Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Government of Canada


  1. Home
  2. >
  3. Bilateral Relations
  4. >
  5. Canada-Japan Relations

Toward a Renewed Canada Japan Partnership


Politics and Diplomacy

That Canada and Japan have increasingly like-minded attitudes towards international affairs and common foreign policy interests has been apparent for well over a decade. This alignment is based on shared values, including the rule of law, freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the promotion of open market economies as the benchmark for response to global events.

The Canadian and Japanese governments already have a complex of links on global and regional political and security issues. We are partners in the G8 groups of industrialised countries, and in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Both countries have devoted people, money and ideas to sustain the United Nations and its associated bodies. Tokyo and Ottawa both recognise the deficiencies of the current UN Security Council and the need to ensure multilateral organisations can operate effectively. Interests in the Asia-Pacific community are shared through participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum. On regional and global security issues, the Canada-Japan relationship is founded on the joint commitment to alliance with the United States. Bilateral interests are pursued at the Japan-Canada Symposium on Peace and Security Co-operation and at politico-military talks.

The Forum believes this framework can support a much broader canvas of joint Canada-Japan engagement in international affairs than is currently the case. Regular meetings between the two prime ministers and other senior ministers and officials would give practical and visible expression to the common purposes. On peace and security issues there is room for closer engagement on matters involved in post-conflict reconstruction; counter-terrorism; and non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament. The Forum believes it would be useful to establish two expert working groups under the umbrella of the Japan-Canada Symposium on Peace and Security Co-operation Symposium to meet at least annually and perhaps more frequently. These should seek to expand existing co-operation on peace and security issues and also develop co-operative approaches towards human security matters, including questions of health and disease.

There can also be much greater co-operation on emergency relief, humanitarian assistance and development aid. While Japan's JICA and Canada's CIDA maintain a useful relationship, partnerships between Canadian and Japanese non-governmental organisations working in the fields of civil society, economic and social development have not grown. More effort could be put into developing fruitful partnerships among Canadian and Japanese NGOs working in such areas as issues related to education, human rights, small business development, science and technology, and the socio-economic role of women. The Forum members felt that Canadian and Japanese official development assistance programs and NGOs could play an especially useful joint role by promoting technical and scientific education among Arab nations and in the broader Middle East.

Economy and Environment

The successful pattern of trade and investment established between Canada and Japan in the post-war period has faded in the last 15 years through lack of attention on both sides. The initial success of the economic relationship from the 1950s through the 1980s was based on Canadian exports of natural resources and processed raw materials in return for Japanese manufactured products. Two-way trade between Canada and Japan is just below $Cdn 20 billion a year, and roughly in balance. Cumulative investment in each other's economies is also on a par.

This picture, however, masks a number of serious deficiencies in the economic relationship, which has been in real decline for 15 years. In the 1990s a number of factors arose which diverted attention in both Japan and Canada, and has left a residue of misconceptions and outdated views of each other's economies. On the Canadian side the increasingly erroneous view persists that Japan remains a largely closed market protected by tariff and non-tariff barriers. Japanese, meanwhile, often continue to see Canada simply as a source of raw materials. With some notable exceptions, such as the auto industry, Japanese exhibit little understanding of Canada's manufacturing, technological and service industry competitiveness or, in some sectors, its supremacy.

For Canada the free trade agreement reached with the United States in 1989 and expanded into the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 with the inclusion of Mexico has become the overarching focus of business and investment attention to the exclusion of other opportunities, including Japan. At the same time, Japanese trade and investment has been increasingly drawn towards its own Asian neighbourhood. Japan has paid a good deal of attention to fostering closer economic integration with its East Asian and Southeast Asian neighbours as those nations have achieved sustained growth and development.

Members of the Canada-Japan Forum are pleased that their meeting in Japan in September 2004 acted as a stimulus for discussions in Tokyo between the Japan Business Federation - the Nippon Keidanren - and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. This meeting led to the organisations urging both governments to create a framework for strengthening Japan-Canada economic relations, including the negotiation of an economic partnership agreement. This suggestion was taken up by Prime ministers Paul Martin and Junichiro Koizumi at their meeting in Japan in January 2005. As a result the prime ministers agreed to launch a new Economic Framework aimed at addressing new and emerging economic challenges and opportunities, responding to the concerns of the Canadian and Japanese private sectors, promoting economic co-operation with a focus on enhancing both countries' capabilities in innovation and the knowledge-based economy, and launching a joint study on the benefits and costs of further promotion of trade and investment and other co-operative issues. Officials are now conducting the Joint Study.

