About Japanese-Thailand Relations

Thailand's relationship with the rest of the globe has not always been easy and stable in recent decades. Notably, it has been marked by ups and downs. When discussing the Japanese-Thai friendship, it is vital to acknowledge that both countries had to overcome tensions and challenges created by global political events such as WWI and WWII before developing excellent and cordial relations (Chattananon and Trimetsoontorn 6). Fortunately, the new Thailand-Japan relations are brilliant and healthy, beginning with the popular stopovers between the Imperial Household of Japan and the Royal Family of Thailand. Consequently, agreements between the two countries, facilitate the process of trade and political relations. Moreover, the real relationship has resulted to the better diplomatic relation between the two nations over the past few years. The relations between the countries are characterized by mutual exchanges and close collaboration in different spheres of life and economy, which include trade, investments in production and cultural exchange as well as political and security communication in the international field. The present paper is devoted to the discussion of formation and the current state of Japanese-Thailand relations, the history of relations establishments and assessment of the prospects.

Background of relations

The XIV century

If one looks back at the Thai-Japanese relations, it is possible to admit that the relationship between the two nations developed as a result of continuous, willingness, and active efforts of ancestors and early leaders who were determined and involved in different connections and collaboration over the last few centuries. Moreover, the accumulation of the efforts is seen in the present rich, supportive relations.

Importantly, the first contact of the Thai and Japanese people is attributed to the Ayutthaya period. Historical records indicate that King of Ayutthaya delivered gifts to the then Korean king, who was staying in Japan in the year 1388. Consequently, a document from China state that the Chinese helped an Ayutthaya ship that had mechanical problems of Chinas sea waters on its way to Okinawa in 1404 (Holloway 9). Also, the famous ceramics of Sukhothai an important part of Thailand cultural practices were disseminated to Japan in the 14th and 15th century and used during the tea ritual in Japan (Holloway 9).

Similarly, other facts demonstrate that during XIV century Okinawa was a major trading partner with China and other South East Asian nations. Importantly, during that period the region sent 150 ships to South East Asian countries (Iqbal 24). It proves the importance of relationships between Japan and Ayutthaya. In addition to ceramics, Japanese traders delivered quality textile to Ayutthaya, together with high-quality textiles from China and the Chinese ceramics.

The XVII century

The Tokugawa Shogunate accompanied the 17th century after the Civil War (Iqbal 25). Despite the national isolation policy implemented by the Tokugawa Shogunate, Ayutthaya and Japan continued their trade relations through the Dutch traders. Meanwhile, Japan was locked to the rest of the biosphere and Ayutthaya was open, thus providing new opportunities for Japan. Ayutthaya was a cosmopolitan region, represented by the ethnic Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, French, and British (Iqbal 26). The western population tried to develop relations with Thailand and promote Christianity, and many Japanese came to Thailand to trade and escape harassment of Christianity in Japan. Also, the Samurais, who their leader had passed away in Japan tried to find new opportunities in Thailand.

Japan and Thailand were principal partners in the sphere of export of food and metals. In the 17th and the 18th centuries, the major export items from Japan to Ayutthaya were copper, soy sauce, kelp and dried bonito. It proves that Ayutthaya population was interested in Japanese food. Due to this mutual interest in food, one can explain the reason why Thai food and culture is in Japan and of Japanese food and cultural practice is in Thailand. As for the trade, commodities from Ayutthaya to Japan at that time includes skins of deer and shark. They were processed and used for making clothes, hilts for Japanese swords and weapons for samurai warriors. It clearly demonstrates the expansion of trade in different spheres in the 17th century (Corrine 15).

The XIX century

In the 19th century, Thailand and Japan were faced with the offensive colonialism from the side of the Western countries. Japan was forced to open up to the rest of the world and put to an end its isolation policy. In 1868 Japan adopted a Meiji era and initiated the policy of modernization. Consequently, the then King Chulalongkorn of Thailand 1868 embarked upon the upgrading of the country (Corrine 20). XIX century is characterized by the efforts of both nations to promote modernization and to maintain independence after the threat of the turbulence of international relations. Also, both countries had common fates. Japan in 1858 signed a “Treaty of Peace and Commerce” that was chaired Mr. Townsend Harris (Corrine 21). Consequently, Thailand, signed the “Treaty of Amity and Commerce between United States (US) and Thailand” in 1856 (Swan 54).

