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Japanese name

Japantown (日本人街) is a common name for Japanese communities in cities and towns outside Japan. Alternatively, a Japantown may be called J-town, Little Tokyo or Nihonmachi (日本町), the first two being common names for Japantown, San Francisco, Japantown, San Jose and Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.


Japanese people living in the Philippines as portrayed in the Boxer codex (1590)

Historically, Japantowns represented the Japanese diaspora and its individual members known as nikkei (日系), who are Japanese emigrants from Japan and their descendants that reside in a foreign country. Emigration from Japan first happened and was recorded as early as the 12th century to the Philippines,[1] but did not become a mass phenomenon until the Meiji Era, when Japanese began to go to the Philippines,[2] North America, and beginning in 1897 with 35 emigrants to Mexico;[3] and later to Peru, beginning in 1899 with 790 emigrants.[4] There was also significant emigration to the territories of the Empire of Japan during the colonial period; however, most such emigrants repatriated to Japan after the end of World War II in Asia.[5]

For a brief period in the 16th–17th centuries, Japanese overseas activity and presence in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the region boomed. Sizeable Japanese communities, known as Nihonmachi, could be found in many of the major ports and political centers of the region, where they exerted significant political and economic influence.

The Japanese had been active on the seas and across the region for centuries, traveling for commercial, political, religious and other reasons. The 16th century, however, saw a dramatic increase in such travel and activity. The internal strife of the Sengoku period caused a great many people, primarily samurai, commoner merchants, and Christian refugees to seek their fortunes across the seas. Many of the samurai who fled Japan around this time were those who stood on the losing sides of various major conflicts; some were rōnin, some veterans of the Japanese invasions of Korea or of various other major conflicts. As Toyotomi Hideyoshi and later the Tokugawa shōguns issued repeated bans on Christianity, many fled the country; a significant portion of those settled in Catholic Manila.[6]

In western countries such as Canada and the United States, the Japanese tended to integrate with society so that many if not all Japantowns are in danger of completely disappearing, with the remaining only existing in San Francisco and San Jose, California.[7]


The features described below are characteristic of many modern Japantowns.

Japanese architectural styles[edit]

The five-tiered Peace Pagoda made of concrete in San Francisco

Many historical Japantowns will exhibit architectural styles that reflect the Japanese culture. Japanese architecture has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (fusuma) were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customized for different occasions. People usually sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor, traditionally; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern, and post-modern architecture into construction and design.

The Japanese Village Plaza in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo

Japanese language[edit]

Many Japantowns will exhibit the use of the Japanese language in signage existing on road signs and on buildings as Japanese is the official and primary language of Japan. Japanese has a lexically distinct pitch-accent system. Early Japanese is known largely on the basis of its state in the 8th century, when the three major works of Old Japanese were compiled. The earliest attestation of the Japanese language is in a Chinese document from 252 AD.

Japanese is written with a combination of three scripts: hiragana, derived from the Chinese cursive script, katakana, derived as a shorthand from Chinese characters, and kanji, imported from China. The Latin alphabet, rōmaji, is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when inputting Japanese into a computer. The Hindu–Arabic numerals are generally used for numbers, but traditional Sino–Japanese numerals are also common.


Japanese diaspora
Total population
About 3,600,000[8]
Regions with significant populations
 United States1,404,286[12]
 United Kingdom63,011[21]
 South Korea58,169[22]note
 Hong Kong27,429[27]
 New Zealand14,118[31]
 New Caledonia8,000[35]
 Marshall Islands6,000[38]
 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.


Japantowns were created because of the widespread immigration of Japanese to America in the Meiji period (1868–1912). At that time, many Japanese were poor and sought economic opportunities in the United States. Japanese immigrants initially settled in Western parts of the US and Canada.

At one time, there were 43 different Japantowns in California,[44] ranging from several square blocks of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, to one in the small farming community of Marysville in Yuba County. Besides typical businesses, these communities usually had Japanese language schools for the immigrants' children, Japanese language newspapers, Buddhist and Christian churches, and sometimes Japanese hospitals.[45] After the World War II internment of the Japanese, most of those communities declined significantly or disappeared altogether.

There are currently four recognized Japantowns left in the United States, which are facing issues such as commercialization, reconstruction, gentrification and dwindling Japanese populations.[46]


  • Colonia Urquiza is the Japanese district in La Plata, Argentina. Colonia Urquiza is the largest Japanese district in Argentina, and concentrates many institutions such as schools, restaurants and training centers.[47]



Kids at play in 1927 in Japantown, Vancouver

Several Japantowns emerged in the British Columbia's Lower Mainland during the early 20th century, including Japantown, Vancouver.[49] Steveston in Richmond, British Columbia was another community whose population in 1942 was primarily made up of people of Japanese descent.[50] However, these communities were dispersed after Japanese Canadians were interned during World War II.[49][50]

In the early 21st century, a Little Japan has emerged around Bay and Dundas Street in Toronto, Ontario.[51]

