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The Japanese diaspora, and its individual members known as , are Japanese emigrants from Japanmarker and their descendants to other parts of the world. Emigration from Japan first happened and was recorded as early as the 12th century to the Philippinesmarker, but did not become a mass phenomenon until the Meiji Era, when Japanese began to go to North America, beginning in 1897 with 35 emigrants to Mexico; and later Latin America, beginning in 1899 with 790 emigrants to Peru./" target="_blank"> "Desafíos que nos acercan," El Comercio (Lima, Peru). March 12, 2008. There was also significant emigration to the territories of the Empire of Japanmarker during the colonial period; however, most such emigrants repatriated to Japan after the end of World War II in Asia.

According to the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, there are about 2.5 million nikkei living in their adopted countries. The largest of these foreign communities are in Brazilmarker, the United Statesmarker and the Philippinesmarker. Descendants of emigrants from the Meiji Era still hold recognizable communities in those countries, forming separate ethnic groups from Japanese peoples in Japan.


Nikkei is derived from the term in Japanese, used to refer to Japanese people who emigrated from Japan and their descendants. 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 nationality. An inclusive definition would see Japanese emigrants who have significantly acculturated to their new surroundings as "Nikkeijin," while an exclusive definition would only include their children, born and raised outside of Japan (who may or may not be dual citizens). 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 U.S. or other places where Nikkeijin have developed their own communities and identities, Japanese emigrants tend to be included; citizenship is less relevant and a commitment to the local community becomes more important.

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

Despite claims to the contrary, the Japanese are not exceptional in all respects; therefore, it can be anticipated that new cultural identies will occur within the Japanese diaspora.

Early history

In the 1640s, 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.

Before 1885, relatively few 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 in 1868. . 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.


People from Japanmarker 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 American and Japanese Canadian). Particularly after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese immigrants were sought by industrialists to replace the Chinese immigrants. In 1907, the "Gentlemen's Agreement" between the governments of Japan and the U.S. ended immigration of Japanese workers (i.e., men), but permitted the immigration of spouses of Japanese immigrants already in the U.S. 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 Hawaiimarker where today a third of the state's population are of Japanese descent, and the rest in the west coast (California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state), but other significant communities are found in the Northeast and Midwest states.

The Japanese diaspora has been unique in the absence of new emigration flows in the second half of the 20th century.

With the restrictions on entering the United States, the level of Japanese immigration to Latin America began to increase. Japanesemarker immigrants (particularly from the Okinawa Prefecturemarker) arrived in small numbers during the early 20th century. Japanese Brazilians are the largest ethnic Japanese community outside Japanmarker (numbering about 1.5 million, [27637] compared to about 1.2 million in the United Statesmarker), and São Paulomarker contains the largest concentration of Japanese outside Japan. The first Japanese immigrants (791 people, mostly farmers) came to Brazilmarker in 1908 on the Kasato Maru from the Japanese port of Kobe, moving to Brazilmarker in search of better living conditions. Many of them ended up as laborers on coffee farms.

The first Japanese Argentine Nisei (second generation), Seicho Arakaki, was born in 1911. Today there are an estimated 32,000 people of Japanese descent in Argentina according to Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad.

Japanese Peruvians form another notable ethnic Japanese community and count among their members former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori.

There was a small amount of Japanese settlement in the Dominican Republic between 1956 and 1961, in a programme initiated by Dominican Republicmarker 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 labour emigration in Japan.


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) . 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. 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 Unionmarker, including Mutsuo Hakamada, the brother of former Japanese Communist Party chairman Satomi Hakamada. The 2002 Russian census showed 835 people claiming Japanese ethnicity (nationality).

There is a sizable Japanese community in Dusseldorf, Germanymarker to hold nearly 8,000 of Japanese descent.

Asia (except Japan)

The first Japanese emigration to the rest of Asia was noted as early as the 12th century to the Philippinesmarker; early Japanese settlements included those in Lingayen Gulfmarker, Manilamarker, the coasts of Ilocos and in the Visayasmarker when the Philippines was under the Majapahit and the Srivijaya Empire. A larger wave came in the 1600s, when Red seal ships traded in Southeast Asia, and Japanese Catholics fled from the religious persecution imposed by the shoguns, and settled in the Philippines, among other destinations. Many of them also intermarried with the local Filipina women (including those of pure or mixed Spanish and Chinese descent), thus forming the new Japanese-Mestizo community. During the American colonial era, the number of Japanese laborers working in plantations rose so high that in the 1900s, Davaomarker 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.

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

In 1938 there were 309,000 Japanese in Taiwanmarker. By the end of World War II, there were over 850,000 Japanese in Koreamarker and more than 2 million in Chinamarker, most of whom were farmers in Manchukuo (the Japanese had a plan to bring in 5 million Japanese settlers intoManchukuo).

