In February of last year, Japan had a trade surplus of 25.9 billion yen ($270 million). For all of 2012, Japan had a deficit of 6.93 trillion yen, or $78 billion.
The current numbers were the eighth straight month deficit for Japan's export-driven economy as the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe battles to end the country's chronic deflation through stimulus measures and spur exports.
Provisional figures on the Finance Ministry's website showed February exports totaled 5.28 trillion yen, down 2.9 percent from 5.44 trillion yen in the same month of last year. February imports jumped 11.9 percent to 6.06 trillion yen from 5.42 trillion yen in the year-ago period.
The latest numbers, however, were better than January's deficit of 1.63 trillion yen ($17.3 billion).
The new government's measures have helped bring down the value of the yen against the U.S. dollar, which should help exports. However, a weaker yen also makes imports expensive as was the case in February when fuel import costs soared.
A Finance Ministry official said it was the first time since 1979 that Japan's trade balance had remained in the negative territory for this long, Kyodo News reported.
The government expects more monetary easing under a new team at the Bank of Japan to spur the economy.
Japan's trade also has been hit because of the growing territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which both claim. Prior to the dispute, their bilateral trade averaged more than $340 billion annually.