Imports totalled 422,654 kilolitres (85,755 barrels per day), up from 332,030 kl a year earlier, but they fell 5.3 per cent from 446,206 kl in July which was the highest monthly import figure since August 2011.
Gasoline imports in January-August rose 74 per cent on-year.
“Overseas gasoline prices are extremely low, which is giving us an incentive to import,” Tsutomu Sugimori, president of the Petroleum Association of Japan, said last week.
The gasoline import cost from South Korea at the end of August was 39,476 yen ($373) per kl, below Japan’s average spot gasoline reselling price among traders of 43,500-44,000 yen in August, according to Rim Intelligence.
“Also, we have been running refineries at low rates to reflect plunging demand for jet fuels, forcing us to import gasoline to cover some shortage,” said Sugimori, also the chairman of Eneos Holdings, Japan’s top refiner.
Japan’s refinery run rate has been at around 60 per cent in the past few months as fuel demand collapsed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially jet fuel which was hurt by global curbs on air travel.
But Sugimori said the run rate is expected to recover toward winter when kerosene demand picks up, leading to lower gasoline imports.
Jet fuel and kerosene are closely related and belong to a grade of oil products called middle distillates.
The ministry data also showed crude oil imports fell 23.9 per cent on-year to 11.64 million kl (2.36 million bpd), the lowest for the month of August since 1988.
It marked an eighth consecutive monthly decline and followed a year-on-year fall of 31-32 per cent in June and July, when crude oil imports hit the lowest for the month since 1967 and 1968, respectively.
Crude oil imports in January-August fell 16.9 per cent on-year.