Japan posted a merchandise trade deficit of 943.417 billion yen in January, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday - an improvement of 13.6 percent from a year earlier.
That exceeded forecasts for a shortfall of 1,003.6 billion yen following the 358.7 billion yen deficit in December.
Exports advanced an annual 12.2 percent, topping expectations for 9.4 percent and up from 9.3 percent in the previous month.
Exports to all of Asia were up 16.0 percent on year to 3.350 trillion yen, while exports to China alone surged an annual 30.8 percent to 1.160 trillion yen.
Exports to the United States added 1.2 percent on year to 1,066 trillion yen, while exports to the European Union spiked an annual 20.3 percent to 717.380 billion yen.
Imports climbed 7.9 percent on year versus forecasts for 7.7 percent and down from 14.9 percent a month earlier.
Imports from Asia gained 3.0 percent on year to 3.460 trillion yen, while imports from China alone slid an annual 3.3 percent to 1.738 trillion yen.
Imports from the United States gained 9.4 percent to 716.971 billion yen, while imports from the European Union jumped an annual 18.3 percent to 818.168 billion yen.
The adjusted trade surplus was 373.3 billion yen - surpassing expectations for 143.9 billion yen and up from 86.8 billion yen in December.