development of the Asia Pacific region, and substantial trade, economic, tourism and people-to-people linkages. In 2012 celebrations were held to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. 

There are regular high-level contacts.  Prime Minister John Key visited Japan in September 2012 and met with then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.  New Zealand’s Prime Minister’s Fellowship programme for Japanese Dietmembers complements exchanges between the Japanese and New Zealand parliaments, both of which have Japan/New Zealand Parliamentary Friendship Groups.  Other recent high-level visits are recorded in the table below.

New Zealand is represented in Japan by an Embassy as well as NewZealand Trade and Enterprise and Tourism New Zealand offices in Tokyo.  New Zealand has honorary consuls in Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka and Sapporo. 

 High level visits

New Zealand to Japan Recent Visits
Minister of Trade
Hon Tim Groser
May 2014
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Hon Murray McCully
November 2013
Speaker of the House of Representatives
Rt Hon David Carter
October 2013
Minister of Trade
Hon Tim Groser
September 2013
Minister of Economic Development
Hon Steven Joyce
September 2013
Minister of Transport
Hon Gerry Brownlee
September 2013
Minister of Trade
Hon Tim Groser
April 2013
Minister of Finance
Hon Bill English
October 2012
Prime Minister
Rt Hon John Key
September 2012
Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery
Hon Gerry Brownlee
July 2012
Japan to New Zealand Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, July 2014

Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs
Norio Mitsuya

February 2014
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Fumio Kishida
June 2013
Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs
Joe Nakano
May 2012
Parliamentary Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs
Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi
September 2011

New Zealand is represented in Japan by an Embassy as well as New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Tourism New Zealand offices in Tokyo. New Zealand has honorary consuls in Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, Sendai and Sapporo.

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Trade and investment

Japan and New Zealand have a strong trading history founded on long-established contacts, reliability, strategic investment, and high-quality products.  Trade is complementary, with New Zealand supplying industrial inputs and food products, and Japan exporting finished industrial goods and machinery. 

Bilateral trade statistics

Year Ending December 2013 (NZD)



Market share (Japan)

Rank (Japan)

Market share (NZ)

Rank (NZ)

NZ Exports to Japan

$2.94 billion

0.32% of Japanese imports

35th largest import market

5.94% of NZ exports

4th largest export market

Major Exports

Aluminium, wood and wood pulp, dairy products (cheese, casein), fruit and nuts, meat

NZ Imports from Japan (CIF)

$2.99 billion

0.31% of Japanese exports

31st largest export market

6.38% of NZ imports

4th largest import market

Major Imports

Vehicles and vehicle parts, petroleum (non-crude) oils and other machinery and parts (including photography/cinematography equipment)

Services exports between the two countries make a significant contribution to bilateral trade, particularly in the education and tourism sectors.  New Zealand and Japan enjoy healthy two way flows of investment with Japan being New Zealand’s fourth largest investor. 

New Zealand’s endeavours toward trade liberalisation with Japan have made welcome progress.  In mid-2013, Japan and New Zealand commenced negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which also involves ASEAN countries, Australia, India and the Republic of Korea.  In July 2013, Japan was welcomed to the TPP negotiating table by the existing 11 TPP participants.  For further information about TPP, including Japan’s involvement, visit the MFAT website (TPP Talk). 

New Zealand and Japan progress bilateral business relationships through two business forums:


Cultural and people-to-people linkages

The bilateral relationship is underpinned by substantial people-to-people exchanges.  Forty-three New Zealand cities and towns have active sister city relationships with Japan.  There are almost as many friendship societies.  Grassroots connections are promoted by:

A variety of events were held to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2012, including a New Zealand Fair in tsunami-affected Miyagi prefecture, Japan; a special Sister Cities New Zealand Conference in Wellington; and a lecture by Japanese film director/producer Yoko Narahashi (Emperor, Waiting for the Sun, The Last Samurai) in Wellington.



Links between New Zealand and Japanese educational institutions are wide-ranging. Japan is New Zealand's fourth largest source of overseas students (after China, Korea and India) and New Zealand is a popular destination for Japanese students of English.

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Science and technology

Japan is one of New Zealand's priority science partners. This is reflected in a Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement signed in October 2009 and the establishment of a Japan-New Zealand Science Commission. Science links have strengthened over past years with the development of joint research projects, scientist exchange programmes and information-sharing.

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New Zealand's defence and security relationship with Japan has grown in recent years, reflecting common security concerns and interests. Engagement includes defence talks, high-level military visits, ship visits, New Zealand Defence Force participation in multilateral seminars hosted by Japan, and sharing of expertise in areas of mutual interest such as peacekeeping. A Memorandum of Intent covering defence cooperation was concluded in 2013.

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Japan and New Zealand are working increasingly closely in the development assistance sphere, including recently in Afghanistan (Bamyan airport upgrade), the Cook Islands (renewable energy), Samoa (education), and disaster risk management and other activities across the Pacific.

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Multilateral linkages

In the multilateral arena New Zealand and Japan share similar views across a spectrum of global issues.  These include:


Japan has been a centralised state since the fourth century.  For much of its history the country was ruled by a Shogunate, or military government, in the name of the Emperor.  In 1630 the Tokugawa Shogunate closed Japan to all foreigners except Dutch and Chinese traders permitted in Nagasaki.  The United States (US) sent Commodore Matthew Perry to negotiate a Treaty of Amity in 1854.  This treaty established trade and diplomatic relations.  Similar treaties were soon concluded with other countries, leading to Japan’s opening to the West.

