For historical Japanese communities in early modern Southeast and East Asia, see Nihonmachi.

Liberdade in São Paulo, Brazil, the most populous Japantown in the world
Japanese name
Kanji 日本人街
Kana にほんじんがい

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


Historically, Japantowns represented the Japanese diaspora, and its individual members known as nikkei (日系), 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 ronin, some veterans of the Japanese invasions of Korea or of various other major conflicts. As Toyotomi Hideyoshi and later the Tokugawa shoguns issued repeated bans on Christianity, many fled the country; a significant portion of those settled in Catholic Manila.[6]

In the western countries such as Canada and the United States, the Japanese tended to integrate with society 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

Main article: Japanese architecture
The five-tiered Peace Pagoda made of concrete.

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, and is today a leader in cutting-edge architectural design and technology.

The Japanese Village Plaza in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.

The earliest Japanese architecture was seen in prehistoric times in simple pit-houses and stores that were adapted to a hunter-gatherer population. Influence from Han Dynasty China via Korea saw the introduction of more complex grain stores and ceremonial burial chambers.

Japanese culture

Main article: Culture of Japan

The culture of Japan has evolved greatly over the millennia, from the country's prehistoric Jōmon period, to its contemporary hybrid culture, which combines influences from Asia, Europe, and North America. The inhabitants of Japan experienced a long period of relative isolation from the outside world during the Tokugawa shogunate, until the arrival of "The Black Ships" and the Meiji period.

Pine Trees, Hasegawa Tōhaku

Japanese language

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 is relatively small but 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 2,600,000
Regions with significant populations
 Brazil 1,500,000
 United States 1,204,205
 China 127,282note
 Philippines 20,000-120,000[8][9]
 Canada 109,740
 United Kingdom 100,000[10]
 Peru 90,000
 South Korea 58,169note
 Thailand 47,000
 Australia 40,968
 Germany 34,388[11]note
 Argentina 34,000
 France 30,947note
 Hong Kong 21,297[12]
 Micronesia 20,000
 Mexico 15,650
 Indonesia 11,263
 Bolivia 9,500
 New Caledonia 8,000
 Italy 7,556note
 Paraguay 7,000
 New Zealand 6,888note
 Marshall Islands 6,000
 India 5,554Japanese people in India
 Palau 5,000
  Switzerland 4,071note
 Chile 2,600

^ note: The population of naturalized Japanese people and their descendants is unknown. Only the number of the permanent residents with Japanese nationality is shown.

North America

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,[13] 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 immigrant's children, Japanese language newspapers, Buddhist and Christian churches, and sometimes Japanese hospitals.[14] After the World War II internment of the Japanese, most of those communities declined significantly or disappeared altogether.

There are currently three recognized Japantowns left in the United States, which are facing issues such as commercialization, reconstruction, gentrification and dwindling Japanese populations.[15]


Kids at play in 1927 in Japantown, Vancouver

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

United States

Looking across Post Street north on Buchanan Street in San Francisco's Japantown.
Concentrated and historical Japanese populations in the United States

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:

Elsewhere in western U.S.:

Eastern U.S.:

South America







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.




Concentrated and historical Japanese populations in Asia




United Kingdom


The Netherlands


See also


  1. Kekai Manansala, Paul. "Philippine Civilization, Culture and Technology".
  2. Shiraishi, Saya; Shiraishi, Takashi, eds. (1993). The Japanese in Colonial Southeast Asia. Cornell Southeast Asia Program. p. 157. ISBN 9780877274025.
  3. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japan: Japan-Mexico relations
  4. Palm, Hugo. "Desafíos que nos acercan," El Comercio (Lima, Peru). March 12, 2008.
  5. Azuma, Eiichiro (2005). "Brief Historical Overview of Japanese Emigration". International Nikkei Research Project. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
  6. Wray. p8.
  7. "SF Japantown's Last Hurrah".
  8. Ohno, Shun (2006). "The Intermarried issei and mestizo nisei in the Philippines". In Adachi, Nobuko. Japanese diasporas: Unsung pasts, conflicting presents, and uncertain futures. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-135-98723-7.
  9. Agnote, Dario (October 11, 2006). "A glimmer of hope for castoffs". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2016.
  10. Itoh, p. 7.
  11. "Bevölkerung und Erwerbstätigkeit. Ausländische Bevölkerung" (PDF). Statistisches Bundesamt.
  12. Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong. Hk.emb-japan.go.jp. Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
  13. Donna Graves; Gail Dubrow. "Preserving California's Japantowns". Preserving California's Japantowns. Retrieved 2006-11-04.
  14. "A History of Japanese Americans in California: HISTORIC SITES". National Park Service. Retrieved August 2010. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  15. Kori-Kai Yoshida (2006-06-24). "Community Leaders Discuss State of California's J-Towns". Nichi Bei Times, reprinted at Rafu Shimpo Online. Los Angeles News Publishing Co. Retrieved August 2010. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  16. http://www.thestar.com/amp/life/2016/05/11/japanese-influence-is-seeping-into-downtown-toronto.html
  17. http://www.steinbeck.org/assets/resources/assets/62/original_Japan_Town_In_China_Town.pdf?1300397960
  18. http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/japantown_portland_nihonmachi_/#.VY8bv-s-Bz8
  19. Elaine Jarvik (2007-01-22). "Salt Lake street may honor Japantown". Deseret News archives. Deseret News Publishing Company. Retrieved April 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  20. http://sur.infonews.com/notas/la-pequena-japon-argenta La pequeña japon argenta
  21. 2011年统计用区划代码和城乡划分代码:虹桥镇 (in Chinese). National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
  22. 2011年按區議會分區、國籍及在港居住年期劃分的人口 (A208)
  23. 香港淺草 日本人愛紅磡 下町飲食街
  24. Karachi: Enclave for Japanese investors at Port Qasim
  25. Karachi Japanese School
  26. "Born abroad - an immigration map of Britain: Japan". BBC News.
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