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Japan’s Economy: Why This Small Country Is the 4th Largest Export Economy in the World

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Japan Economy Overview

Japan is a significant export economy and exports in excess of $700 billion of goods annually, making it the fourth-largest export economy in the world.

The country enjoys a positive trade balance of $59.2 billion, with total annual exports of $713 billion exceeding imports of $653 billion.

This guide provides an overview of Japan’s economy, including the country’s primary imports and exports.

Japan’s Top Exports

Here is a breakdown of the most important products exported by Japan, both commodities and other notable exports.

Commodity Exports

  • Refined petroleum – $9.76 billion
  • Hot-rolled iron – $8.35 billion
  • Gold – $7.29 billion
  • Flat flat-rolled steel – $4.79 billion
  • Refined copper – $4.13 billion

If you’re interested in trading some of these commodities, you can jump to our list of recommended regulated brokers in at the end of the page.

Other Notable Exports

  • Cars – $103 billion
  • Vehicle Parts – $36.3 billion
  • Integrated Circuits – $30.9 billion
  • Machinery Having Individual Functions – $23.1 billion
  • Photo Lab Equipment – $11.9B

Top Export Destinations

Japan’s Top Imports

Commodity Imports

  • Crude petroleum – $72.3 billion
  • Coal briquettes – $21.9 billion
  • Petroleum gas – $19.3 billion
  • Refined petroleum – $16.5 billion
  • Copper ore – $9.19 billion

Japan imports a total of $653 billion of goods annually making it the fifth-largest importer in the world.

Other Notable Imports

  • Broadcasting Equipment – $18 billion
  • Integrated Circuits – $17.9 billion
  • Packaged Medicaments – $13.8 billion
  • Cars – $12 billion
  • Computers – $11.2 billion

Did you know? Japan imports about $1.75 billion of models and stuffed animals each year.

GDP of Japan

The GDP of Japan was $4.97 trillion in 2018, with a GDP per capita of $39,290. In the 10 years preceding 2018, Japan’s GDP showed a negative growth of -1.32%. During the same period, the GDP per capita declined by -0.13%.

According to the Economic Complexity Index (ECI), Japan has the #1 most complex economy in the world.

Details on Japan’s Imports/Exports


Singapore is the biggest gold export destination for Japan with 24% of its output (worth $7.29 billion annually) heading there.

Japan is ranked #11 and accounts for 2.39% of world gold exports. Switzerland leads by some margin with 20.9% of the market share worth $305 billion.

Refined Petroleum

Global refined petroleum exports are in excess of $504 billion each year and Japan ranks as the 21st biggest exporter.

Forecasts predict Japan’s overall refining capacity will increase by 5% over the next five years.


Japan is the seventh-largest global exporter of silver with a market share of 6.6%, compared to Mexico, who is the largest silver exporting country with a 9.89% market share.

From 2017 to 2018, the United Kingdom ($652 million) and China ($381 million) had the fastest-growing silver export markets.


Japan is the second-largest importer of copper ore in the world, accounting for 14.3% of global copper ore imports. China takes the lead by importing almost half (49.4%) of all copper ore.

The world’s top copper ore export markets are Chile ($18.6 billion), Peru ($13 billion), Australia ($4.56 billion), Indonesia ($4.24 billion), and Canada ($2.8 billion). Japan does not feature under the top 20 exporters.

Iron and Steel

Japan is the second-largest iron and steel exporter after China, who dominates the $434 billion global market with a share of 11%.

The country exports steel to more than 190 countries and territories, with China, Thailand, South Korea, and India counting among its largest export partners for iron and steel.

Interesting Facts About Japan

  • Japan’s government is a unitary parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, which means they have both an Emperor and a Prime Minister.
  • Manufacturing and communication are Japan’s major industries. This is because the hilly and rugged land does not lend itself to agricultural production.
  • Japanese people consume more fish than any other country in the world.

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Interested in trading gold, steel, copper, and other important Japanese commodities? Start your research with reviews of these regulated brokers available in .

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Sources and Further Reading

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All currency is reported in US dollars.

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