This study examines multidecadal changes in surface downward shortwave (SW) radiation flux, total cloud cover, SW cloud effect, and related parameters over China and Japan during 1960–2004 using monthly gridded data from the Global Energy Balance Archive, synoptic cloud reports, and the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project. We use the concept of cloud cover radiative effect, defined as the change in downward SW flux produced by a change in cloud cover, to quantify and remove the impact of cloud cover anomalies on surface solar flux. This will allow radiative effects of long-term changes in anthropogenic aerosol to be more clearly distinguished from natural weather and climate variability. As fit by a linear trend between 1971 and 1989, surface solar flux decreased by a statistically significant 11 W m−2 per decade over China and decreased by a nonsignificant 1 W m−2 per decade over Japan. The small decline over Japan can be entirely explained by an increase in cloud cover, but changes in cloud cover made negligible contribution to the 1971–1989 solar flux trend over China. Between 1990 and 2002, surface solar flux increased by a statistically significant 8 W m−2 per decade over Japan and increased by a nonsignificant 4 W m−2 per decade over China. Half of the 1990–2002 solar flux trend over China and one third of the trend over Japan can be attributed to a reduction in cloud cover. The 1971–1989 decrease in surface solar flux over China and the 1990–2002 increase in surface solar flux over Japan are both spatially widespread and exhibit consistent sign across seasons.