Japan Outlook 2024H2: Trading Through Challenges & Opportunities

Japan is one of the wealthiest and most dynamic economies in the world. With a past of astonishing economic growth, many analysts forecasted that Japan would surpass the United States in the 1980s. However, this never materialised, and Japan’s economy has stagnated due to a prolonged recession and a price bubble burst.

After making a solid rebound from the recent pandemic, Japan still suffers from rises in energy and food prices led by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which continues to shadow its economic performance. That being said, other factors such as Japan’s ageing population and the reduced number of people in the country’s workforce have provided countless business opportunities for overseas buyers – especially in sectors like AI-driven automation, clean energy and sustainability.

While Japan had a few years of sluggish economic turnout, things are finally looking up.

Japan’s GDP growth may not have been particularly outstanding in recent years – with a mere 1.05% in 2022 and a forecasted 1.96% in 2023. However, according to Deloitte, Japan’s economy is expected to grow in the second half of 2024 – driven by consumer spending and a weak yen.

Dealing with Workforce Shortage through AI

According to government officials, Japan has been constantly faced with the issue of labour shortage due to a shrinking population. Industries such as farming and agriculture are among the highest-aged sectors, with the average age of Japanese farmers reaching a high of 68.4 years old.

To combat the issue, Japan is seeking the help of robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at a rapid pace. While the country is no stranger to using robotics and AI, the usage of AI in 2024 is expected to develop drastically. Retail industries – such as convenience stores, are finding ways to fully automate their outlets to increase productivity and face labour shortages. Government bodies are also experimenting with AI in administrative tasks, such as transcribing and summarising meetings. Schools are also using AI to provide one-on-one conversations for their students to improve speaking skills.

Whether AI hardware or software, this is one major trend that businesses should pay attention to if they want to develop in Japan.

Robotics and AI are expected to develop drastically to reduce issues of labour shortage and increase productivity.

Green Packaging – A Response to Overpackaging

Japan is known to be a highly consumer-centric country. Many companies strive to ensure that their products are safe, clean, and presentable to their consumers. For instance, it is typical for Japanese groceries – especially vegetables and fruits – to be wrapped in several layers of packaging for better protection and hygiene. Furthermore, many products are further wrapped by shop assistants to maximise customer satisfaction.

In light of heightened awareness of environmental concerns and global trends, there is a notable shift in creating high-functioning sustainable packaging that still protects its products. Research shows that green packaging is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.7% during 2024-2032 in Japan. In particular, sustainable packaging is highly sought after in the food and beverage, personal care and healthcare industries.

Japanese vegetables and fruits are commonly overpackaged to ensure maximum protection and hygiene, but now the trend is to do less.

In Search of Clean Power

The Japanese economy has always suffered from a lack of domestic energy sources. The Fukushima power plant meltdown has made nuclear power a tough sell to the Japanese public and has indirectly led to energy deregulation and the creation of many new power companies. Along with the Russo-Ukrainian War, Japan became especially hard-hit by skyrocketing energy prices. Not only has Japan’s nuclear power production declined, but many new power companies formed after the Fukushima incident have been unable to make a profit. In response to the situation, the Japanese government has authorised historic spikes in the cost of electricity and high inflation.

To cut reliance on non-sustainable electricity outputs, Japan has put their focus to boost clean electricity outputs and are expected to reach an all-time high in 2024. According to Reuters, clean power sources (such as hydro, wind and solar energy), supplied 31.6% of Japan’s electricity in the first two months of 2024. All sources of clean energy sources are registering a double-digit growth within the country and are expected to grow even further in the upcoming months.

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New Energy: The Eco-Friendly Solution for Sustainable Sourcing

Japan Exports to Rise into Mid-2024

Japan predominantly exports steel and computer chips to Mainland China, and these industries are hit by lagging Chinese demand. On the other hand, exports to the United States primarily consist of exports of hybrid automobiles and industrial equipment.

Although there is a dampened demand from Mainland China, one of Japan’s leading export partners, due to a relatively weaker Chinese economic growth last year, there was an 8.4% increase in total Japanese exports to the United States, offsetting the difference from the Chinese markets and producing a higher-than-expected export growth in 2023. This is expected to continue into this year.

Exports on automobiles and industrial equipment on the rise in 2024.

Discover The Latest Business Opportunities in Japan

2024 will be a critical year for Japan. After decades of economic stagnancy and declining to the world’s fourth-largest economy, rising wages and domestic consumption may help restore the dynamism and rapid growth that defined the Japanese economy in the past. 

With countless sourcing opportunities in Japan – especially in AI development, sustainable packaging, green energy and industrial equipment – buyers and suppliers interested in the Japanese market should explore more potential working partners to expand their business. Be sure to explore more on HKTDC Sourcing today:

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