Japanese diaspora

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Japanese diaspora
Total population
Over 3,800,000[1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States1,469,637[5]
 United Kingdom63,011[16]
 South Korea58,169[17]note
 Hong Kong27,429[21]
 New Zealand14,118[26]
 New Caledonia8,000[30]
 Marshall Islands6,000[33]
 Russian Federation1,700[citation needed]
 Pakistan1,500[citation needed]
Related ethnic groups
Ryukyuan diaspora

^ note: The population of naturalized Japanese people and their descendants is unknown. Only the number of the permanent residents with Japanese nationality is shown, except for the United States, where ancestral origin is recorded independent of nationality.

The Japanese diaspora, and its individual members known as nikkei (日系) or nikkeijin (日系人), are the Japanese emigrants from Japan and their descendants that reside in a foreign country. Emigration from Japan was recorded as early as the 15th century to the Philippines,[41][42] but did not become a mass phenomenon until the Meiji period, when Japanese began to go to the Philippines[43] and the Americas.[44][45] There was also significant emigration to the territories of the Empire of Japan during the colonial period; however, most emigrants repatriated to Japan after the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II in Asia.[46]

According to the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, there are about 3.8 million nikkei living in their adopted countries. The largest of these foreign communities are in Brazil, the United States, the Philippines,[47] China, Canada, and Peru. Descendants of emigrants from the Meiji period still hold recognizable communities in those countries, forming separate ethnic groups from Japanese people in Japan.[48] Nevertheless, most Japanese are largely assimilated outside of Japan.

As of 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs report that the top 5 countries with the highest number of Japanese expatriates are the United States (426,206), China (124,162), Australia (97,223), Thailand (72,754) and Canada (70,025).[49]


Nikkei is derived from the term nikkeijin (日系人) in Japanese,[50][51] used to refer to Japanese people who emigrated from Japan and their descendants.[51][52] Emigration refers to permanent settlers, excluding transient Japanese abroad. These groups were historically differentiated by the terms issei (first-generation nikkeijin), nisei (second-generation nikkeijin), sansei (third-generation nikkeijin), and yonsei (fourth-generation nikkeijin). The term Nikkeijin may or may not apply to those Japanese who still hold Japanese citizenship. Usages of the term may depend on perspective. For example, the Japanese government defines them according to (foreign) citizenship and the ability to provide proof of Japanese lineage up to the third generation—legally the fourth generation has no legal standing in Japan that is any different from another "foreigner." On the other hand, in the US or other places where Nikkeijin have developed their own communities and identities, first-generation Japanese immigrants tend to be included; citizenship is less relevant and a commitment to the local community becomes more important.[53]

Discover Nikkei, a project of the Japanese American National Museum, defined nikkei as follows:

We are talking about Nikkei people—Japanese emigrants and their descendants who have created communities throughout the world. The term nikkei has multiple and diverse meanings depending on situations, places, and environments. Nikkei also include people of mixed racial descent who identify themselves as Nikkei. Native Japanese also use the term nikkei for the emigrants and their descendants who return to Japan. Many of these nikkei live in close communities and retain identities separate from the native Japanese.[54]

The definition was derived from The International Nikkei Research Project, a three-year collaborative project involving more than 100 scholars from 10 countries and 14 participating institutions.[54]

Early history[edit]

Japanese have lived overseas since at least the 16th century. After the Portuguese Empire first made contact with Japan in 1543, a large scale of slave trade[quantify] developed in which Portuguese purchased Japanese as slaves in Japan and sold them to various locations overseas, including Portugal itself, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[55][56] Many documents mention the large slave trade along with protests against the enslavement of Japanese. Japanese slaves are believed to be the first of their nation to end up in Europe, and the Portuguese purchased large numbers of Japanese slave girls to bring to Portugal for sexual purposes, as noted by the Church in 1555. King Sebastian feared that it was having a negative effect on Catholic proselytization since the slave trade in Japanese was growing to massive proportions, so he commanded that it be banned in 1571.[57][58]

Luis Cerqueira, a Portuguese Jesuit, reported in a 1598 document that Japanese women were sold as concubines to African and European crewmembers on Portuguese ships trading in Japan.[59] Japanese slaves were brought by the Portuguese to Macau, where some of them were enslaved to Portuguese, but could also be bought by other slaves. Thus, the Portuguese might own African and Malay slaves, who in turn possessed Japanese slaves of their own.[60][61]

Hideyoshi was so disgusted that his own people were being sold en masse into slavery on Kyushu, that he wrote a letter to Jesuit Vice-Provincial Gaspar Coelho on 24 July 1587 to demand the Portuguese, Siamese (Thai), and Cambodians stop purchasing and enslaving Japanese and return those slaves who had been removed to places as far as India.[62][63][64] Hideyoshi blamed the Portuguese and Jesuits for this slave trade and banned Christian proselytizing as a result.[65][self-published source][66]