Tourism is both an industry and an important component in the development of people-to-people links from which a wealth of frequently unpredictable benefits flow. Yet here too the Japan-Canada relationship has withered in the last five years. The terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003 prompted many Japanese not to take overseas vacations. The number of Japanese travelling abroad dropped from nearly 18 million in 2000 to 13.5 million in 2003. But for those who did travel, a disproportionate number avoided Canada, which saw the number of Japanese arrivals decline by 48 per cent over the four years 2000-2003. In comparison Australia saw a decline of only 13 per cent and Austria, which in 2003 attracted almost as many Japanese visitors as Canada, by only 23 per cent.

The time is long gone when energy, environmental protection, conservation and efficiency, and the development of new energy sources could be considered as separate and distinct policy issues. They are irrevocably intertwined and will remain so. Environmental issues and efforts to reverse degradation resonate strongly with voters in both Canada and Japan. This applies to both domestically-generated and trans-boundary environmental issues. Japan and Canada have come to the questions around energy and the environment from very different directions and with different assets. But here too there is a strong convergence of views and policies that are a sound footing for co-operation in the future. As both Japan and Canada are surrounded by sea, marine environment protection would be a suitable area for cooperation by Japan and Canada, not only for prevention of marine pollution but also for preservation of rich resources.

For reasons of necessity in the case of Japan and inclination on the Canadian side, both countries are leaders in the development of alternative means of energy production, and of systems and technologies to maximise the efficient use of energy. Because of its resource industry heritage, Canada is also a leader in resource exploration and the development of resources industries as well as extraction methods with low environmental impact. There is already a degree of co-operation between Japan and Canada on development of a number of forward-looking energy technologies, for example fuel cells and the use of hydrogen. But common interest should promote a much wider companionship in this area with the exploration of clean coal technologies being an obvious subject for a major unity of purpose.

People-to-People Exchanges

The easy interaction between peoples of different nations and cultures gives body and durability to the relationship. It provides a deeper and more encompassing perspective to the march of daily events, and a sheet anchor when the relationship is buffeted by the squalls of conflicting national interests or purposes. Canada's grass roots relationship with the United States and the increasingly cosmopolitan dialogue between ordinary Europeans are good examples of how, by and large, familiarity among the citizenry fosters and sustains the broader purposes of understanding between nations. That said, it is clearly a challenge for Canada and Japan to expand and improve human and cultural exchanges because of language, distance, the lack of substantial Diaspora in each other's countries, and very different national cultures that do not immediately draw sparks of recognition or shared experience.

Even so, the current level of human exchanges between Canada and Japan is clearly substantial, though not easy to quantify. But even the most cursory research shows a vibrant interplay between Japanese and Canadians. There are well-established exchange relationships between institutions such as schools, universities, and professional organisations as well as a host of connections on special interest subjects ranging from IKEBANA (flower arrangement) to baseball. Much of this intercourse is self-generated and beyond any realistic capacity of various levels of government or other institutions to aid in its stimulation. There are programs both existing and potential, however, where facilitation can have an impact.

The Canada-Japan Forum has kept young people firmly in mind throughout its discussions for the obvious reason that investing in the experience of young people today helps form bonds that will last a life time, if not generations. Japan and Canada, though, are both experiencing a relatively new phenomenon of populations that are ageing, but healthy and active. Retired people in both countries are increasingly a clientele and a resource whose abilities and aspirations deserve attention. Fostering interaction must therefore not be confined to any particular demographic bracket.

An important existing program that has had significant impact on the interaction between Canada and Japan is the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program. The JET program sees young university graduates from several countries, including Canada, go to Japan for at least a year to act as assistants to English language teachers in Japanese schools. The program started in 1987 and there are now about 6,500 Canadian alumni who maintain their own associations. The JET program is not only an important factor in grass roots bilateral relations between Japan and Canada, but is also providing Canada with a repository of people who have a profound experience of life in the other country.

There is no similar program available for young Japanese wishing to gain work experience in Canada, and education authorities that have grasped the importance to Canada's future of facility in Asian languages should examine the JET program. Nevertheless, many young Japanese do seek to come to Canada each year on working holidays. At the moment the visa quota is only 5,000 and these are quickly taken up. The Forum believes the Canadian government should double this quota and remain prepared to keep the quota in line with demand.

Young Canadians also seek working holidays in Japan, many of them getting employment as assistants to teachers of English, but outside the JET program. However, statistics issued by the Japan Association for Working Holiday's Makers, a non-profit organisation under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, show that in 2004 only 840 working holiday visas were issued to Canadians. Young Canadians do not appear to be sufficiently aware of the working holiday opportunities in Japan and efforts should be made to encourage parity in these programs as well as easing bureaucratic barriers.

Forum members have concluded there are many aspects of daily life in both countries where learning from each other's experiences could be of benefit. In this respect the cultural differences can be a boon more than a barrier. Exchanges, secondments or internships can provide new ways of looking at how our societies function and potentially offer fresh approaches to common challenges.

