Politics have little or nothing to do with this. Airlines from other incredibly close U.S. allies in East Asia (namely, South Korea and Taiwan) have been avid Airbus operators for decades, dating back to the earliest versions of the A300. American aircraft producers simply did a much better job of meeting Japanese airline needs than Airbus did. If you want to examine a[n Asian] country that explicitly ties its aircraft orders to politics, China would be a prime example - see link below.
Japanese airlines have been very keen for ultra high density aircraft for their domestic short haul routes. Boeing specifically tailored two versions of the 747 (first the "SR", based on the -100, and then the "-400D") with a number of structural and operational modifications for this purpose. Boeing later unveiled the high density 777-300, which has similar capacity of 500+ pax but is substantially cheaper to operate thanks to its two engines and single deck. Moreover, these domestic types enjoy(ed) full training and parts commonality with their long haul [much lower density] 747 and 777 counterparts.
Before the advent of ETOPS in the mid-to-late 80s, it was quite impractical to be operating two engine aircraft like the A300/A310 on long haul routes from Japan - most notably to Hawaii, which as we all know is a massive draw for Japanese tourists. This would be a major reason why the 747, L-1011 and DC-10 were a natural option over the Airbus types available at the time. Airbus was much more focused on the needs of regional and transatlantic operators back then versus transpacific carriers.
A lot of people wonder why the Japanese airlines didn't go for the A380, given their historic preference for the largest/highest capacity planes available and the pressing slot situation at both major Tokyo hub airports. I'm sure the high cost of the type was one factor - NH
no doubt got a killer deal on the 787s as launch customer, and thanks to decades of steadfast loyalty obviously both JL
enjoy much stronger relationships with Boeing than Airbus. Fleet commonality is another thing to consider - the Japanese airlines have stringent training procedures in place that far exceed those practiced virtually anywhere else in the world, driving up the cost of new/orphan fleet types versus a few (Boeing) types that are ideally suited to domestic/short haul but also international long haul ops (they have dabbled with Airbus types like the A300 and A321 in the past, but recently retired the types to streamline the fleet). The A380 may not have been at all practical for domestic ops; for one thing the key ITM
airport has a ban on four engine aircraft (those >500 seat 777s still get to use it, though). As for long haul, the Japanese airlines knew that the government was starting to open up HND
to long haul/international flights. This weakens the demand for NRT
, but flights to HND
suffer from poor times and sometimes have to use airports like Taipei's Songshan that probably can't accommodate the type. So between a split Tokyo hub operation (this has always been a major problem, seeing as how it is much easier to reach most Japanese cities via ICN
than Tokyo) and all kinds of inherent restrictions on domestic as well as international routes, I can absolutely see why the Japanese carriers didn't want to shell out the big bucks for the A380. It's not like they will ever get to utilize a consolidated regional AND
long haul megahub like SIN
, or FRA
. If they were able to feed their long haul network from Tokyo directly from the domestic market, it would be quite another story...
So, I doubt politics was the reason (or at least a primary major factor) in determining Airbus's lack of inroads to Japan. In fact, if it was political the Japanese airlines probably would have ordered more Airbus types, seeing as how the E.U. is by far the largest market for Japanese exports these days. It simply has more to do with the fact that American producers have been making aircraft that better serve the needs of Japanese airlines. Only now, with the advent of Japanese LCCs, will Airbus really start to gain ground in the Japanese market.