History of the Japanese in Metro Detroit

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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.[1] 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.[2]


The first Japanese people came to Detroit in 1892. There were no particular waves of immigration.[3]

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,[1][4] 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.[3]

Shotaro Nakahama (中浜 昭太郎, Nakahama Shōtarō),[5] 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.[6]

The Japanese Society of Detroit formed around 1972.[7] The Japanese School of Detroit was founded in 1973 by local Japanese companies.[6] That year, the Japan Festival in Metro Detroit was held for the first time.[8] In 1982 there were 50 Japanese companies with branches in Detroit.[9]

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.[10] An oil price hike of 1978 made Americans more interested in more fuel efficient Japanese cars.[11] John Campbell, a political science professor of the University of Michigan, stated that in the 1980s "There really was this kind of undifferentiated panic.[12] People could say the worse [sic] things about Japan and nobody knew if it was true."[12] For entertainment area residents destroyed Toyotas with sledgehammers.[12] 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, ToyotaPearl 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."[11] 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.[11]

Zia wrote that, due to the anti-Japanese sentiment, "it felt dangerous to have an Asian face."[11] Japanese corporate employees and their families felt anxiety upon learning about the sentiment in Metro Detroit. [13] 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."[14] People within Japan perceived of Chin's killing as an example of a savagery within American culture.[15] In the period after Chin's death, Japanese news reporters visiting Detroit told people they visited the same bar that Vincent Chin visited.[15]

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.[16] 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.[12] She added that "Japan-bashing" still occurred in Metro Detroit, with politicians and Iacocca making public statements against the Japanese automobile industry.[12]

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.[16][17] In 1991 the plant had 250 Japanese employees out of its total of 3,600 employees.[12]

In a ten-year period ending in 1992, the Japanese population in Metro Detroit had tripled.[7] 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."[12] In 1990, there were 3,500 Japanese expatriates in Metro Detroit.[18] In 1992 there were about 5,000 Japanese nationals in Metro Detroit and there were estimates of up to 270 Japanese companies there.[7] 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.[9] Area hospitals began catering to Japanese patients.[18] A hotel in Novi, the Sheraton Oaks, hired a "director of Japan marketing".[9] By 1990, the Saturday Japanese school operated in three locations.[18]

In the 1990s, several Japanese automobile firms had opened offices along M-14.[6] Nissan Motor Co. opened its Farmington Hills office in November 1991.[6][12] In addition, Toyota established a technical center in Ann Arbor.[6] 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.[19] In 1996, 4,084 Japanese nationals lived in Metro Detroit. By 1997, the number of Japanese nationals in Metro Detroit was 4,132.[20] 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.[21]


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.[21] 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.[7] 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.[22]

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."[12] 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.[12] Mazda also suggested to Japanese employees not cluster in one community.[12] Cohen used Mazda's suggestion as an example that Japanese were encouraged to not be "clannish".[12]


One World Market (ワンワールドマーケット), a Japanese grocery store in Novi, Michigan

Many Japanese companies operate offices in Metro Detroit.[6] In 1999 most of the 320 companies owned or controlled by Japanese in Michigan were in Metro Detroit.[21] 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.[8]


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.[18] Currently, the Japan News Club is the primary local Japanese-language newspaper in Michigan.[23]


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.[24] Delta inherited the Detroit hub from Northwest Airlines merger in 2008.[25] The Detroit to Nagoya flight serves two cities with major automobile industries.[26]

Northwest began nonstop Detroit to Narita flights on April 17, 1988,[27] and flights to Osaka Itami International Airport began in 1993.[28] Northwest's Detroit to Nagoya Komaki Airport flight was scheduled to begin on June 2, 1998.[26] On February 28, 2008 Delta's flight from Detroit to Osaka Kansai International Airport was scheduled to end.[25] Delta briefly operated a flight to Tokyo Haneda Airport from Detroit that began on February 19, 2011, but ended in March of that year.[24]

Signage through the McNamara terminal of Detroit Airport is, along with English, in Japanese due to the large amount of business travelers from Japan; Izumi Suzuki, a Sheraton employee, and several colleagues provided the Japanese translations used by the airport. In previous eras many Japanese travelers going through Detroit missed connections due to a lack of English comprehension.[29]


There are no full-time nihonjin gakkō Japanese international schools in Metro Detroit, so Japanese national students attend American schools.[22] In 2011, the Novi Community School District enrolled over 1,700 Japanese and Japanese-Americans.[30]

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.[6]

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.[31] 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.[32]

In 2010, a Japanese-English elementary school, Hinoki International School, was founded in Livonia as a public charter school [33] growing from 13 to 135 students in 2014, when Livonia Public Schools revoked its charter.[34] In 2014, the Niji-Iro Japanese Immersion Elementary School, a Japanese-immersion magnet elementary school of the Livonia Public Schools district, opened in Livonia [35] with 125 students.[36] Hinoki International School re-established itself in Farmington Hills but it closed in 2015.[37]


In the 1950s, the Trinity Methodist Church in Highland Park had a Japanese Mission.[3]

Notable residents[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Metzger, Kurt and Jason Booza. "Asians in the United States, Michigan and Metropolitan Detroit Archived 2006-06-20 at the Wayback Machine.." Center for Urban Studies, Wayne State University. January 2002 Working Paper Series, No. 7. p. 12. Retrieved on November 6, 2013.
  2. ^ Stone, Cal (April 11, 2013). "State's Japanese employees increasing". Observer & Eccentric. Detroit. Archived from the original on May 5, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Mayer, p. 30. "JAPANESE There are approximately 900 people of Japanese descent in the city of Detroit. They first arrived to Detroit in 1892, but there have been no peaks of immigration to this city. However after World War II a number of Japanese persons came to Detroit from California. Many Japanese are located in Highland Park, whereas, the rest are scattered all over the city." and "Several Japanese attend the Japanese Mission which meets at the Trinity Methodist Church, 13100 Woodward."
  4. ^ Baulch, Vivian M. (September 4, 1999). "Michigan's greatest treasure -- Its people[dead link]" () Michigan History, The Detroit News. Retrieved on April 4, 2009.
  5. ^ "2010年度 JBSD新年会用景品のご提供、ご寄付のお願い." (Archive) Japan Business Society of Detroit. December 17, 2009. Retrieved on November 15, 2013. "事務局長 中浜 昭太郎"
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Burden, Melissa. "'Little Tokyo' thrives in Novi as Japanese population expands." (Archive) The Detroit News (posted at Northern Equities Group). Monday December 19, 2011. Nation p. A1. Retrieved on November 7, 2012. Available in the archives of The Detroit News and in NewsBank as 'Little Tokyo' thrives in Oakland", Document ID: det-129398628
  7. ^ a b c d Jeffrey, Nancy Ann (Knight-Ridder Newspapers). "Japanese Wives Help Each Other In New Land." Chicago Tribune. March 1, 1992. Retrieved on November 10, 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Metro Japanese celebrate culture." The Detroit News. October 2, 2003. Retrieved on November 10, 2013. ID: det17370193. "Nakahama now is the executive director of the Japan Business Society, and on Sunday, the group, which boasts a membership of 352 Japanese-related businesses, will celebrate its 30th anniversary at the Japan Festival."
  9. ^ a b c Ingrassia and White, p. 335.
  10. ^ Darden and Thomas, page unstated (starts with "This is a crucial point in understanding the anti-Asian motives[...]")
  11. ^ a b c d Zia, p. 58.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Cohen, Sharon. "Metamorphosis in Motown." Associated Press at The Ledger. Thursday December 26, 1991. p. 7C. Retrieved from Google News (95 of 121) on November 19, 2013.
  13. ^ Helweg, Arthur W. Asian Indians in Michigan (Discovering the Peoples of Michigan). Michigan State University Press, March 1, 2012. ISBN 1609170482, 9781609170486., Page unstated (Google Books PT79). "When they learned of assignments here, Japanese officials and their families once fretted over reports of Japanese cars being stoned or pursued the streets, ritually pounded into scrap with sledge hammers or crushed beneath a creaking Sherman tank in a local car dealer's commercial that played widely in Asian news programs."
  14. ^ Darden and Thomas, page unstated (starts with "Dingell was not alone in the sentiment[...]")