Some Korean slaves in Japan who had been among the thousands of prisoners of war taken during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98) were bought by the Portuguese and taken to Portugal.[67][68] Fillippo Sassetti saw some Chinese and Japanese slaves in Lisbon among the large slave community in 1578, although most of the slaves were African.[69][70][71][72][73] The Portuguese "highly regarded" Asian slaves like Chinese and Japanese, much more "than slaves from sub-Saharan Africa".[74][75] The Portuguese attributed qualities like intelligence and industriousness to Chinese and Japanese slaves which is why they favored them more.[76][77][78][79] In 1595 a law was passed by Portugal banning the sale of Chinese and Japanese slaves.[80]

From the 15th through the early 17th century, Japanese seafarers traveled to China and Southeast Asia countries, in some cases establishing early Japantowns.[81] This activity ended in the 1640s, when the Tokugawa shogunate imposed maritime restrictions which forbade Japanese from leaving the country, and from returning if they were already abroad. This policy would not be lifted for over two hundred years. Travel restrictions were eased once Japan opened diplomatic relations with Western nations. In 1867, the bakufu began issuing travel documents for overseas travel and emigration.[82]

View of passengers arriving in Vancouver aboard the Kumeric

Before 1885, fewer and fewer Japanese people emigrated from Japan, in part because the Meiji government was reluctant to allow emigration, both because it lacked the political power to adequately protect Japanese emigrants, and because it believed that the presence of Japanese as unskilled laborers in foreign countries would hamper its ability to revise the unequal treaties. A notable exception to this trend was a group of 153 contract laborers who immigrated—without official passports—to Hawai'i and Guam in 1868.[83] A portion of this group stayed on after the expiration of the initial labor contract, forming the nucleus of the nikkei community in Hawai'i. In 1885, the Meiji government began to turn to officially sponsored emigration programs to alleviate pressure from overpopulation and the effects of the Matsukata deflation in rural areas. For the next decade, the government was closely involved in the selection and pre-departure instruction of emigrants. The Japanese government was keen on keeping Japanese emigrants well-mannered while abroad in order to show the West that Japan was a dignified society, worthy of respect. By the mid-1890s, immigration companies (imin-kaisha 移民会社), not sponsored by the government, began to dominate the process of recruiting emigrants, but government-sanctioned ideology continued to influence emigration patterns.[84]


Through 1945[edit]

Japanese people living in the Philippines as portrayed in Boxer Codex 1590
Justo Takayama monument and historical marker at Plaza Dilao in Manila.

Japanese emigration to the rest of Asia was noted as early as the 15th century to the Philippines;[85][86] early Japanese settlements included those in Lingayen Gulf, Manila, the coasts of Ilocos and in the Visayas when the Philippines was under the Srivijaya and Majapahit Empire. In the 16th century the Japanese settlement was established in Ayutthaya, Thailand,[87] and in early 17th century Japanese settlers was first recorded to stay in Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). A larger wave came in the 17th century, when red seal ships traded in Southeast Asia, and Japanese Catholics fled from the religious persecution imposed by the shōguns, and settled in the Philippines, among other destinations. Many of them also intermarried with the local Filipina women (including those of pure or mixed Chinese and Spanish descent), thus forming the new Japanese-Mestizo community.[88] In the 16th and 17th centuries, thousands of traders from Japan also migrated to the Philippines and assimilated into the local population.[89] pp. 52–3 In the 15th century AD, tea-jars were brought by the shōguns to Uji in Kyoto from the Philippines which was used in the Japanese tea ceremony.[90]

In 1898 the Dutch East Indies colonial government statistics showed 614 Japanese in the Dutch East Indies (166 men, 448 women).[91] During the American colonial era in the Philippines, the number of Japanese laborers working in plantations rose so high that in the 20th century, Davao City soon became dubbed as a Ko Nippon Koku ("Little Japan" in Japanese) with a Japanese school, a Shinto shrine, and a diplomatic mission from Japan. There is even a popular restaurant called "The Japanese Tunnel", which includes an actual tunnel made by the Japanese in time of the war.[92]

There was also a significant level of emigration to the overseas territories of the Empire of Japan during the Japanese colonial period, including Korea,[93] Taiwan, Manchuria, and Karafuto.[94] Unlike emigrants to the Americas, Japanese going to the colonies occupied a higher rather than lower social niche upon their arrival.[95]

In 1938 about 309,000 Japanese lived in Taiwan.[96] By the end of World War II, there were over 850,000 Japanese in Korea[97] and more than 2 million in China,[98] most of them farmers in Manchukuo (the Japanese had a plan to bring in 5 million Japanese settlers into Manchukuo).[99]

