Japan’s International Relations

In this essay I will verify that Japan’s geographical location has influenced its international relations in a number of ways. I intend to show this by using information gathered from websites, books and articles.

Japan’s land formation is extremely complex. This means that, due to its hilly land masses, covered in mountainous regions, volcanoes and earthquake prone tectonic plates it is a very difficult place to a.) build a house and b.) cultivate rice. As the Japanese public are amongst the largest consumers of rice in the world these difficulties with cultivation could cause problems for Japan’s economy. To protect it’s domestic rice sales, the Japanese government imposed an import tax of 450% on foreign rice. In order to justify this tax to their people the Japanese government lied about the quality of the imported rice. Japanese rice is unique, as a genus it is different from Thai jasmine and basmati. In times before genetic engineering, short grain rice was only indigenous to Italy and Japan.

Despite the import tax on foreign rice, Japan is the worlds largest food importer, importing foods in large part from China, U.S.A, Russia, Thailand and Korea. Although at one time Japan was a self-sustaining country regarding food the subsequent change is largely due to a decrease in agricultural production. Major goods exported from Japan are high tech products such as automobiles, computers and other electronic items. An average of 74% of Japan’s exports are electronic goods.

Whilst these types of exports are lucrative for Japan’s economy, they are damaging the environment. As Japan is host mainly to the chemical and heavy machinery manufacturing industries pollution levels are rising rapidly. This air pollution causes acid rain, the acidification of lakes and reservoirs is degrading water quality and threatening aquatic life. This requires Japan to import a greater amount of seafood from its neighbours. These combined factors ensure that Japan maintains positive international relations due to its heavy reliance on the world community for imports and exports.

Since the end of the war Japan’s international relations with the U.S.A has improved dramatically and is particularly strong at the moment. Although this is good for Japan’s trade, it causes Japan to be viewed as American ‘lackeys’ and co-conspirators by other Asian nations. Concerns have arisen recently regarding the imbalance in trade between Japan and America. This imbalance has become so prominent there is a threat that it may weaken the worlds economy. It is a possibility that this trade imbalance could lead to the resentment of Japan by other leading industrial nations. This is a major concern for Japan as this may lead to restrictive trade measures being imposed. Allowing U.S military bases onto Japanese soil has also been looked upon unfavourably by its neighbours North Korea and Russia both of whom have turbulent relations with Japan.

Although Japan’s relations with North Korea are improving this has not been helped by North Korea’s refusal over recent years to return a large number of Japanese citizens who were kidnapped in 1978. These citizens were kidnapped by North Korea in order to teach Japanese to North Koreans. They were given Korean names, forced to live in Korean society and forbidden to tell anyone even their children their true nationality. This has outraged the Japanese population. The Japanese government suspect there have been dozens of abductions, but North Korea have only admitted to thirteen kidnappings. So far five Japanese citizens have been returned to Japan. This issue has been continuing for a number of years and places a strain on the international relations between these countries.
A key issue in Japan’s international relations being influenced by geography is the Kurile island conflict. This is a dispute between Russia and Japan over the sovereignty of four islands which are currently owned by Russia. The dispute is as to whether these islands currently under Russian rule were acquired by the treaty of Portsmouth or were owned by Japan prior to the treaty’s enforcement. The Russian government made an offer to Japan of returning two islands Shikotan and Habomai in 1956, however due to government changes in Japan at this time demands were hardened and requests for Kunashiri and Etorofu were made. This situation is very difficult as the issue is currently unresolved.

In conclusion it is clear that environmental and geographical issues have had a strong impact on Japans international relations. I have looked at how land formation has influenced imports and exports which then effects pollution levels ( factories producing chemical and electronic goods). I have discussed the imbalance of trade between Japan and the U.S.A, and how Japans global position has caused the current conflicts with Russia and North Korea. This confirms some of the issues on how Japan’s international relations are influenced by it’s geography.


Allinson .G. D. (1997) Japan’s postwar history UCL press

Curtis .G.L (1993) Japan’s foreign policy after the cold war: coping with change. M.E Sharpe

Reischauer .E.O. & Jansen .M.B.(1995) The Japanese today: change and continuity. the belknap press of Harvard University press.

International internship programs (2001) Japan at a glance. Kondansha International Ltd.