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Japan Marine Technology

The market for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) in Japan is growing and will lead to opportunities for U.S. companies that are developing smart marine technology solutions.  In the short-term, Japan is focused on autonomous ship technologies that still rely on an onboard seafarer to control onboard processes and make final navigation decisions.  In the long-term, Japan is focused on fully autonomous vessel operations.  According to recent market research, the global MASS market was estimated to be $3.9 billion in 2022 and will grow to reach $8.2 billion by 2030. 

MASS is desirable in Japan for several critical reasons.  First, Japan is suffering from an aging and shrinking population which has resulted in a labor shortage across all industries in Japan.  Of Japanese domestic coastal trade vessel crews, more than half of workers are older than 50 years of age.  Second, human error accounts for more than 70% of maritime accidents, many attributed to the long working hours of ship crews.  Using MASS is expected to reduce the number of preventable accidents.  Third, Japan has approximately 400 inhabited islands.  MASS will provide necessary transportation to residents of those islands at a reduced cost compared to manned ships.  Finally, MASS are more navigationally efficient, thus more environmentally friendly.  Using MASS will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contribute to Japan’s commitment to sustainable development goals.

Japan’s ultimate goal is to deploy fully autonomous ships.  However, by 2025, Japan is aiming to deploy “Phase II” autonomous operating ships.  “Phase II” ships are described by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism (MLIT) as ships with onboard equipment with integrated systems, advanced data analytics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to communicate with and advise seafarers the best courses of action.  While the onboard ship equipment can be operated from a land base, the final decisionmaker is the seafarer onboard.  Subsequently, Japan plans to deploy “Phase III” ships, which MLIT describes as autonomous ships that can function properly even under difficult weather and sea conditions and are more independent in decision-making than Phase II ships which rely on the seafarer as the ultimate decisionmaker.  Japan intends to make half of its cargo transporting domestic ships unmanned by 2040.

Japanese companies have been developing and testing new maritime technologies to achieve autonomous navigation and operation through “MEGURI2040,” a project launched by The Nippon Foundation to improve the flow of goods, people, costs, and traffic.  MEGURI2040 featured five demonstrations by five consortia with more than 60 participating organizations that developed and tested new equipment, systems, technologies, and frameworks.  The demonstrations indicated that as autonomous ships continue to be designed and produced, there is an increasing demand for automation technology, remote operating systems, navigational software, advanced data analytics software, AI technology, cybersecurity, and other marine tech solutions.  One need The Nippon Foundation identified is to incorporate seafarers’ intuition into autonomous ship navigation.  For example, autonomous ships’ systems can operate ships but cannot always make the right decision when encountering a difficult or unexpected situation, unlike an experienced seafarer who can use sound judgement in a split second to divert the ship and avoid a collision.  Deep learning technologies that can mimic seafarers’ human instincts and can be incorporated into navigation systems will be necessary to make fully autonomous ships a reality.

Any state-of-the art technology that can help Japan reach its 2025 and 2040 goals will also need to ensure that vessels comply with international and regulatory safety standards.  The maritime industry is highly regulated, and marine technology that can enhance Japan’s progress on MASS development, comply with the “Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea,” and conform with International Maritime Organization standards and MLIT safety regulations is highly desirable in Japan. 

If you are a U.S. exporter that makes smart marine technology, or for more information on Japanese marine-tech market opportunities, please contact Commercial Service Japan at