Importantly, Japan and Thailand initiated different diplomatic relations during this period. Japan began a diplomatic relationship with Thailand government in 1887 after the signature of the “Declaration of Amity and Commerce” (Swan 56). Both countries established embassies in Tokyo and Bangkok in 1897, and the king of Thailand visited Japan in 1890 to confirm the amity of the mutual relationships (Swan 56). Moreover, the countries helped each other in the process of modernization, sending their specialists to control the process and advise.

Japan-Thailand relations today

Modern Japanese-Thai relationship is very productive and fruitful in different areas.

Firstly, relations between royal and imperial families. The relationship between Imperial and Royal families, which were established in the 19th century are expanding today. The governors of both countries make mutual visits almost every year to maintain friendly relations. In addition to official visits, there are other unofficial exchanges of the Majestic and Royal Household members, which positively fund to the development of strong ties between nations.

Exchange of people.

The exchange of individuals characterizes the stability of relations between the two countries. In 2009, according to the official data of the embassy, the number of Japanese residents in Thailand was about 47,000 (Kyoji para 6).However, there is not precise data about the number of unregistered residents. Nearly one million Japanese visits Thailand every year, while on the other hand, close 170,000 Thai people attend Japan annually. Speaking about the exchange of individuals, it is necessary to admit the exchange of students. Approximately one decade ago the first Thai students were sent to Japan in 1902. Importantly, there more than 3,000 Thailand students studying in the universities and colleges in Japan. They get an excellent education in Japanese colleges and after their return to Thailand. Perform well in all spheres of economy. The ex-students made their tremendous contribution to the development and formation of the Old Japan Students’ Association, Thailand (OJSAT) (Kyoji para 7), was established in 1951 to help the Thai students adapt to the environment adequately (Kyoji para 7).

Political relation

Political relations between Thailand and Japan are stable and well-maintained. When Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva assumed office, Japan was the first country he visited and the starting point of his foreign international politics. In the period, following the WWII, Thailand, and Japan played an important role as the United States alliance partners. During the transformations in the international environment following the cold war between the US and Russia, Japan and Thailand have become reliable partners in the questions of enhancing regional security.

Recent years have witnessed the improvement of the relations between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the Royal Thai Armed Forces (Kyoji para 9). Since 2005, the Thailand and Japanese Self Defense Forces have been an important part of official part of the Cobra Gold unit exercise, created to guarantee stability and peace in the region (Kyoji para 9). Personal exchanges have been strengthening good relationships between the two countries. More than 200 Thai military officials received education and training at National Defense Academy in Japan (Kyoji para 9), while Japanese officials were instructed at Army Command and General Staff College in Thailand (Kyoji para 9).

Economic relations

Japan is one of the biggest economic and trade partner of Thailand. It accounts almost 40% of foreign investment in the country. As for Japan, Thailand is the largest trading partner of the country. The number of members of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC) in Bangkok comprises about 1,300 individuals (Medhi 34). Moreover, according to the estimations, Japan has more than 6000 companies doing business in Thailand. Which have provoked the creation of approximately 510,000 jobs in Thailand (Medhi 34)? Despite amicable relations between two countries, they can hardly be called ever- stable. During the boycotts of the Japanese products in the 70's (Medhi 34), Thailand government adopted policies to open the country to foreign capital, undertaken a variety of reforms and canceled some restrictions on foreign investment. From the side of Japan, the government of the country assisted economically in sustaining the economic growth of Thailand, infrastructure improvement and human resources development (Prasertsuk 45).

After overcoming difficulties in economic development and establishment of productive relations, Japan and Thailand managed to achieve stability. The Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) came into being in 2007 (Prasertsuk 45). According to this agreement, the customs duties on 90% of imports and exports were eliminated. Moreover, the agreement improved coordination in different fields, including growth and facilitation of investment, cooperation human resource development, liberalization of services, improvement, and creation of better conditions for the business environment, and enhancement in science and technology sphere (Prasertsuk 46). Presently, the countries carry out different kinds of cooperation under the strengthened partnership.

