Japan has been free from rabies since 1958. A strict import regimen has been adopted since 2004 consisting of identification of an animal with microchip, two-time rabies vaccination, neutralizing antibody titration test and a waiting period of 180 days. The present study aims to quantitatively assess the risk of rabies introduction into Japan through the international importation of dogs and cats and hence provide evidence-based recommendations to strengthen the current rabies prevention system. A stochastic scenario tree model was developed and simulations were run using @RISK. The probability of infection in a single dog or cat imported into Japan is estimated to be 2·16 × 10−9 [90% prediction interval (PI) 6·65 × 10−11–6·48 × 10−9]. The number of years until the introduction of a rabies case is estimated to be 49 444 (90% PI 19 170–94 641) years. The current import regimen is effective in maintaining the very low risk of rabies introduction into Japan and responding to future changes including increases in import level and rabies prevalence in the world. However, non-compliance or smuggling activities could substantially increase the risk of rabies introduction. Therefore, policy amendment which could promote compliance is highly recommended. Scenario analysis demonstrated that the waiting period could be reduced to 90 days and the requirement for vaccination could be reduced to a single vaccination, but serological testing should not be stopped.