Over 400,000 people lived on Karafuto (southern Sakhalin) when the Soviet offensive began in early August 1945. Most were of Japanese or Korean descent. When Japan lost the Kuril Islands, 17,000 Japanese were expelled, most from the southern islands.[100]

After 1945[edit]

After and during World War II, most of these overseas Japanese repatriated to Japan. Like the colonization of British, so of Japanese moved to the overseas countries during World War II. The Allied powers repatriated over 6 million Japanese nationals from colonies and battlefields throughout Asia.[101] Only a few remained overseas, often involuntarily, as in the case of orphans in China or prisoners of war captured by the Red Army and forced to work in Siberia.[102] During the 1950s and 1960s, an estimated 6,000 Japanese accompanied Zainichi Korean spouses repatriating to North Korea, while another 27,000 prisoners-of-war are estimated to have been sent there by the Soviet Union; see Japanese people in North Korea.[102][103]

There is a community of Japanese people in Hong Kong largely made up of expatriate businessmen. There are about 4,018 Japanese people living in India who are mostly expatriate engineers and company executives and they are based mainly in Haldia, Bangalore and Kolkata. Additionally, there are 903 Japanese expatriates in Pakistan based mostly in the cities of Islamabad and Karachi.[104]


The Japanese community of the city of São Paulo, Brazil, traditionally lived in the Liberdade neighbourhood.

People from Japan began migrating to the U.S. and Canada in significant numbers following the political, cultural, and social changes stemming from the 1868 Meiji Restoration. (see Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians)

View of Ujo Nakano's farm house at Port Hammond, B.C.

In Canada, small multi-generational communities of Japanese immigrants developed and adapted to life outside Japan.[105]

In the United States, particularly after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese immigrants were sought by industrialists to replace Chinese immigrants. In the early years of the 20th century, anxiety about the rapid growth of cheap Japanese labor in California came to a head when in 1906, when the School Board of San Francisco passed a resolution barring children of Japanese heritage from attending regular public schools. President Roosevelt intervened to rescind the resolution, but only on the understanding that steps would be taken to put a stop to further Japanese immigration.[106] In 1907, in the face of Japanese government protests, the so-called "Gentlemen's Agreement" between the governments of Japan and the United States ended immigration of Japanese workers (i.e., men), but permitted the immigration of spouses of Japanese immigrants already in the US. The Immigration Act of 1924 banned the immigration of all but a token few Japanese, until the Immigration Act of 1965, there was very little further Japanese immigration. That which occurred was mostly in the form of war brides. The majority of Japanese settled in Hawaii, where today a third of the state's population are of Japanese descent, and the rest in the West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska), but other significant communities are found in the Northeast and Midwest states.

List of passengers of the ship Kasato Maru bringing the first Japanese immigrants to Brazil, 1908.

The Japanese diaspora has been unique in the absence of new emigration flows in the second half of the 20th century.[107] However, research reports that during the post-war many Japanese migrated individually to join existing communities abroad.[108]

Immigrants from Japan in Palmira, Cauca (Colombia)

With the restrictions on entering the United States, the level of Japanese immigration to Latin America began to increase.[109] Mexico was the first Latin American country to receive Japanese immigrants in 1897,[110] when the first thirty five arrived in Chiapas to work on coffee farms. Immigration into Mexico died down in the following years, but was eventually spurred again in 1903 due to the acceptance of mutually recognized contracts on immigration by both countries. Immigrants coming in the first four years of these contracts worked primarily on sugar plantations, coal mines, and railroads. Unfortunately, Japanese immigrants in Mexico proved to have far less continuity than those in other South American countries, as disease, mining accidents, and discrimination caused many Japanese to pass away or simply leave without seeing their contracts through to completion. Less than 27% of the total number of Japanese who immigrated into Mexico before 1941 remained there 40 years later. [111] Japanese immigrants (particularly from the Okinawa Prefecture, including Okinawans) arrived in small numbers during the early 20th century.

Japanese Brazilians are the largest ethnic Japanese community outside Japan (numbering about 1.5 million,[112] compared to about 1.2 million in the United States), and São Paulo contains the largest concentration of Japanese outside Japan. The first Japanese immigrants (791 people, mostly farmers) came to Brazil in 1908 on the Kasato Maru from the Japanese port of Kobe, moving to Brazil in search of better living conditions. Many of them ended up as laborers on coffee farms (for testimony of Kasato Maru's travelers that continued to Argentina see es:Café El Japonés, see also Shindo Renmei). Immigration of Japanese workers in Brazil was actually subsidized by São Paulo up until 1921, with around 40,000 Japanese emigrating to Brazil between the years of 1908 and 1925, and 150,000 pouring in during the following 16 years. The most immigrants to come in one year peaked in 1933 at 24,000, but restrictions due to ever growing anti-Japanese sentiment caused it to die down and then eventually halt at the start of World War II. Japanese immigration into Brazil actually saw continued traffic after it resumed in 1951. Around 60,000 entered the country during 1951 and 1981, with a sharp decline happening in the 1960s due to a resurgence of Japan’s domestic economy.[113]

Japanese Peruvians form another notable ethnic Japanese community with an estimated 6,000 Issei and 100,000 Japanese descendants (Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei), and including a former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori. Japanese food known as Nikkei cuisine is a rich part of Peruvian-Japanese culture, which includes the use of seaweed broth and sushi-inspired versions of ceviche.[114][115]

There was a small amount of Japanese settlement in the Dominican Republic between 1956 and 1961, in a program initiated by Dominican Republic leader Rafael Trujillo. Protests over the extreme hardships and broken government promises faced by the initial group of migrants set the stage for the end of state-supported labor emigration in Japan.[116][117]

The Japanese Colombian colony migrated between 1929 and 1935 in three waves. Their community is unique in terms of their resistance against the internal conflict occurring in Colombia during the decade of the 1950s, a period known as La Violencia.[118]


The Japanese in Britain form the largest Japanese community in Europe with well over 100,000 living all over the United Kingdom (the majority being in London).[citation needed] In recent years, many young Japanese have been migrating from Japan to Britain to engage in cultural production and to become successful artists in London.[119] There are also small numbers of Japanese people in Russia some whose heritage date back to the times when both countries shared the territories of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands; some Japanese communists settled in the Soviet Union, including Mutsuo Hakamada, the brother of former Japanese Communist Party chairman Satomi Hakamada whose daughter Irina Hakamada is a notable Russian political figure.[120] The 2002 Russian census showed 835 people claiming Japanese ethnicity (nationality).[121]

There is a sizable Japanese community in Düsseldorf, Germany of nearly 8,000.[122]


Early Japanese immigrants were particularly prominent in Broome, Western Australia, where until the Second World War they were the largest ethnic group, who were attracted to the opportunities in pearling. Several streets of Broome have Japanese names, and the town has one of the largest Japanese cemeteries outside Japan. Other immigrants were involved in the sugar cane industry in Queensland. During the Second World War, the Japanese population was detained and later expelled at the cessation of hostilities. The Japanese population in Australia was later replenished in the 1950s by the arrival of 500 Japanese war brides, who had married AIF soldiers stationed in occupied Japan.In recent years, Japanese migration to Australia, largely consisting of younger age females, has been on the rise.[123]

There is also a small but growing Japanese community in New Zealand, primarily in Auckland and Wellington.

In the census of December 1939, the total population of the South Seas Mandate was 129,104, of which 77,257 were Japanese. By December 1941, Saipan had a population of more than 30,000 people, including 25,000 Japanese.[124] There are Japanese people in Palau, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands.

Return migration to Japan[edit]

In the 1980s, with Japan's growing economy facing a shortage of workers willing to do so-called three K jobs (きつい kitsui [difficult], 汚い kitanai [dirty], and 危険 kiken [dangerous]), Japan's Ministry of Labor began to grant visas to ethnic Japanese from South America to come to Japan and work in factories. The vast majority—estimated at roughly 300,000—were from Brazil, but there is also a large population from Peru and smaller populations from Argentina and other Latin American countries.

In response to the recession as of 2009, the Japanese government offered ¥300,000 ($3,300) for unemployed Japanese descendants from Latin America to return to their country of origin with the stated goal of alleviating the country's soaring unemployment. Another ¥200,000 ($2,200) is offered for each additional family member to leave.[125] Emigrants who take this offer are not allowed to return to Japan with the same privileged visa with which they entered the country.[126] Arudou Debito, columnist for The Japan Times, an English language newspaper in Japan, denounced the policy as "racist" as it only offered Japanese-blooded foreigners who possessed the special "person of Japanese ancestry" visa the option to receive money in return for repatriation to their home countries.[126] Some commentators also accused it of being exploitative since most nikkei had been offered incentives to immigrate to Japan in 1990, were regularly reported to work 60+ hours per week, and were finally asked to return home when the Japanese became unemployed in large numbers.[126][127][128] At the same time, return migration to Japan, along with repatriation to their home countries, has also created complex relationships with both their homeland and hostland, a condition which has been called a "'squared diaspora' in which the juxtaposition of homeland and hostland itself becomes questionable, instable and fluctuating."[129] This has also taken on new forms of "circular migration" as first and second generation nikkei travel back and forth between Japan and their home countries.[130]

Major cities with significant populations of Japanese nationals[edit]

European Nisei girl.
Latin American Nisei girl.
European and Latin American Nikkei girls.

Note: The above data shows the number of Japanese nationals living overseas as of October 1, 2017, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.[131]

See also[edit]


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