Last updated in March 2014


Germany and Japan have a tradition of friendly bilateral relations. Over the past decades, cooperation on foreign policy has intensified. 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

As G8 and G20 partners, Germany and Japan have shared values and are linked by political, economic and social ties. The two countries work together closely as partners assuming global responsibility – on issues relating to disarmament and non-proliferation as well as in Afghanistan and in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia. On reform of the United Nations Security Council, there is also close political coordination with Brazil and India within the framework of the G4 group. Furthermore, economic, cultural and scientific cooperation between two leading economic powers offers considerable development potential. After China, Japan is Germany’s principal economic and trading partner in Asia. Recently, the number of visits to Japan by German parliamentarians has increased again. By contrast, visits to Germany by Japanese politicians have been strongly limited by their strict obligation to attend sessions of Parliament. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Kishida (LDP) travelled to Germany in February 2014 for bilateral talks with Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the sidelines of the 50th Munich Security Conference. The talks focused on the territorial disputes in the South China and East China Seas. Bilateral talks at state secretary level are held regularly, most recently in October 2013 in Tokyo.

The principal multilateral forums for cooperation with Japan are the United Nations, the G8 and G20 groups and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summits. In addition, the European Union is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on security policy issues in Asia. The ongoing negotiations on both an EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement and a comprehensive political framework agreement are designed to further enhance the quality of the European Union’s strategic partnership of values with Japan.

Mutual visits

Mutual visits at senior and top level are frequent. The most recent top-level visit to Japan was the October 2011 trip by then Federal President Wulff. The Japanese Emperor Akihito last paid a state visit to Germany in 1993. Crown Prince Naruhito was in Berlin in June 2011. Former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder visited Tokyo in December 2013.

The two countries’ foreign ministers meet regularly on the sidelines of multilateral conferences. Former Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s visit to Japan on 2 April 2011 underscored German sympathy and solidarity with Japan in the wake of the 11 March 2011 earthquake disaster. Together with his Cabinet colleague Federal Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Niebel, he visited Japan again in July 2012 to attend the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan. Then Japanese Foreign Minister Matsumoto visited Germany twice in 2011, to attend the Munich Security Conference and the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in Berlin. In February 2014, Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida attended the 50th Munich Security Conference.

German Bundestag members also regularly visit Japan. Recent visits include those by Chairman of the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group Volker Kauder, then Foreign Policy Spokesman of the SPD Parliamentary Group Rolf Mützenich, Nuclear Policy Spokeswoman of the Alliance 90/The Greens Parliamentary Group Sylvia Kotting-Uhl and former Federal Minister of Economics and Technology Michael Glos.

Baden-Württemberg’s Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann, who at the time was also German Bundesrat President, visited Japan in May 2013, where he was received by Crown Prince Naruhito. During a visit to Fukushima Prefecture, he was able to gain a personal impression of the progress made so far in rebuilding the region that was hit by an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011.

The Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of Defence and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research maintain an exchange of officials with their respective Japanese partners. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs holds regular senior-level consultations with its Japanese counterpart. The Federal Ministry of Justice conducts annual consultations on legal policy at state secretary level with the Japanese Ministry of Justice. There is also a regular exchange of judges on work experience and information visits.

Major bilateral bodies

The Japanese-German Center Berlin (JGCB) plays a special role in fostering relations between the two countries. The JGCB is engaged in a wide range of activities in the economic, scientific, academic, cultural and political spheres. It was set up in 1985 on the initiative of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl and is co-funded by the Federal Government, the Berlin Senate and the Japanese government.

Apart from organising high-level symposiums, lectures, exhibitions and conferences in Japan and Germany, the JGCB serves as the German secretariat of the German-Japanese Forum (GJF). Meeting once a year alternately in Japan and Germany (most recently in October 2013 in Tokyo), the GJF, which makes proposals to both governments on the future course of bilateral relations and the shared assumption of global responsibility, includes independent, prominent representatives from politics, business and industry, science, academia, culture and the media.

Economic relations

The global economy is struggling, given the difficult situation in the euro zone and the unresolved U.S. debt crisis. On the domestic front, too, Japan is still coping with the aftermath of the 11 March 2011 disaster. The impact of the events in Japan on global production, world trade and German-Japanese economic relations appears to be less severe than initially feared. After a GDP increase of 2 per cent in 2012, 2013 saw further economic growth, though at 1.2 per cent this fell short of expectations.

After a more than 30 per cent slump in trade between Germany and Japan in 2009, bilateral trade grew in 2012 for the fourth year running. Japanese imports from Germany were worth approximately USD 17.1 billion in 2012, compared with USD 15.1 billion in the previous year, an increase of 13.2 per cent. Japanese exports to Germany were worth USD 21.8 billion in 2012, compared with USD 23.6 billion in the previous year, a decline of 7.6 per cent. In terms of German imports, Japan ranked 16th among Germany’s foreign trading partners in 2012, and in terms of exports 15th.

In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, Japan comes four places behind Germany, ranking 24th out of the 185 countries listed. However, among the industrialised nations Japan scores more poorly than in the previous year in the categories Starting a Business (114th place) and Paying Taxes (127th place).

Though Japan’s share of world trade, at 4.6 per cent, is less than that of Germany (9 per cent), it still ranks fourth worldwide. These comparatively low figures do not, however, properly reflect Japan’s importance for world trade and German industrial production, many German products being reliant on the supply of components from high-tech Japan. These are practically irreplaceable because the more complex the primary products, the harder it is to find alternative suppliers. In some sectors, e.g. electronic control and memory modules, Japanese companies are world leaders.

In the financial sector, the two countries’ interdependence is relatively weak. In 2011, a stir was caused by the Japanese government’s purchase of some EUR 3 billion worth of EFSF bonds and its announcement that it might subscribe for further EFSF bonds. In addition, to support the euro the Japanese government has significantly increased its IMF contributions.

Scientific relations

An intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in science and technology has been in place since 1974. Government-funded bilateral cooperation currently focuses on marine research, geosciences, life sciences, basic research in physics and environmental research. In addition to the intergovernmental agreement, there are at present more than 300 cooperation accords between German and Japanese higher education institutions as well as numerous project and cooperation agreements between non-academic research institutes such as those belonging to the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association and the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and their Japanese partner organisations. In addition, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) opened its own office in Tokyo in February 2013. Cooperation also encompasses the regular exchange of scientists and researchers under scholarship programmes run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and projects co-funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

To increase the visibility of Germany’s contribution to International Cooperation on Science and Technology, a German House of Science and Innovation (DWIH) was also set up in Tokyo under the Foreign Science Policy Initiative (the Federal Foreign Office’s contribution to the Federal Government’s Strategy for the Internationalisation of Science and Research presented in February 2008). Consortium heads of the pilot project in Tokyo are the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (DIHKJ) and the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK). On 6 October 2010, the first German-Japanese Science and Innovation Forum was held in Tokyo, featuring a keynote presentation by Nobel Prize winner Harald zur Hausen. Another similar major event was the German Science Days held at the University of Kyoto on 25 and 26 October 2013. In 2011 and 2012, the DWIH held a series of German-Japanese workshops on important areas of bilateral cooperation (e.g. nanomaterials for use in the energy sector, in materials science and to treat neurodegenerative diseases and on healthy ageing) as well as supporting study trips to and workshops in Japan organised by German higher education institutions. The German Innovation Award/Gottfried Wagener Prize, which was created in 2008 and is sponsored by twelve technology-oriented German companies with branches in Tokyo, aims to establish sustainable networks and partnerships between German companies and Japanese research institutes and higher education institutions. Former Federal Minister of Education and Research Annette Schavan was the award’s patron. The jury is headed by Professor Dr Masuo Aizawa of the Council for Science and Technology Policy (CSTP).

