Gateway to Japan the EU - Japan Relations

The Japanese and European Connections have a history of close relations.

Other than the slight time period during World War II, Japanese relations with most European countries has been really quite strong. In fact some European nations have had established relations with Japan since the 1600’s. Both Spain and The United Kingdom first had relations with Japan in the early 1600’s. However, these relations changed with Japan’s policy shift in 1641 to Sakoku. Under this policy Japan had a closed society where no foreign relations with outside countries was accepted. During this unusual time period of a few centuries from 1641 to 1853, the only European influence was a Dutch trading post in Nagasaki. Japan’s entire society was closed off to most of the developed world at the time.


After the Sakoku ended Japan resumed formal ties first with The United Kingdom in 1854 and followed thereafter with Germany in 1861, Switzerland in 1864, Denmark in 1867 and Spain in 1868; most of the rest of Europe followed shortly thereafter.

Relations were obvioulsy significantly strained during WWII, as the Japanese aligned themselves with Germany and Italy causing of course a significant rift between most of Europe and Japan. Post World War II ties with Japan and Europe have been on the rise. Both Japan and Europe have renewed desire for stronger economic and political relations with the each other. Although cultural ties with Japan and Western Europe grew during the 1980s, the economic connections between Japan and Europe remained by far the most important element of Japanese-West European relations throughout the decade. Events in West European relations, as well as political, economic and military matters, became topics of concern to most Japanese officials because of the long term affects for Japan.

With these goals in mind it was that on July of 1991, Japan’s Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu signed a joint statement of mutual relations with the Dutch prime minister and head of the European Community Council and with the European Commission president. This statement was to pledge closer Japanese-European relations on foreign relations, scientific and technological cooperation, assistance for developing countries, and efforts to reduce trade conflicts. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials hoped that this agreement would broaden Japanese-European political connections and raise them above the previous trade disputes that were harbored in years past.

The relationship between the United Kingdom and Japan began in 1600 with the arrival of William Adams (Adams the Pilot) on the shores of Kyūshū. After the policy of Sakoku ended and the connections were re-established with the signing of the treaty of 1854, Japan and the United Kingdom saw the resumption of ties. Other than the broken bond of the Second World War, the mutual relations between the United Kingdom and Japan remain very strong today.

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