Exports fell 12.5% from a year earlier, data released by the Finance Ministry showed on May 25, the largest fall since October 2009, when trade activity was still weak after the global financial crisis.
The trade deficit in April totalled totaled ¥463.7 billion ($5.65 billion), the first red ink for the traditionally strong month of April in 31 years.
Imports rose 8.9% last month from a year earlier as high global energy prices lifted the import bill.
Japanese exports to China dropped 6.8% on-year, the first decline in 18 months. Those to Asia fell 6.6%, slipping for the second straight month.
Exports to the U.S. decreased 23% on-year, marking the sharpest decline since a 28% fall in October 2009, the ministry said. Europe-bound shipments sank 11%, the biggest drop since a 16% fall in November 2009.