Cultural exchange

Cultural exchange between Germany and Japan is intensive and wide-ranging. The close-knit cultural network including more than 60 Japanese-German societies in Japan, 50 German-Japanese societies in Germany, 450 bilateral higher education partnerships, some 250 German-speaking lecturers, currently 66 town twinning arrangements (including five prefecture partnerships) and the three branch offices of the Goethe Institute – in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto – forms the basis for a wide range of events. After the conclusion of the anniversary year marking the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1861 under the motto “150 Years of Friendship BetweenGermany andJapan” in early summer 2012, the intensified cultural relations between the two countries continued with an attractive, attention-grabbing programme of events.

Numerous concerts given by leading German orchestras and soloists, including the world-class performance by Anne-Sophie Mutter, and top-notch exhibitions mounted by German museums and collections,such as the much-acclaimed retrospective of the work of photographer Andreas Gursky shown at the National Art Center, Tokyo, give substance to the artistic exchange between the two countries.A particular highlight was the German Festival in October 2013. The event, which was held for the second time, drew nearly 20,000 visitors who took advantage of the wide-ranging German cultural programme – and in particular the culinary offerings.

The 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty was celebrated in Japan with numerous high-profile projects. The aim was to convey to the Japanese public how this has led in particular to the success story of a peaceful, stable and flourishing Europe.

The Goethe Institutes in Tokyo and Osaka organise cultural and information programmes, and the Goethe Institute in Kyoto (Villa Kamogawa) has offered an Artist-in-Residence Programme since the spring of 2011. In addition, there are the events organised by the German East Asia Society (OAG) in Tokyo and Kobe. Japan’s principal cultural intermediaries in Germany are the Japanese Cultural Institute in Cologne and the jointly run Japanese-German Center Berlin (JGCB).

There is a lively academic exchange between German and Japanese universities as part of numerous academic partnerships. Germany’s engagement in the academic sphere includes a German-funded Centre for German and European Studies (since 2000) at the prestigious University of Tokyo and an Environmental Studies programme at the University of Beppu on Kyushu Island (since 2006), which was taken over from the University of Trier. Since the early 1990s, the total number of Japanese students in Germany has increased by around 50 per cent, to 2,100. The number of German students in Japan also rose in 2010, despite the language barrier, to approximately 550. Following a temporary decline due to the events of 11 March 2011, the number of German students in Japan has risen again of late and is now nearly back to the former level. The DAAD’s Tokyo office oversees a large number of scholarship programmes for the Japanese side as well and represents the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which has in Japan one of the world’s largest and most active alumni networks. The Alumniportal Deutschland, which was set up in autumn 2008, serves as a network, contact exchange and knowledge broker all rolled into one.

Of particular importance in promoting academic exchange is the well-endowed Philipp Franz von Siebold Award, worth EUR 50,000, which has been presented personally by Germany’s Federal President every year since 1979. The most recent award winner (2013) is the German scholar Prof. Dr Aeka Ishihara of the University of Tokyo.

The lively school and youth exchange between the two countries has been institutionalised since the 1970s. It is organised under the auspices of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (nearly 10,000 young people have taken part in the Junior Sports Club Simultaneous Exchange since 1974) by the Japanese-German and German-Japanese societies as part of the town twinning arrangements and in cooperation with the Japanese-German Center Berlin (the Mercedes-Benz-funded Takenoko Fund for German-Japanese Student Exchange and the Robert Bosch Foundation-funded Young Leaders Forum).

German films and the regularly held German Film Festival, which is organised by the Goethe Institute in Tokyo, are highly popular. The European Film Festival also regularly features a German film. This year’s German contribution was the impressive “Germany From Above”, which was specially subtitled for the Japanese audience, with which it proved a great favourite. Japan is the world’s second largest film market and offers great opportunities for exporting German films. Film festivals in Germany include the Japanese Film Festival Nippon Connection, which is held in Frankfurt am Main. Since 2000, this annual festival has been organised by the non-profit association Nippon Connection e.V. A Berlinale in Sendai – the result of cooperation between the city of Sendai and the Berlinale organisers – was held for the first time in 2013. The festival, which focuses on films aimed at young people, is to be further developed and made an annual event.

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