In the census of December 1939, the total population of the South Pacific Mandate was 129,104, of which 77,257 were Japanese. By December 1941, Saipanmarker had a population of more than 30,000 people, including 25,000 Japanese. There were over 400,000 people living on Karafuto (southern Sakhalinmarker) when the Soviet offensive began in early August 1945. Most were of Japanese or Korean extraction. When Japan lost the Kuril Islandsmarker, 17,000 Japanese were expelled, most from thesouthern islands.

After World War II, most of these overseas Japanese repatriated to Japan. The Allied powers repatriated over 6 million Japanese nationals from colonies and battlefields throughout Asia. 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 Siberiamarker. 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.

In recent years, Japanese migration to Australia, largely consisting of younger age females, has been on the rise.

There is also a community of Japanese people in Hong Kong largely made up of expatriate businessmen.

Return migration to Japan

In the 1980s, with Japan's growing economy facing a shortage of workers willing to do so-called three 'K' jobs (kitsui [difficult], kitanai [dirty], and kiken [dangerous]), Japan's Ministry of Labor began to grant visas to ethnic Japanese to come to Japan and work in factories. The vast majority — estimated at roughly 300,000 — are Brazilians, but there is also a large population of Peruvians and smaller populations of Argentines and other Latin Americans. As native speakers of Portuguese and Spanish, some also speak Japanese and/or English, but many do not.

It is now disputed that those Nikkeijin born in Japan from two full-blooded Nikkeijin parents should be given Japanese nationality. This would mean that lex soli would apply to children of Nikkeijin parents. This seems to be a rare occurrence in the past, but with the Nikkei Brazilians this instance is not too uncommon. Being born in Japan, and being both ethnically and culturally Japanese, many Japanese argue that these children should be granted Japanese nationality by birth.

Since the Japanese economy is still in recession as of 2009, the government has offered 300000 yen for unemployed migrants to return to their country of origin to alleviate the country's soaring unemployment. Another 200000 yen is offered for each additional family member to leave.

See also


  1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japan: Japan-Mexico relations
  2. Sakai, Junko. (2000). Japanese bankers in the city of London, p. 248.
  3. For more on the history of travel documents and passports in modern Japan, see "外交史料 Q&A その他" (Diplomatic Historical Materials Q&A, misc.). 外務省 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) [1].
  4. Known as the Gannen-mono (元年者), or "first year people" because they left Japan in the first year of the Meiji Era. Jonathan Dresner, "Instructions to Emigrant Laborers, 1885-1894: "Return in Triumph" or 'Wander on the Verge of Starvation,"" In Japanese Diasporas: Unsung Pasts, Conflicting Presents, and Uncertain Futures, ed. Nobuko Adachi (London: Routledge, 2006), 53.
  5. Dresner, 52-68.
  6. Maidment, Richard et all. (1998). Culture and Society in the Asia-Pacific, p. 80.
  7. Website of the Japanese Generalkonsulat: Japaner in Düsseldorf. 27 May 2009
  8. Japanese Periodicals in Colonial Korea
  9. Japanese Immigration Statistics,
  10. Formosa (Taiwan) Under Japanese Rule
  11. The Life Instability of Intermarried Japanese Women in Korea
  12. Killing of Chinese in Japan concerned, China Daily
  13. Prasenjit Duara: The New Imperialism and the Post-Colonial Developmental State: Manchukuo in comparative perspective
  14. A Go: Another Battle for Sapian
  15. The Kurile Islands Dispute
  16. When Empire Comes Home : Repatriation and Reintegration in Postwar Japan by Lori Watt, Harvard University Press
  17. Perry, Joellen. "The Czech Republic Pays for Immigrants to Go Home Unemployed Guest Workers and Their Kids Receive Cash and a One-Way Ticket as the Country Fights Joblessness," Wall Street Journal. April 28, 2009.


  • Maidment, Richard A. and Colin Mackerras. (1998). Culture and Society in the Asia-Pacific. London: Routledge. 10-ISBN 0-415-17278-0/13-ISBN 978-0-415-17278-3
  • Sakai, Junko. (2000). Japanese Bankers in the City of London: Language, Culture and Identity in the Japanese Diaspora. London: Routledge. 10-ISBN 0-415-19601-9/13-ISBN 978-0-415-19601-7
  • Fujita, Yuiko (2009) Cultural Migrants from Japan: Youth, Media, and Migration in New York and London. MD: Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield, 10-ISBN 0-739-12891-4/13-ISBN 978-0-739-12891-6
  • Masterson, Daniel M. and Sayaka Funada-Classen. (2004), The Japanese in Latin America: The Asian American Experience. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. 10-ISBN 0-252-07144-1/13-ISBN 978-0-252-07144-7; OCLC 253466232

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