Ethiopia–Japan relations are the international relations between Ethiopia and Japan. Both were nations with an ancient history which successfully repulsed European military advances to dominate them, Ethiopia at the Battle of Adwa, and Japan at the Battle of Tsushima, and as a result both nations considered each other potential allies prior to World War II.
Both countries signed a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce in 1930. The next year, Ethiopia reached out to her potential Asian ally when Ethiopian Foreign Minister Heruy Welde Sellase visited Japan in 1931, dramatizing the possible benefits—economic and military—of cooperation between the two countries. He was received very warmly both by government officials and by the people of Japan. In particular, Japanese ultra-nationalists, wishing to lead an alliance of the “colored peoples” of the world, believed that Ethiopia would play a crucial role in that alliance. Heruy subsequently wrote of his visit to Japan in his book, Mahidere Birhan: Hagre Japan (“The Document of Japan”), wherein he set forth his belief that Ethiopia and Japan shared a number of similarities, and needed to be more aware of each other; that being said he recognized Japan was the more prosperous of the two and had more successfully modernized. The success of this visit outside of Ethiopia is attested by contemporary rumors that the Crown Prince of Ethiopia would marry a princess of the Japanese Imperial family.
In 1934 two Japanese gunboats visited Djibouti, the primary maritime door to Ethiopia, and that same year the Japanese government sent Tsuchida Yutaka on an inspection tour of Ethiopia. Although eager to protect Ethiopia’s independence from the predations of the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, and optimistic about commercial opportunities, Tsuchida felt that Japan, far from Ethiopia, could not have an effect on imperialist ambitions there.
However, on the eve of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, when Ethiopia most needed Japanese help, the Japanese government decided to back its Axis ally, Italy. The Japanese ambassador to Italy, Dr. Sugimura Yotaro, on 16 July 1935 assured Mussolini that his country held no political interests in Ethiopia and would keep neutral in Italy’s coming war. His comments stirred up a furor inside Japan, where there had been popular affinity for the African Empire. Despite popular opinion, when Ethiopia approached Japan for help on 2 August they were refused completely: even a modest request for the Japanese government to officially state its support for Ethiopia in the coming conflict was denied.
Post War Relations
In 1955, Japan and Ethiopia re-established diplomatic ties, and three years later they exchanged ambassadors. Until the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, Japanese investors played a major role in the Ethiopian textile industry, after which their holdings were nationalized. During 1982 and 1983, the Ethiopian government settled claims made by Japanese and other foreign nationals over the loss of their investments. After the fall of the Derg, Japanese investment and foreign aid was restored to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin visited Japan in 1992, and in 1996 Prime Minister Meles Zenawi also made a formal visit to Japan. In return, the Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi visited Ethiopia in 2002.