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Home > About Us -Organization- > History of Japan Customs

History of Japan Customs

1.Opening the Door of Japan to the World

From 1633, when the Tokugawa Shogunate proclaimed the isolation of Japan, until the middle of the 19th century, the Country's external relations and trade had been confined to China and Holland, and the only port open for these purposes was Nagasaki. This long period of national isolation inevitably was brought to an end when Western countries started to seek markets in the East. The United States was particularly active in this respect.

In June 1853, the U.S. East India Fleet, commanded by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, entered Uraga Harbor near Yokohama. It was reported that in those days his four well-built black ships left a deep impression on the Japanese people.

In March 1854, acceding to Commodore Perry's demands backed by threatening arms, the Government of Japan signed a "Treaty of Peace and Amity between the Emperor of Japan and the United States of America." This was the very first step taken by Japan towards joining the international community.

This historic treaty opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to the United States in order to supply the U.S. ships with fuel, food, etc. It was followed by a series of similar treaties with other countries.

2.First Treaties of Commerce

Western countries, which had succeeded in arranging Treaties of Peace and Amity, then demanded that the Shogunate conclude treaties of commerce which had been their original aim. In 1858, the first "Treaty of Amity and Commerce" was signed with the United States. It was followed by similar treaties with Holland, Russia, the United Kingdom and France. These treaties provided for the opening of four more ports.

They also included provisions governing extraterritoriality and import/export duties. Amendments accepted in 1866 forced the Japanese government to reduce the duties to a uniform rate of 5 percent ad valorem. The Japanese economy was seriously affected by this low tariff rate. The successive cabinets during the Meiji era were therefore continuously involved in the recovery of Customs duty autonomy.

3.Establishment of Customhouses

In accordance with the treaties of commerce, the ports of Hakodate, Nagasaki, Yokohama, Hyogo, Osaka and Niigata were opened to international trade. Customhouses were established in these cities. These European-style buildings were a surprise to the Japanese people at the time. Following the opening of the country, the Meiji government undertook a firm policy of modernization. After the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, foreign trade expanded rapidly. Furthermore, the conclusion of a "Treaty of Commerce and Navigation" with the United Kingdom in 1894 spurred the revision of unequal commerce treaties with other countries. The long-desired autonomy, in respect to Customs duties, was completely restored in 1911.

Under these circumstances, the Customs system was gradually consolidated. The Customhouse in each port was placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance. Around 1897, all laws and regulations concerning Customs Administration, particularly the Customs Law and the Customs Tariff Law, were reenacted to reflect the provisions of the new treaties. At the same time, a new Customs organization was set up, consisting of a secretariat, one division and six sections. The staff numbered 1,240. This virtually laid the foundation of the present Japan Customs Administration.

4.Period of Development

The economy and trade of Japan went through a process of constant modernization from the Taisho era to the beginning of the Showa era (from around 1912 to 1930). It underwent many changes including the economic boom during World War I and the depression that followed. With the growth of the economy and industry, the organizations and functions of Customs were further expanded and consolidated. This was the period of overall development of Japan and of Japan Customs.

One of the important events worth mentioning in this respect was the administrative reorganization effected by the Kato Cabinet in 1924, which integrated the whole responsibility of port and harbor administration to Customs. The Customs system was completely reorganized. Under an imperial ordinance, the local harbor departments and the plant quarantine offices (which had previously been under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce respectively) were all transferred to Customs. This resulted in the expansion of Customs service, placing Customs in a position responsible for all matters relating to the administration of ports.

5.Protectionist Policies and War - the Abolition of Customs

From around 1931 onwards, international trade was increasingly subjected to protectionist policies such as tariff barriers and the world was divided into economic blocs. In Asia, the Manchurian Incident of 1931 was followed by the North China Incident in 1937. In Europe, hostilities led to the outbreak of war in 1939 and the whole world soon followed.

Japan's external trade declined with the intensification of the wartime regime. After the outbreak of war in the Pacific in December 1941, external trade was limited mainly to southern Asia and Manchuria. Shipping was brought under state control to reinforce military transport capacity. Thus, Customs gradually lost its purpose and in 1943, at the demand of the military authorities, ceased to function. The Customhouses were closed and their personnel and facilities were placed under the authority of the Marine Transportation Bureau.

6.Reinstatement of Customs

The Pacific War came to an end in August 1945. In 1946, in accordance with the "Memorandum on the Japan Customs System" issued by the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces, the Ministry of Finance again took the responsibility over all Customs matters. On June 1, 1946, Customs service started with six Customhouses, 35 branch offices, 45 sub-branch offices and 68 guard posts. Its personnel then numbered 1,779.

However, external trade remained under the strict control of the occupation forces. With changes in occupation policy, however, this control was gradually relaxed, and it was withdrawn completely in January 1950.

7.The New Japan Customs and International Cooperation

The Japanese economy resumed its growth and Japan rejoined the international economic community. Additional impetus to external trade was given by Japan's accession to GATT in 1955.

Experiences gained at an international level brought awareness that Japan Customs laws and tariffs were obsolete and that modernization of the Customs system was vital. In order to modernize and simplify the Customs and tariff system, which had been applied for decades, a tremendous amount of work was needed.

In 1961, a comprehensive review of the tariff rates was carried out with a goal of future liberalization of trade, and the Customs Cooperation Council Nomenclature (CCCN) was introduced as the framework for tariff classification.

On June 15, 1964 , Japan became the 38th member country of the Customs Cooperation Council (CCC). This decision was taken in response to the growing demand for international cooperation in Customs matters.

It was followed in 1966 by accession to the Nomenclature Convention of the CCC. The Japan tariff system was updated in full conformity with the CCCN. Japan further acceded to the Valuation Convention of the CCC in 1972, thus making full commitment to all the basic conventions of the CCC.

The ever-increasing external trade called for not only improvement of Customs techniques but also for further reorganization of Customs Administration itself. In particular, the Import and Export Division in Customhouses had to streamline the flow of import and export documents. In addition, the Okinawa Regional Customhouse was established in 1972.

Furthermore, various agreements on tariff reductions and non-tariff measures were concluded in the Tokyo Round of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations held from 1973 to the end of 1979. With the agreements on a new international valuation code concluded in the negotiations, Japan withdrew from the CCC Valuation Convention at the end of 1980. Further, with the expectation of the use for Customs tariff transportation, insurance, external trade statistics, etc., the International Convention on Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) was adopted in June 1983 by the CCC. This convention came into force in January 1988 and Japan withdrew from the CCCN Convention in March of that year accordingly.

This brief description of postwar history clearly indicates that the international environment surrounding Japan Customs has undergone enormous changes. The postwar history of Customs shows that functions of Customs in one country can no longer stand on its own but can be more fully achieved by collective international cooperation.