Canadian municipalities with Japanese populations higher than the national average (0.3%) include:


  • Little Tokyo, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City this neighborhood in the Cuauhtémoc district is home to many Japanese establishments from restaurants, ramen houses, Japanese bars, Japanese book stores, Japanese hotels and many other businesses catering to the Japanese community in the city as well as to the locals and tourists. Future plans for the neighborhood include a welcoming torii and Japanese style lanterns along the streets on Little Tokyo as designation markers of the "Barrio Japonés" and many other cultural markers.
  • Aguilas, Mexico City neighborhood in Mexico City. This part of the city is home to many Mexicans of Japanese origin.. Japanese clubs and restaurants as well as the japanese gardens. This area was mainly settled by many Japanese during WWII as the Mexican government concentrated many Japanese nationals in this area. Today it is a thriving part of the city with many Japanese institutions for the Nikkei community.
  • Acacoyagua, Chiapas. Acacoyagua is to this day the oldest Japanese colony in Latin America. It is a colony from the late 1800's where Japan sent off citizens to populate other parts of the world because of overpopulation at the time. The Enomoto Colony tried to farm coffee seeing the success of the neighboring German colonies in the Soconusco region. The colony prospered and to this day maintains their Japanese identity in the region. A Torii has been erected to welcome visitors as many institutions and buildings have Japanese cultural markers, especially in the Central Park. The descendants are very proud of their culture and have very strong ties to Japan, including welcoming the Crown Prince of Japan And Japanese festivals.


United States[edit]

Japan Marketplace in Columbus, Ohio
Looking across Post Street north on Buchanan Street in San Francisco's Japantown.
Concentrated and historical Japanese populations in the United States[edit]

Northern California: In addition to Japantown districts in San Francisco and San Jose, suburbs and neighborhoods with significant Japanese American populations and/or histories include:

Southern California:

Pacific Islands:

Elsewhere in western U.S.

Eastern U.S.:



  • Gubei, Shanghai, a residential area which has many expatriates from Japan. It is informally referred to as a "Little Tokyo." There is a Takashimaya department store in Gubei.[57]



In the late 2000s, Malaysia began to become a popular destination for Japanese retirees. Malaysia My Second Home retirement programme received 513 Japanese applicants from 2002 until 2006. Motivations for choosing Malaysia include the low cost of real-estate and of hiring home care workers. Such retirees sometimes refer to themselves ironically as economic migrants or even economic refugees, referring to the fact that they could not afford as high a quality of life in retirement, or indeed to retire at all, were they still living in Japan.


  • Japantown, Makati Philippines at Top of The Glo Glorietta Mall
    Little Tokyo (Mintal) in Davao City, Philippines (1936)
  • Japantown, Paco, Manila, Philippines
  • Japantown, Iloilo City, Philippines
  • Japantown, Cebu City, Philippines
  • Japantown, Mandaue City, Philippines
  • Japantown, Davao City, Philippines
  • Little Tokyo, Davao City, Philippines
  • Little Tokyo, Makati, Philippines. This Japanese neighborhood can be found along the stretch of Chino Roces Avenue and neighboring streets in the area approximately between Rufino Street and Arnaiz Avenue.[60]
  • Mintal, Barangay in Davao City, Philippines known as Little Tokyo.
  • Little Kyoto, Cebu City, Philippines[61][62][63]


South Korea[edit]



Concentrated and historical Japanese populations in Asia[edit]

  • Parts of Jakarta's shopping district of Blok M has been developed into the formation of Japanese-oriented facilities, including clusters of restaurants, spas, and cafés; earning the nickname "Little Tokyo", as it is also coupled with the high density of Japanese expats living around the area.[65]
  • There is an active Japanese presence (including multinational companies and expatriates) in industrial areas of Karachi, such as Port Qasim. During the 1980s and 1990s, there were over 2,000 Japanese living in Karachi, making them one of the significant expatriate communities in the country. Now, the community has shrunk to a few hundred.[66] There is also a Karachi Japanese School.[67]
  • In Bangkok a Japanese population lives in and around Sukhumvit Road, Thong Lo and Phrompong. Many of the apartment complexes are rented solely to Japanese people (although they are owned by Thais), and there are Japanese grocery shops, restaurants, bars, dry cleaning, clubs, etc. in and around Phrompong.
  • In Si Racha a Japanese population lives in and around the city center as the second largest Japanese community outside Bangkok.
  • In Chiangmai a Japanese population lives around the city center as the popular place for Japanese retirees with good weather and less crowded city.
  • In Ayutthaya a growing number of Japanese population returns and lives in and around Rojana Road close to many Japanese companies, the city also well known place of the first Japanese quarter in Thailand dated back to 16th century, the Ban Yipun.



United Kingdom[edit]



Since the late 1970s-early 1980s many Japanese companies chose Spain to set themselves.

The Netherlands[edit]



See also[edit]


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External links[edit]