Japan’s domestic production of clothing materials such as leather, yarns and textiles has been in decline for several years, resulting in a downward trend in the volume of imports. China is the largest exporter to Japan for all apparel products. Nonetheless, EU countries remain the largest exporters of high-end apparel products to Japan. In the fabric, dyeing, sewing and knitting industries, most Japanese enterprises are small to medium scale and mainly engage in entrusted processing. However, despite the presently unfavourable circumstances of this sector, there are still plenty of highly competitive companies that owe their success to their high-level skill set and successful cultivation of good connections and clients.
The Japan’s leather market is dominated by China, which supplies many low-end products. However, European countries, such as Italy, France or Germany retain an important share of the market specialising in high-end leather goods and providing a quality of products that is favourably regarded by the Japanese customer. The market is also regulated by voluntary standards and specific labelling measures that ensure high quality products for end users.
Silk production has an almost 2000-year history in Japan and is closely associated with one of the most easily recognisable symbols of the country’s culture and tradition: the kimono. Nonetheless, the Japanese silk industry was subject to a dramatic reversal of fortune over the course of the twentieth century as it went from being a leading exporter to a heavily-dependent importer. The changing face of the Japanese silk textile industry does not necessarily signal the end for Japanese sericulture (the raising and keeping of silk worms); instead, scientific institutes are investing money in R&D in order to develop alternative uses for silk worms within the pharmaceutical sector.