Cultural exchanges and contacts between Canada and Japan tend to be discrete and confined to areas where enthusiasms, personal connections and resources have allowed them to flourish. There are, though, Canada-Japan ties already in place which could be used more effectively to broaden cultural contact and exchange. There are about 75 formal sister or friendship city relationships between Japanese and Canadian municipalities. It is beginning to be understood by Canadians that these “twinning” arrangements are taken more seriously in Japan and Asia in general than they are in Canada. In Asia these bonds are seen as a commitment to a long-term and multifaceted relationship. But while many of the Canada-Japan twinning agreements are between smaller cities - such as Prince Rupert, B.C., and Owase-shi in Mie Prefecture - the main cultural exchange activity is between larger urban centres. These friendship agreements are an existing resource whose potential is not being met.

For two countries with so many common interests and attitudes both regionally and globally, it is remarkable how little sophisticated attention both the Canadian and Japanese media pay to each other. None of the mainstream media of either Japan or Canada maintain staff correspondents in the other country. What coverage there is the product of freelance “stringers”, the international news agencies or, occasionally, work by a visiting reporter. That coverage is seldom negative, but it is all-too-often heavy with stereotypes or pandering to eccentric perceptions.

Yet there are opportunities for partnerships of various forms that have not been seriously explored. The Japanese media is by far the most professional in Asia and the most knowledgeable in its coverage and assessments of the region. This is well recognised in other parts of the world, Europe in particular, where media have forged alliances with Japanese newspapers and broadcast outlets. Several European and international newspapers carry on a daily basis Asian stories from their Japanese partners. Lacking the will or resources to enhance their own direct coverage of Japan and Asia, Canadian media should consider taking a similar path and for Japanese news outlets, access to Canadian media product could provide a useful alternative view of North America.

Both the Canadian and Japanese governments directly fund or otherwise sponsor visiting journalists' programs. It would be helpful to mutual long-term media awareness if these programs put special emphasis on attracting the participation of policy-making editors. In a similar vein, academic institutions in Japan and Canada should explore the possibility of establishing visiting fellowships for senior journalists from the other country. Such fellowships are common elsewhere and usually involve the recipient giving “masterclass” lectures and providing regular reports for his or her news outlet at home while being provided the facilities to conduct project research. The Japan Foundation's official visit program for distinguished people in the fields of culture and education is very successful in building understanding and exchange among opinion leaders from both countries. This program could be re-invigorated by the establishment in Canada of a similar initiative, preceded and engendered, perhaps, by a bilateral meeting on cultural leaders organised by the two Foreign Ministries, the Japan Foundation and the Canada Council.

Forum members are convinced of the opportunities offered both countries by more intensive co-operation in the field of science and technology in the public, private fields as well as in academic institutions. Canada has one of the most decentralised science and technology sectors in the industrialised world. In the public sector the political jurisdictions are the provincial governments at the policy level while the administration of primary and secondary schools is vested with the municipalities. Canadian universities operate as autonomous bodies whose administrative ethos is regulated by the provinces and which are dependent largely on provincial funding, but whose academic management is their own. It is thus difficult for Canada to co-ordinate co-operation on education or science and technology with foreign countries. But promoting co-operative research and development is ever more vital to the creation of partnerships and other joint ventures between Canadian and Japanese companies and institutions. There are therefore compelling reasons for the mechanisms of a science and technology forum to be explored in a fashion that produces a utilitarian result.

There are eight Canadian studies centres or programs at Japanese universities. There is also the Japanese Association for Canadian Studies, which has about 300 members, many of whom also participate in the Canadian Literary Society of Japan. Institutes for Japanese studies in Canada are far fewer, but the number is roughly in proportion to the difference in population. The Japan Studies Association of Canada is, however, very active and its meetings regularly operate on the cusp between academic and commercial interest in Japan as well as exploring the Canada-Japan relationship in the context of Asia. There are 41 Canadian universities that have some form of exchange agreements, 181 in all, with 94 Japanese universities.

As well as the study of each other's societies, academic institutions have an interest in how Canadian and Japanese educational bodies manage their administrative and internal political affairs. As part of the 2001 "Think Canada" symposium in Japan, a roundtable of Canadian and Japanese university presidents was held in Tokyo. Leading on from this initiative there have been bilateral and multilateral meetings between Canadian and Japanese university administrators. There is particular interest in Japan in the process of constitutional and management reform being undertaken by Canadian universities and colleges. Equally, the Japanese academic institutions are interested in Canada's "lifelong learning" approach to participation in university and college studies.

The Future

The Canada-Japan Forum is a standing, non-governmental consultative body. Since the Forum's establishment in 1991 both governments have reconstituted it from time to time new members who brought fresh insights and whose expertise reflect topics of current bilateral interest. As they conclude their work, the current Forum members believe this institution should be maintained by the two governments to provide a stimulus to the Japan-Canada relationship and to periodically review its progress.




Date Modified: