History of the Japanese in Metro Detroit
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|Ethnicity in Metro Detroit|
In 2002, there were 6,413 people of Japanese origin, including Japanese citizens and Japanese Americans, in the Wayne-Oakland-Macomb tri-county area in Metro Detroit, making them the fifth largest Asian ethnic group there. In that year, within an area stretching from Sterling Heights to Canton Township in the shape of a crescent, most of the ethnic Japanese lived in the center. In 2002, the largest populations of ethnic Japanese people were located in Novi and West Bloomfield Township. In April 2013, the largest Japanese national population in the State of Michigan was in Novi, with 2,666 Japanese residents. West Bloomfield had the third largest Japanese population and Farmington Hills had the fourth largest Japanese population.
The first Japanese people came to Detroit in 1892. There were no particular waves of immigration.
However, after World War II ended and the Japanese internment camps were disbanded, the first significant wave of those with Japanese origins came to Metro Detroit, with many coming from California. By 1951 there were about 900 Japanese in Detroit. A concentration of Japanese existed in Highland Park and others were throughout the city of Detroit.
Shotaro Nakahama (中浜 昭太郎 Nakahama Shōtarō?), the executive director of the Japan Business Society of Detroit (デトロイト日本商工会 Detoroito Nihon Shōkōkai), stated that in the 1970s many of the first Japanese groups settled in the Troy area. According to Nakahama, as time passed, additional rental apartments, condominiums, and houses opened first in areas such as Walled Lake and West Bloomfield and later in the Ann Arbor and Novi areas, so the Japanese population moved to the west.
The Japanese Society of Detroit formed around 1972. The Japanese School of Detroit was founded in 1973 by local Japanese companies. That year, the Japan Festival in Metro Detroit was held for the first time. In 1982 there were 50 Japanese companies with branches in Detroit.
By the 1980s, as the Japanese automobile industry became increasingly common in the U.S., domestic automobile companies named Japanese companies the culprit behind declining work opportunities, and as a result anti-Japanese sentiment appeared in Metro Detroit. An oil price hike of 1978 made Americans more interested in more fuel efficient Japanese cars. John Campbell, a political science professor of the University of Michigan, stated that in the 1980s "There really was this kind of undifferentiated panic. People could say the worse [sic] things about Japan and nobody knew if it was true." For entertainment area residents destroyed Toyotas with sledgehammers. Local unions sponsored events in which Japanese automobiles were destroyed. Individuals fired bullets at drivers of Japanese cars on freeways and other individuals vandalized Japanese automobiles. There were bumper stickers that read "Honda, Toyota—Pearl Harbor". Anti-Japanese slurs appeared on Metro Detroit streetcorners, radio channels, and television channels. Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, wrote that "Politicians and public figures made irresponsible and unambiguous racial barbs aimed at Japanese people." John Dingell, a U.S. House member from the State of Michigan, assigned blame to "those little yellow men" and Lee Iacocca, the chairperson of Chrysler, made a joke suggestion of dropping nuclear bombs on Japan.
Zia wrote that, due to the anti-Japanese sentiment, "it felt dangerous to have an Asian face." Japanese corporate employees and their families felt anxiety upon learning about the sentiment in Metro Detroit.  In 1982, in Metro Detroit autoworkers killed Vincent Chin, a Chinese American mistaken as a Japanese American. An October 27, 2009 article by the Detroit Free Press stated that "It took the slaying of ... Vincent Chin by a disgruntled autoworker in 1982 to awaken Detroit of the ugliness and danger of anti-Asian racism." People within Japan perceived of Chin's killing as an example of a savagery within American culture. In the period after Chin's death, Japanese news reporters visiting Detroit told people they visited the same bar that Vincent Chin visited.
By the mid-1980s, anti-Japanese sentiment in Detroit had decreased. The level had especially decreased among young working age people. Leaders in government and business had toned down remarks regarding Japan. Japanese cars became increasingly common in Detroit, including within blue collar communities. In 1991 Sharon Cohen of the Associated Press wrote that anti-Japanese sentiment had largely decreased from 1981 and American automobile industry trade union members were working for Japanese companies. She added that "Japan-bashing" still occurred in Metro Detroit, with politicians and Iacocca making public statements against the Japanese automobile industry.
Mazda's operation at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, was the first Japanese auto operation in the U.S. industrial heartland. In 1991 the plant had 250 Japanese employees out of its total of 3,600 employees.
In a ten-year period ending in 1992, the Japanese population in Metro Detroit had tripled. Sharon Cohen wrote in a 1991 Associated Press article that "The Japanese community [in all of Michigan] is tiny and transient: estimates range from 6,000 to 8,000." In 1990, there were 3,500 Japanese expatriates in Metro Detroit. In 1992 there were about 5,000 Japanese nationals in Metro Detroit and there were estimates of up to 270 Japanese companies there. By 1990, Chrysler was purchasing steel from Mitsui which had an office in Southfield. By 1990, since the number of Japanese companies with Detroit branches had increased to almost 300, with most of them related to the automobile industry, major accounting firms including the "Big Six" hired Japanese employees and catered to the new Japanese business populations. For the same reason Dickinson, Wright, Moon, Van Dusen & Freeman, one of the largest law firms in Detroit, hired Japanese employees. Area hospitals began catering to Japanese patients. A hotel in Novi, the Sheraton Oaks, hired a "director of Japan marketing". By 1990, the Saturday Japanese school operated in three locations.
In the 1990s, several Japanese automobile firms had opened offices along M-14. Nissan Motor Co. opened its Farmington Hills office in November 1991. In addition, Toyota established a technical center in Ann Arbor. In 1993 the Consulate-General of Japan, Detroit, was established partly due to an increase in the numbers of Japanese businesses and residents in the states of Michigan and Ohio. In 1996, 4,084 Japanese nationals lived in Metro Detroit. By 1997, the number of Japanese nationals in Metro Detroit was 4,132. In 1999, the majority of the 8,100 Japanese in Michigan lived in a corridor in southwestern Oakland County along Interstate 696 consisting of Farmington Hills, Novi, and West Bloomfield.
By 1999, many male employees of Japanese companies are sent to live in Oakland County in Metro Detroit for three- to five-year periods, taking their wives and families with them, before returning to Japan. By 1992, most women in Japanese companies did not hold job types or a high enough rank to be sent to the United States, so few professional Japanese women were sent to Metro Detroit. In 1992, most of the Japanese women residing here were homemakers who stayed at home. By this time, many of the women, despite language barriers, had formed social networks in the United States. The Japanese Society of Detroit Women's Club (JSDウィメンズクラブ JSD Wimenzukurabu) was formed in May 1991 and in March 1992 it had 230 members. Most of the members were wives of employees from companies such as Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Toyota. Most of the Japanese K-12 students in Southeast Michigan, like their parents, stay for three- to five-year periods and do not immigrate to the U.S.
In 1991, Sharon Cohen of the Associated Press wrote that many Japanese people living in Michigan "enjoy the suburban lifestyle with its open land, big houses and rolling golf courses. They live the American dream — but they don't want to become Americans." Izumi Suzuki, an operator of a translator service quoted in a 1991 Associated Press article, wrote that Japanese people returning to Japan would face difficulty if they acted too much like Americans. Mazda also suggested to Japanese employees not cluster in one community. Cohen used Mazda's suggestion as an example that Japanese were are encouraged to not be "clannish".
Many Japanese companies operate offices in Metro Detroit. In 1999 most of the 320 companies owned or controlled by Japanese in Michigan were in Metro Detroit. The Japan Business Society of Detroit, in 2003, had 352 Japan-related businesses as members. It operates the Japan Festival, which has occurred since 1973.
Ayako Kinoshita, the wife of a partner of Coopers & Lybrand, started a newsletter in Japanese to area expatriates giving cultural advice regarding life in the United States. Currently, the Japan News Club is the primary local Japanese-language newspaper in Michigan.
Delta Air Lines currently has nonstop flights to Narita International Airport near Tokyo and Chubu International Airport in Nagoya from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Delta inherited the Detroit hub from Northwest Airlines merger in 2008. The Detroit to Nagoya flight serves two cities with major automobile industries.
Northwest began nonstop Detroit to Narita flights on April 17, 1988, and flights to Osaka Itami International Airport began in 1993. Northwest's Detroit to Nagoya Komaki Airport flight was scheduled to begin on June 2, 1998. On February 28, 2008 Delta's flight from Detroit to Osaka Kansai International Airport was scheduled to end. Delta briefly operated a flight to Tokyo Haneda Airport from Detroit that began on February 19, 2011, but ended in March of that year.
There are no full-time nihonjin gakkō Japanese international schools in Metro Detroit, so Japanese national students attend American schools. In 2011, the Novi Community School District enrolled over 1,700 Japanese and Japanese-Americans.
Japanese School of Detroit, providing supplementary Japanese education, is located in Novi. It was founded in 1973 by the local Japanese companies. It moved to Novi from Birmingham in the northern hemisphere summer of 2011.
The Sundai Michigan International Academy, affiliated with the Sundai Center for International Education (駿台国際教育センター Sundai Kokusai Kyōiku Sentā, see 駿台予備学校), is located in Novi. The school's purpose is to prepare Japanese children who have lived in the United States for a long time for a return to Japan, and to assist newly-arrived Japanese children who have no fluency of English.
In 2010, a Japanese-English elementary school, Hinoki International School, was founded in Livonia as a public charter school  growing from 13 to 135 students in 2014, when Livonia Public Schools revoked its charter. In 2014, the Niji-Iro Japanese Immersion Elementary School, a Japanese-immersion magnet elementary school of the Livonia Public Schools district, opened in Livonia  with 125 students. Hinoki International School re-established itself in Farmington Hills but it closed in 2015.
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- Japan Business Society of Detroit (Japanese)
- Japan Business Society of Detroit Women's Club (Japanese)
- Japan America Society of Michigan and Southwest Ontario (JAS; ミシガン州及びオンタリオ州南西部日米協会 Mishigan-shū oyobi Ontario-shū Nanseibu Nichibei Kyōkai) - Previously the Japan America Society of Greater Detroit and Windsor (JAS; デトロイト・ウインザー日米協会 Detoroito Uinzā Nichibei Kyōkai)