Germany and Japan have traditionally enjoyed friendly relations. Over the past few decades, bilateral relations have intensified, so that there is now close cooperation on foreign policy. 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 – for example, on issues relating to disarmament and non-proliferation and to global governance and the preservation and funding of international organisations. There is also close political coordination on United Nations Security Council reform between Germany and Japan (along with Brazil and India) within the framework of the Group of Four (G4). Furthermore, economic, cultural, scientific and academic cooperation between the two economic powerhouses offers considerable development potential. After China, Japan is Germany’s most important economic and trading partner in Asia.
German parliamentarians regularly visit Japan. By contrast, visits to Germany by Japanese politicians are limited by their strict obligation to be present during the relatively long periods when parliament is in session. Nevertheless, in the past few years, there have been numerous high-level visits in both directions. During her visit to Japan on 9 and 10 March 2015 prior to the G7 Summit in Germany, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel met the Japanese Emperor, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and the then opposition leader Katsuya Okada and held talks with researchers, Japanese female executives and representatives of German companies, among others. In 2016, Germany’s then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attended the G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting and Federal Chancellor Merkel the G7 Summit in Japan. In February 2018, the Federal President visited Japan, meeting the Japanese Emperor, Prime Minister Abe, scientists and representatives of German and Japanese companies. Japan was Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ first port of call during his first visit to Asia in July 2018. Federal Chancellor Merkel’s next visit to Japan is scheduled for February 2019. In addition, German parliamentarians will also undertake numerous visits to Japan during its G20 Presidency in 2019.
The principal multilateral forums for German cooperation with Japan are the United Nations, the G7 and G20 and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). 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 EU and Japan signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement and an Economic Partnership Agreement (free trade agreement) on 17 July 2018 which entered into force on 1 February 2019.
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 then Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and then Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl and is co-funded by the German Government, the Berlin Senate and the Japanese Government. The JGCB celebrated its 30th anniversary 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, 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. It met most recently in Berlin in October 2018.
Bilateral trade between Germany and Japan has increased slightly in recent years, totalling 42.4 billion euros in 2017. This means Japan ranks 15th among Germany’s trading partners. German exports to Japan in 2017 amounted to 19.5 billion euros, while Germany imported goods valued at 22.9 billion euros from Japan that year. The Economic Partnership Agreement between Japan and the EU, which was signed on 17 July 2018 and entered into force on 1 February 2019, will further improve market access for both sides.
These comparatively low figures do not, however, properly reflect the significant role Japan plays in the global economy and in German industrial production, since many German products depend on component supplies from Japan’s high-technology sector. These are practically irreplaceable because the more complex the intermediate products are, the harder it is to find alternative suppliers. Japanese companies have a pre-eminent position in several global product markets, e.g. for memory chips and electronic control modules. Moreover, many German firms have formed strategic partnerships with Japanese companies in third countries, for instance in south-east Asia
Science and research
An intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in science and technology has been in place since 1974. Besides cooperation on large-scale facilities (such as those for fusion research), government-funded bilateral cooperation currently focuses, among other things, on cluster cooperation, automated and connected driving, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum technologies and photonics, as well as, for the past ten years or so, battery research. In addition to the intergovernmental agreement, there are more than 700 cooperation agreements between German and Japanese higher education institutions as well as numerous project and cooperation agreements between non-academic research institutes, such as the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (MPG), the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Scientific Association, and their Japanese partner organisations. In addition, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) opened an 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. The DAAD Regional Office in Tokyo, which was established in 1978, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018.
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 Research and Academic Relations Initiative. Since 2017 the DAAD has been responsible for managing and operating the DWIH in Tokyo. 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.
Culture and education
Cultural exchange between Germany and Japan is intensive and diverse. The close-knit cultural network including 55 Japanese-German societies in Japan, some 50 German-Japanese societies in Germany, over 700 bilateral higher education partnerships, some 250 German-speaking lectors, currently 50 town twinning arrangements (including five prefecture partnerships) and the three branch offices of the Goethe-Institut – in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto – forms the basis for a wide range of events.
Numerous concerts given by leading German orchestras and musicians and world-class exhibitions mounted by German museums and collections give substance to the artistic exchange between the two countries.
The branch offices of the Goethe-Institut in Tokyo and Osaka offer German courses and organise cultural and information programmes, and the Goethe-Institut 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 the Naruto German House on 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 has since 2000 been present at the prestigious University of Tokyo with a German-funded Centre for German and European Studies. Since the early 1990s, the total number of Japanese students in Germany has increased by around 50 percent, to approximately 2300. The number of German students in Japan rose to approximately 900 in 2017 (by way of comparison: 255 Germans were studying in Japan in 2000). The DAAD Regional Office in Tokyo oversees a large number of scholarship programmes for the Japanese side and also 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. The German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) in Tokyo, which was founded in 1988 and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, is also a major player in academic exchange.
Of particular importance in promoting academic exchange is the well-endowed Philipp Franz von Siebold Award, worth 50,000 euros, which has been presented personally by Germany’s Federal President every year since 1979. The most recent award winner (2018) is Anako Takayama, a professor of law at the University of Kyoto.
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 for 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 Takenoko Fund for German-Japanese Student Exchange and the Young Leaders Forum are funded by Mercedes-Benz and the Robert Bosch Stiftung respectively).
German films and the regularly held German Film Festival, which is organised by the Goethe-Institut in Tokyo, are very popular. The European Film Festival also regularly features a German film. In 2016 and 2017 German films received prizes at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Japan is the world’s third-largest film market. Film festivals in Germany include the Japanese film festival Nippon Connection, which is held annually in Frankfurt am Main, and the Japan-Filmfest Hamburg, also held every year.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.