Imports rose 9.8 per cent from a year earlier, while exports were down 9.3 per cent, resulting in a record monthly deficit of Y1.48tn ($19bn).
Last year Japan’s trade balance fell into an annual deficit for the first time since 1980, driven by subdued global demand and soaring fossil fuel imports in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power crisis.
The timing of the new year holiday in China, which this year fell in January rather than February, also affected the year-on-year comparison. Japan’s exports to China fell by a fifth, while imports increased by 8 per cent, almost doubling the trade deficit with China to Y588bn. China is easily Japan’s biggest export market, accounting for 21 per cent of total shipments in January.
Import data underlined Japan’s rising dependence on imports of coal and liquefied natural gas, to substitute for nuclear plants idled after the Fukushima crisis. Mineral fuel imports increased 24 per cent year on year, accounting for three-quarters of the overall rise in the value of imports.