Historical and commercial ties between Thailand and Japan can be traced back over 600 years to the 14th century when trade was conducted between Siam and Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa). The number of merchants going to Ayutthaya increased in the 16th century and with the issuance of trade licenses (trade by Red-Seal Ships) by the Tokugawa Government in 1604, trade between the two countries flourished. The Japanese were granted permission by the King to reside in Ayutthaya, and many Christians also moved from Japan to Ayutthaya. Before long, a Japanese village arose in the outskirts of Ayutthaya, and Japanese soldiers played an important role in the military of Ayutthaya. When Japan adopted the isolationist policy of Sakoku in 1639, trade and exchanges with Thailand, as well as with other countries, became severely limited. Consequently, the Japanese community in Ayutthaya declined.
In the 19th century, during the reign of Emperor Meiji in Japan and King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in Thailand, both countries entered a new era of reform and modernisation whereby foreign trade and diplomatic relations began to expand. On 26 September 1887, Thailand and Japan signed the Declaration of Amity and Commerce,formally establishing their diplomatic relations. In fact, Thailand was the first country in Asia with whom Japan established diplomatic relations. Following Japan’s diplomatic presence in Bangkok in 1897, Japanese specialists in the fields of law, education, and sericulture were sent to Thailand. These experts greatly contributed to the modernisation of Thailand,while cooperation from Japan since this time has become a foundation of growing joint undertakings between the two countries in various aspects. In February 1898, the two countries concluded the first treaty, namely the Treaty of Amity,Commerce and Navigation.
In 1899, Thailand established its first diplomatic mission in Japan, which was also its first mission in Asia.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, the relations between the Royal Family of Thailand and the Imperial Family of Japan have been close and cordial. During the post-war period, for instance, Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit (now His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother) made a state visit to Japan in 1963, and Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress (now Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita) to Thailand in 1991 as their first overseas state visit after His Majesty’s accession to the throne. The fish “Plaa Nin,” which became an important nutrient for the Thai people, was originally introduced to King Bhumibol from Crown Prince Akihito (now His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus). The long history of relations between the Royal Family and Imperial Family essentially underpins the existing close and friendly ties.
Moreover, Thailand and Japan have maintained strategic partnership at bilateral, regional and international levels. The two countries share a common goal of promoting peace and security as well as development of the region.
Economically, Japan has been Thailand’s top investor for more than half a century. Thousands of Japanese companies have their branch offices in Thailand and have seen their products become part of Thai people’s daily lives. Concurrently, trade between the two countries has seen high volumes, ranging from agricultural, industrial to service sectors. At the same time,Thai entrepreneurs have advanced to Japan and established partnership with
their Japanese counterparts continuously. Another positive force behind the close ties between Japan and Thailand is the exchange of visits between the two peoples. Rising numbers of visitors from Japan to Thailand, and vice versa, are testimony of the fondness and links that the two peoples have between them. People-to-people relations and cultural bonds are clearly seen, among others,by the expanding enthusiasm of local authorities and communities in Japan to establish“Thai Festival” in Tokyo, which has been well received by the Japanese public for 20 years.Similar events are now organised in Osaka, Nagoya, Sendai, Shizuoka, Fukuoka, Saga, Oita and Okinawa.
Bonds between Thai and Japanese people are clearly seen not only during normal situation but are also particularly visible during times of difficulties. Examples are seen after unprecedented natural disasters such as the Tsunami caused by the Sumatra earthquake in 2004 and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. When the disasters struck one country,donations, relief supplies, and rescue and medical teams were sent almost immediately by the other country to provide assistance. The expression of sympathy and assistance,ranging from the Royal and Imperial Families, Governments, agencies, companies to the individual peoples,was countless.
In 2017, Thailand and Japan celebrated the 130th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations. To mark this special occasion, a number of activities were jointly organized by the two countries, including business and economic field trips, as well as historical and cultural exchanges. Importantly, the ongoing cooperation between the two countries in all fields remains strong. It is a testimony of inextricable bonds, underpinned by shared interests and mutual understanding between the two countries and peoples.
In 2019, both Thailand and Japan entered the new era where Japan started the Reiwa era upon the Enthronement of Emperor Naruhito. Thailand also celebrated the Coronation of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (Rama X). The cordial ties between Thailand’s Royal Family and Japan’s Imperial Family will certainly continue to be a strong foundation for the two countries’ friendship to grow further in the years to come.