Future prospects

Even though the relations between Japan and Thailand are one of the most fruitful and mutually profitable, there is always some space for improvement. There are some areas, which both countries consider as potential spheres of development. Firstly, economic partnership requires improvement. Japanese investors plan to continue making investments in Thailand to compete with the world leaders. Therefore, it is extremely significant to predict investment environment. Although Japanese entrepreneurs realize the danger of investing in Thailand, because of the possibility to experience unemployment in Japan, they keep on investing in Thai companies, such as automotive companies, which will manufacture motor vehicles in Thailand and export them to the international market. This step would help the Japanese companies to survive in the global competitive market. Mainly, if Japan wants to keep and maintain the competitiveness of Thailand as one of the major investment destinations, it is crucial that it keep up with other nations, holding the FTA policies fair (Jha 67). 

Overcoming economic inequality

Economic inequality is another important aspect, on which both countries have to work in the future. At the moment Thailand faces with the urgent need to alleviate the economic inequalities in a quickly increasing economy. One of the essential and necessary solutions is security system improvement. Japan has achieved considerable economic growth after the WWII by giving more power to the middle class with the help of increase of social security system, according to which all society members share the fruits of the successful economic development equally (Jha 68).

Environmental issues

These types of problems are one more challenge, with which both countries may face in the future. Due to the increase economic development of Thailand, environmental issues are becoming growing central area of concern for Thai people. Over the past few decades, Japan had similar environmental issues, which were connected with its fast economic growth. The system of environmental regulations and law was adopted. However, it has faced with particular difficulties, after which implementation systems for the principles were put in place, which made Japan the leader in the sphere of environmental protection (Millar and Chamornmarn 7). Thailand can use the experience of Japan in the area of environmental protection (Prasertsuk 56). Thus, the Thai media uses Japan, example, where factories and population work in close collaboration to improve environmental conditions. Moreover, Japan has initiated a close partnership with Thailand and sent environmental specialists to Thailand to help the country establish regulations and regime to control emissions.


The history of Japanese-Thai relations is quite long and counts more than 600 years.

Thailand is famous for its openness, so the country is the central point of local traffic. Moreover, Thailand has been very welcoming to foreign cultures and opens to foreign investments. As for Japan, its relations with Thailand are not only stable and fruitful but very advantageous for Japan, as Thailand is always open for new cultures and investments and is ready to offer cooperation. Long years of cooperation between the two nations has brought enormous advantages to both and improved the lives of the population of both countries. These relations must not be taken for granted and should be developed in the future to maintain the stability. Japan is a country with tremendous experience, while Thailand is a well-promising state, requiring huge financial investments to expand its economy and market, which is still in the active stage of its development. Years of fruitful cooperation prove that these countries currently are and will remain reliable partners in the future.

Works Cited

Chattananon, A. and Trimetsoontorn, J.” Relationship marketing: a Thai case”. International Journal of Emerging Markets. 4, 3 (2009), pp. 252-274

Corrine, Phuan. Thailand’s Foreign Relations. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1985

Holloway, Nigel. Japan in Asia: the economic impact on the region: in Thailand: Money talks. Hong Kong: Review Publishing Co. 2001.

Iqbal, Uqbah. A Brief History of the Economic Relations between Thailand and Japan. NY: GRIN Verlag. 2015.

Jha, Ganganath. Foreign Policy in Thailand. New Delhi: radian Published, 2009.

Kyoji Komachi. "Thai-Japanese Relations: its future beyond six hundred years" A speech by H. E. Mr. Kyoji Komachi, Ambassador of Japan to the Kingdom of Thailand. Web 2010. Accessed 28 January, 2017 at

Medhi, Krongkaew. Current development in Thai-Japanese economic relations: trade and investment. Bangkok: Thammasat University press. 2008.

Millar, Dolina and Chamornmarn Wai. Japan in 21 Century. Bangkok: Thammasat University press. 2009.

Prasertsuk, Kitti. Japanese FTA and JTEPA. Thailand-Japan relation in the new century. Bangkok: Borphitkarnpim Co. Ltd 2004.

Swan, William. Japan's Economic Relations with Thailand: The Rise to Top Trader 1875-1942. LA: White Lotus Press. 2009.

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