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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Japan’s Arctic Policy: The Sum of Many Parts
Japan is one of the largest trading nations in the world but a country of few natural resources, and is
therefore naturally interested in navigation issues and the natural resources in the Arctic. If ice in the
Arctic continues to decrease, the navigation distance between Japan and Europe/North America will
be greatly decreased. This may potentially cut shipping costs dramatically for the Japanese shipping
industry. Regarding natural resources in the Arctic, it is understood that a decrease in the ice-covered
areas will facilitate resource development in the Arctic Ocean
(Horinouchi, 2010)
. However the
Japanese industries that have led the discussion on the extent of the opportunities in the Arctic do
not believe, based on current evidence, that there are significant opportunities in the Arctic even if
the changes continue to occur. For them, there are too many uncertainties to generate the kind of
financial benefits that would encourage them to make the substantial investments required to operate
in the Arctic. Meanwhile, there are signs that the Japanese industries have renewed their interest in
the NSR. MLIT, the ministry considered to have some of the strongest relations with the shipping
industry, started an investigation on the usability of the NSR in March 2012, suggesting it is a yet-to-
be realized opportunity in the ocean frontier
(MLIT, 2012a)
The Japanese government does not foresee any circumstances that require a Japanese naval presence
in the Arctic. The Self-Defense Forces acknowledges that if private Japanese ships request that the
SDF convoy them to protect them from an as yet unknown security threat in the region, they would
be obliged to do so. However, neither the SDF nor the shipping industry foresee such circumstances
arising (Y. Hashimoto, 2011: 73). Therefore, the stable use of the Arctic Ocean is in the best interests
of Japan. Contributing to the stabilization of relations between Arctic littoral states by obtaining
information and by cooperating with littoral states in various aspects including icebreaker technology
is in the national interest (Y. Hashimoto, 2011: 74).
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear accident in Fukushima
in March 2011, Japan has become more open to new sources of energy supply
(The Economist,
. Japan is highly dependent on external energy sources, importing 96% of energy consumption
in 2008
(The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, 2011)
. 42% of the consumption is
oil, 80% of which is from the Middle East
(Teikoku-Shoin, 2012)
. Seeking to diversify both the
supply and the supplier, the Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), an