  15. ^ a b Helweg, Arthur W. Asian Indians in Michigan (Discovering the Peoples of Michigan). Michigan State University Press, March 1, 2012. ISBN 1609170482, 9781609170486., Page unstated (Google Books PT79). "The 1982 murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin outside a Highland Park striptease bar was seen in Japan as another example of our cultural savagery; in fact, Japanese reporters visiting Detroit once made a point of macho pride to say they had a drink in the bar Chin visited that night."
  16. ^ a b Fucini, p. 98.
  17. ^ Fucini, p. 101.
  18. ^ a b c d Ingrassia and White, p. 336.
  19. ^ "Consul General's Greeting." () Consulate-General of Japan, Detroit. Retrieved on May 6, 2013.
  20. ^ Lewis, Shawn D. "'Good wives' help bridge U.S. culture." The Detroit News. Sunday April 4, 1999. Metro Section, Final Edition, p. 3B. Record number det3139967. Available from NewsBank.
  21. ^ a b c Creager, Ellen. (Knight Ridder Newspapers) "Language of motherhood connects participants in special support group." The Vindicator. Thursday August 5, 1999. p. D7. Retrieved from Google News (30 of 43) on November 10, 2013. Also published in the Detroit Free Press as "BABY TALK IN TWO LANGUAGES JAPANESE MOMS SHARE EXPERIENCES IN BOTSFORD HOSPITAL SUPPORT GROUP." on April 27, 1999 in Features p. E1.
  22. ^ a b "HANDBOOK For Teachers of Japanese Students." () Japanese School of Detroit. 7 (7/12). Retrieved on April 17, 2011. "Japanese children who come here with their parents attend their neighborhood local schools, since there are no full-time Japanese schools in the area."
  23. ^ http://www.japannewsclub.com/. Japan News Club webpage.  Missing or empty |title= (help); External link in |website= (help);
  24. ^ a b Creager, Ellen. "Delta suspends flight to Tokyo-Haneda as Japan tourism plummets" (). Detroit Free Press. March 18, 2011. Retrieved on August 12, 2015.
  25. ^ a b Masson, Mary Francis. "Delta to cancel nonstop to Osaka." Detroit Free Press. November 12, 2008. Retrieved on August 12, 2015. Alternate URL.
  26. ^ a b "Northwest to Launch Nagoya-Detroit Regular Flights in June." Jiji Press English News Service. Date: 03/20/1998 Start Page: 1. "[...]it will launch regular nonstop flights between Nagoya and Detroit, the center cities of the Japanese and U.S. automobile industries, on June 2."
  27. ^ "Northwest Airlines expands trans-Pacific operations with inauguration of nonstop service between Detroit and Tokyo." PR Newswire, April 13, 1987, p.SE3.
  28. ^ "Northwest inaugurates Detroit-Osaka-Sydney service." Aviation Daily. 10/04/1993.
  29. ^ Kelly, Natalie and Jost Zetzsche. Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World. Penguin Books, October 2, 2012. ISBN 1101611928, 9781101611920. Google Books PT118-119. "Back in the 1980s, waves of Japanese businessmen started to arrive in Detroit[...]one local hotel, part of the Sheraton chain, was lucky enough to have an employee, Izumi Suzuki, who spoke Japanese[...]Eventually, she and some colleagues translated all of the signs that appear in the more modern airport that Detroit boasts today,[...]"
  30. ^ "Novi Area Home To Many Affected By Earthquake In Japan." WWJ-TV (Detroit CBS). March 11, 2011. Retrieved on March 4, 2014.
  31. ^ "ミシガン国際学院." Sundai Center for International Education. Retrieved on March 4, 2014.
  32. ^ McNeil, Velvet S. "Japanese-style private school preserves culture" (Archive). The Detroit News. Retrieved on June 25, 2015.
  33. ^ "New Hinoki School in Livonia Blending Languages and Cultures". WDIV-TV (Click on Detroit). July 28, 2011. 
  34. ^ Dixon, Jennifer (August 15, 2014). "Livonia School District's Decision to Revoke Charter Draws Ire". Detroit Free Press.
  35. ^ Chambers, Jennifer. "Livonia district removes charter, takes over Japanese immersion school" (Archive). The Detroit News. August 14, 2014.
  36. ^ "New school year opens new chapter for Japanese school" (Archive). Hometown Life. September 3, 2014. Retrieved on October 18, 2014. Alternate page
  37. ^ "School Closed 学校は解散中." Hinoki International School. Retrieved on April 16, 2016.
  38. ^ "Joichi Ito" (Archive). Color Magazine. Retrieved on November 25, 2014. "JI: I grew up in a suburb of Detroit during the downturn in the U.S. auto industry, the mid 70s. It was a hard time to be growing up as the only Japanese kid in a school where most kids only heard bad things about the Japanese at home. "
  39. ^ Barnas, Jo-Ann. "Yuka Sato's plans on hold while Japan recovers" (). Detroit Free Press. March 20, 2011. Retrieved on June 20, 2015. Article snippet

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]