The single was a success in many countries, including Switzerland, Germany and Sweden. It was also the group's only UK Top 75 hit, reaching No. 8 on the UK Singles chart. The song also reached number one on the Hot Dance Club Play in December 1984.
The title comes from the phrase "Big in Japan", which was used to describe Western bands who are popular with Japanese audiences while garnering little attention in their home country.
In 1986, Marian Gold recalled that he "bought an album of an unknown British band named Big in Japan. As you know, there's a considerable musical market in Japan. If you wanted to become famous, what you should do was to form a hard rock group and then release an album over there; it would definitely sell well... so the story went ... The statement fitted well to my storyline about a couple of drug addicted lovers and moreover provided the title for the prospective song."
In 1999, Alphaville released Dreamscapes, which included an early demo version of this song as well as the "FFF Time Warp" mix.
2001's Forever Pop contained two more newly remixed versions (the "Roland Spremberg" and "Eiffel 65" mixes).
The original 12" and instrumental version were made available for the first time on CD on the So80s presents Alphaville (2014).
"Seeds", the B-side to this single, appears on Dreamscapes and History as "Leben Ohne Ende" (sung in its original German demo form). A new remix of "Seeds" also appears on Dreamscapes. The original version of the song also appears on So80s presents Alphaville.
In 2000, Guano Apes released a cover version as their lead single for their second album Don't Give Me Names on 12 April 2000. The music video shows the band performing in an empty arena, followed by a fan trying to locate the band.
"Big in Japan" was covered by German singer Sandra in 1984. She sang the song in German, as "Japan ist weit". The song was produced by her future husband Michael Cretu and was Sandra's first try as a solo artist after she separated from the trio Arabesque. The song was not successful, as only 125 copies were sold.