The Tokugawa Shogunate collapsed in 1867.  The new ruling elite established a modern nation, adopting modern industries, technologies and political institutions.  Japan’s military was also modernised and strengthened.  These changes became known as the “Meiji Restoration.”

In the first part of the 20th century, Japanese politics became increasingly dominated by the military, whose hard line was bolstered by public reaction against the acute economic difficulties brought by the Great Depression.  Japanese military expansion in China after 1931, the signing of the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940, and occupation of southern Indo-China in 1941 led to increasing friction with Western powers.  Faced with a US-imposed oil embargo, Japan launched the Pacific war with the US (and its allies) through a surprise attack against US military bases at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii in 1941.

Japan surrendered unconditionally on 15 August 1945 after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The allied occupation that followed introduced political, social and economic reforms.  Japan regained full independence in 1952.  By 1960 economic growth was gathering pace under cover of the Security Alliance with the US and supported by policies instituted by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in close consultation with the bureaucracy and business.  Japan continued to prosper in the 1970s and 1980s, until the “bubble economy”, characterised by overvalued asset prices, deflated in 1990.

Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

On 11 March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and an ensuing tsunami struck northern Honshu.  The official death toll was over 16,000, while more than 3000 remain missing.  No New Zealanders were amongst the casualties.   The tsunami also triggered a major nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which led to the evacuation of areas around the plant.

New Zealand assistance in the aftermath of the disaster included a 54-member USAR team who worked for about one week in Minami-Sanriku (Miyagi Prefecture); financial contributions to the Japanese Red Cross from New Zealand government, and private sector and New Zealand NGOs’ work with partners in Japan. 

The Tohoku region accounted for about 8% of Japan’s GDP prior to the disasters.  The tsunami’s impact upon the region’s vehicle component and electronic manufacturing sectors was felt well beyond Japan’s borders – demonstrating Japan’s significant place in global supply chains.  But recovery has been swift – by the first anniversary, Tohoku production had returned to pre-earthquake levels.  

Japan’s Reconstruction Promotion Council, which monitors the progress of reconstruction against an agreed roadmap has reported good progress in the recovery of key infrastructure.  More persistent are the energy supply problems resulting from the Fukushima nuclear accident, which have resulted in the shut-down of all Japan’s nuclear reactors while their safety is confirmed. 

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Political situation

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) ruled Japan for most of the postwar period.  After being defeated by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in 2009, the LDP won a landslide victory in the Lower House election of December 2012.  With the support of coalition partner New Komeito Party, the LDP has a super (two-thirds) majority in the Lower House.  Following a strong showing in Upper House elections in July 2013, the LDP is positioned strongly to push ahead with the Abe administration’s goals for economic revitalisation and reform.

Head of State: Emperor AKIHITO (since 7 January 1989)

National Legislature: 480 member House of Representatives elected four yearly.  Last election December 2012.  Next election before December 2016. Upper House: 242 member House of Councillors elected for six year terms (half elected every three years).  Last election July 2013.  Next election July 2016

Government: Coalition: Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito Party (junior partner, lead by Natsuo YAMAGUCHI)

Head of Government: Prime Minister Shinzo ABE (LDP) (since December 2012)

Selected Ministers:

Opposition Political Parties:

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) (leader: Banri KAIEDA), Japan Restoration Party (leader: Shintarō ISHIHARA),  Your Party (leader: Yoshimi WATANABE),  The Communist Party of Japan, Tomorrow Party of Japan, Social Democratic Party, People’s New Party.

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Economic situation

Japan is the world’s third largest economy (accounting for 8.4% of global GDP in 2011).  Before the worldwide economic downturn Japan had emerged from a sustained period of low growth and deflation to a recovery driven by exports – especially to China.  But the global downturn has brought a fall in overseas demand and the economy faces a number of other challenges, including an aging and shrinking population, unprecedented public debt levels (over 200% of GDP) and persistent deflation.  Increased imports of LNG and crude oil put Japan’s traditional trade surplus economy under pressure following the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Nevertheless with an affluent population of 127 million (and boasting the second largest number of millionaire households in the world), the Japanese consumer market is one of the world’s largest.  The Japanese economy is rules-based and transparent.  High investment in research and development helps ensure the technological prowess of Japanese firms. 

Japanese Economy

  2013 (Year to December) 2014 Projections
Nominal GDP USD4,904.5 billion / JPY 505 trillion USD4,787.9 billion / JPY493 trillion
GDP per capita (PPP) USD36,325 USD37,695
Real GDP growth 1.7% 1.7%
Current Account USD53 billion USD92 billion
Inflation 1.6% 2.0%
Goods Exports USD693 billion USD727 billion
Goods Imports USD774 billion USD779 billion

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Foreign relations

Over the past decade, key foreign policy issues for Japan have included contributing to UN peacekeeping operations, seeking permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and adopting a higher profile in regional affairs.  Japan is the world’s fifth largest donor country of official development assistance (ODA).  Japan is an active member of regional fora such as APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN+3 (Japan, China, and Korea), East Asia Summit (EAS), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

While the Japan-US alliance remains the “cornerstone” of Japan’s foreign policy and national security, Japan’s extensive relationships with China and the ROK continue to be affected by historical issues relating to Japan’s colonial and wartime legacy and territorial disputes.  Japan does not have formal diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and has expressed concerns about its nuclear and missile programmes and its abduction of Japanese citizens.

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Travel advice

For the latest Japanese travel advisory please refer to the Japan page of the Ministry’s Safetravel website [external link].

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 08 October 2014 12:01 NZDT