Photo/IllutrationHonda cars, foreground, await export at Yokohama port, near Tokyo on July 8. (AP file photo)

Japan's exports fell 8 percent in August from a year earlier, as trade tensions took a growing toll on demand across the region.

Exports of machinery, vehicles and chemicals all declined, the Finance Ministry reported Wednesday.

Exports totaled 6.1 trillion yen ($56 billion), while imports slipped 12 percent, the fastest rate in almost three years, to 6.3 trillion yen, suggesting slack demand inside Japan.

Shipments to the United States slipped 4.4 percent in dollar terms, to 1.2 trillion yen while imports from the United States dropped 9 percent to 718.4 billion yen. The surplus with the United States rose nearly 4 percent, the report said.

Trade with China took a bigger hit, with exports sinking 12 percent and imports down more than 8 percent. Exports to most other Asian countries also fell.

The yen's growing strength against other currencies was a factor. But overall export volumes fell nearly 6 percent and import volumes also fell by 6 percent as trade tensions between the United States and China and between Japan and South Korea reverberated across supply chains.

Trade could rebound in coming months, Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics said in a commentary.

"The big picture, though, is that exports are likely to remain weak over the coming year," he said.

A government survey of businesses released Wednesday showed sentiment at its worst since the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami which devastated a swathe of Japan's northeastern coast.

Looming over the outlook is a sales tax hike due to take effect in October that is likely to hit big purchases hardest, Capital Economics said.