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flag of Japan.


Relations with New Zealand

Japan overview

Key facts


Official Name Japan
Land Area 377,923 sq km
Population 128.1 million (2010 census), Population growth rate: +0.05% (2010 census)
Capital City Tokyo
Religion The majority of the population observe both Shinto and Buddhism
Language Japanese
Currency Yen (¥)
Exchange Rate US$1 = ¥76.80 (as at 17 January 2012), NZ$1 = ¥60.95 (as at 17 January 2012)

Economic (2011 estimates)


Japanese Economy

  December 2011 statistics Trend/2012 projections
GDP (PPP) US$ 4.39 trillion USD$4.48 trillion
GDP per capita US$ 34,000 US$ 34,900
Real GDP growth -0.7% 2.4%
Exports USD$800.8 billion USD$842 billion
Imports USD$794.7 billion USD$824.9 billion
Current account $USD125 billion surplus $2.5 billion deficit
Inflation -0.3% 0.0%

New Zealand Trade with Japan (year ending June 2011)


Bilateral trade statistics Year ending December 2012 (NZD)


Market share

Rank Japan Market share (NZ) Rank (NZ)
NZ Exports to Japan NZ$3.21 billion    0.34% of Japanese imports 35th largest import market 6.98% of NZ exports* 4th largest export market
Major Exports

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

*No major impact from 2011 Earthquakes
Japan Exports to NZ NZ$3.05 billion   0.25% of Japanese exports 34th largest export market 6.46% of NZ imports 4th largest import market
Major Exports Vehicles and vehicle parts, petroleum (non-crude) oils and other machinery and parts (including photography/ cinematography equipment)

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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 is 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 reported good progress in the recovery of key infrastructure by June 2012.  More persistent are the energy supply problems resulting from the Fukushima nuclear accident. 

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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.  This allows it to pass legislation in a re-vote even if such legislation is defeated by the Upper House, where no party currently has a clear majority. 

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

National Legislature: Lower House: 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 2010. Next election July 2013.

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

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. 

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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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Relations with New Zealand

Bilateral links

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. Last year, 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.  top of page


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. 

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 has been pursuing the goal of a free trade agreement with Japan.  Japan has expressed interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA negotiation, but has not sought officially to join.  For further information about TPP, visit the MFAT website (TPP Talk).  Japan and New Zealand have both indicated they will participate in negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) involving East Asian and ASEAN countries, India and Australia.

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

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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.

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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. top of page


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. In March 2012, a Japan-New Zealand Disaster Management Workshop took place in Wellington at which New Zealand and Japanese scientists shared knowledge on earthquake preparedness.top of page



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.   


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:

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Travel advice

The Safetravel website (www.safetravel.govt.nz/destinations/japan) has comprehensive travel information including advice on the safety of travel to various countries.  Enquiries may be directed to Consular Division at the following numbers: 

Phone:  494-8500;Fax:  494 8506.

[Please note that visitors to the disputed Northern Territories (Southern Kurile Islands) controlled by Russia may experience difficulty entering Japan.]

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High Level Visits from New Zealand to Japan

Prime Minister John Key September 2012
Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee July 2012
Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully June 2012
Senior Parliamentary Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs John Hayes May 2012
Minister of Commerce and Broadcasting Craig Foss May 2012l

Japan to New Zealand

Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Joe Nakano May 2012
Parliamentary Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi September 2011 
Takatane Kiuchi (DPJ Parliamentarian) July 2011


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Page last updated: Monday, 09 December 2013 13:00 NZDT