An American customs house in Yokohama during the Meiji period, a hub for early US-Japan trade. Detail from "View of the Waterfront Street in Yokohama" by Hiroshige III, 1870. Image Souce: MIT, Visualizing Cultures

A Round-up of US-Japan Trade Features


Trade has been a central element of US-Japan relations, with its attendant ups and downs, for over 150 years. The Treaty of Kanagawa was the first agreement signed between the United States and Japan in 1854, the end result of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry’s famous mission to open the isolated island nation to the West the previous year. The goals of Perry’s voyage came directly from the Millard Fillmore White House and were three-fold: in addition to securing protection for shipwrecked whalers and access to coal for refueling American vessels, the US sought to establish trade with Japan.

While the treaty established the first two goals, the arrangement did not establish regular trade. As the New York Daily Times wrote in 1855, “The Treaty of Kanagawa does not, after all, open up to our enterprising commerce the rich resources of Japan quite as advantageously as was supposed.” In a moment of prescience, the article praised the treaty as a step in the right direction, stating, “It gives us a limited trade in Japanese productions, which in time is likely to lead to something of far greater importance.”

The reporter could never have foreseen the impact of those “Japanese productions” to both countries’ economies or the future importance of then-secluded Japan as a market for American goods. Over the past few months, this project has explored the ties of trade that continue to bind the US and Japan. In case you missed them, here is a recap of the articles on this site that examine trade and the US-Japan relationship, featuring 2010 data:

The most recent US-Japan trade figures by US State and Japanese prefecture can also be found in our data section.