Last updated in November 2016
Germany and Japan have a tradition of friendly bilateral relations. Over the past decades, international cooperation between the two countries has intensified. In 2011, Germany and Japan celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
As democratic countries based on the rule of law and members of the G7 and G20, Germany and Japan have shared values and are linked by wide-ranging 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 or South Sudan 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 between Germany and Japan (along with Brazil and India) within the framework of the G4 group. Furthermore, economic, cultural and scientific and academic cooperation between the two economic powers offers considerable development potential. After China, Japan is Germany’s principal economic and trading partner in Asia.
German parliamentarians make regular visits to Japan. By contrast, visits to Germany by Japanese politicians are limited by their strict obligation to attend the relatively long sessions of Parliament. Nevertheless, there have recently been numerous high-level visits in both directions: Japan’s Foreign Minister Kishida travelled to Germany for bilateral talks with Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier in September 2014 and to attend the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in 2015; Japanese Prime Minister Abe was in Germany in May 2016 for talks with Federal Chancellor Merkel in preparation for the G7 Summit in Japan; Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier travelled to Tokyo in April 2014 and, after holding bilateral talks there, attended the 8th Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) Ministerial Meeting in Hiroshima. During her bilateral visit to Japan on 9 and 10 March 2015 prior to the G7 Summit in Germany, Federal Chancellor Merkel met with the Japanese Emperor, Prime Minister Abe and opposition leader Okada and held talks with researchers, Japanese female executives and German company representatives, among others. In 2016, Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier attended the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Federal Chancellor Merkel the G7 Summit in Japan. In November 2016, Federal President Gauck visited Japan, meeting with the Japanese Emperor and Crown Prince Couple, Prime Minister Abe, opposition leader Renho and other politicians as well as researchers and German and Japanese company representatives.
The principal multilateral forums for German cooperation with Japan are the United Nations, the G7 and G20 Groups and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summits. Japan is a partner country of the OSCE and NATO. In addition, the European Union is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in which issues relating to security policy in Asia are discussed. 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 with Japan based on shared values.
Bilateral forums and 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. The JGCB celebrated the 30th anniversary of its founding in 2015.
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 Germany and Japan (most recently in October 2016 in Berlin), the GJF, which makes proposals to both governments on the future course of bilateral relations and the shared assumption of global responsibility, includes independent, representatives from politics, business, science, academia, culture and the media.
Following four consecutive years of steady growth in trade between Germany and Japan, bilateral trade declined slightly in 2014, to EUR 35.9 billion, from EUR 36.6 billion in 2013. In 2015, however, bilateral trade grew again, to EUR 37.2 billion.
In 2015, Japanese imports from Germany were worth EUR17 billion, compared with EUR 16.9 billion in 2014. Japanese exports to Germany stood at EUR 20.2 billion in 2015, compared with EUR 19 billion in the previous year, an increase of 6.5 per cent. As a supplier of German imports, Japan ranked 15th among Germany’s foreign trading partners in 2015, and 19th as a buyer of German exports.
Though Japan’s share of world trade, at 4 per cent, is less than that of Germany (7.1 per cent, as of 2014), it still ranks third 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 country 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.
Science and research
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 Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the Leibniz Association, 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). In 2015, the German Rectors’ Conference signed a framework agreement with its three Japanese partners.
To increase the visibility of Germany’s contribution to international cooperation on science and research, a German House of Science and Innovation (DWIH) was also set up in Tokyo under the Foreign Science Policy Initiative. 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). Several times a year, the DWIH co-organises symposiums and workshops with scientific partners in Germany and Japan. In addition, it supports study trips to Japan and workshops there for German students and academics. The German Innovation Award/Gottfried Wagener Prize, which was created in 2008 and is sponsored by nine technology-oriented German companies with research facilities in Japan as well as the DWIH, aims to establish sustainable networks and partnerships between German companies and Japanese research institutes and higher education institutions. The Federal Minister of Education and Research is the award’s patron. The jury is headed by Professor Dr Masuo Aizawa of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST).
Culture and education
Cultural exchange between Germany and Japan is intensive and wide-ranging. The close-knit cultural network including 58 Japanese-German societies in Japan, 50 German-Japanese societies in Germany, 630 bilateral higher education partnerships, some 250 German-speaking lecturers, currently 53 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.
Numerous concerts given by leading German orchestras and soloists and world-class exhibitions mounted by German museums and collections give substance to the artistic exchange between the two countries.
There have been recent guest appearances in Japan by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Hamburg Ballet and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.
The Goethe Institutes in Tokyo and Osaka offer German courses, 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 April 2016, the Goethe Institute Tokyo opened a branch in Yokohama, which focuses on language teaching. In addition, there are the events organised by the German East Asia Society (OAG) in Tokyo and the Naruto German House of the island of Shikoku. Japan’s principal cultural intermediaries in Germany are the Japanese Cultural Institute in Cologne and the jointly run Japanese-German Center Berlin (JGCB). There have been German Schools in Yokohama and Kobe for over 100 years. In Germany, there are Japanese Schools in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich.
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. Since the early 1990s, the total number of Japanese students in Germany has increased by around 50 per cent, to approximately 2,200. The number of German students in Japan also rose in 2014, despite the language barrier, to approximately 570. 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 (2016) is the political scientist Dr Takashi Kawasaki, Professor at the Sophia University in 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 very popular. The European Film Festival also regularly features a German film – in 2016 “We Are Young. We Are Strong.” by Burhan Qurbani. 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 annually in Frankfurt am Main, and the Japan-Filmfest Hamburg.