Alien residents of Japan
By year and nationality, 1947-2010
By William Wetherall
First posted 10 March 2006
Last updated 25 September 2012
Trends Koreans | Chinese | Brazilians and Peruvians | Filipinos | Americans | Stateless | Table
The following table shows basic alien registration figures to the extent that they are available from 1947. See other tables for earlier figures, and for figures related to specific cohorts, such as sex and age, place of residence, employment, et cetera. For breakdowns on kinds of residence status, see articles related to permanent residents and long term residents.
Note that the figures shown here are annual counts of aliens registered as residents of the municipalities (villages, towns, cities, and wards) that constitute Japan's sovereign territory. They are not the head counts based on door-to-door census surveys taken every five years.
Annual alien registration and five-year national census counts are different. The datum of annual registration counts also varies with the report. Census reports are generally based on 1 October of the census year. Register-based populations were once reported as of 1 April, the start of a fiscal year, but now they are reported as of 31 December, the last day of a calendar year.
See article on "Aliens residing in Japan" for an overview of how both alien and Japanese (family) registration work in the general scheme of legal population registration and status in Japan. See also this article for details on published sources used to compile the following statistics.
Japan used to be the end of several migration routes in the greater Asia-Pacific region. It is still the end of older migration routes from the south and west and even the north. But today practically every country in the world has a trail that leads some, if not many, of its nationals to Japan every year.
Aliens in Japan, like Japanese, also have access to trails leading away from Japan. And trends of migrations into and out of Japan, by people of all nationalities, are constantly changing.
Many people who have migrated to Japan's prefectures over the past century and a half or so have stayed, and some have became Japanese. And several foreign national populations in Japan today have significant, sometimes large, native, Japan-born components.
It is incorrect to describe Japan's alien populations in Japan today as "immigrants" for at least three reasons: (1) the term often translated into English as "immigrant" means only "entrant", (2) Japan's exit-enter-country control laws do not define an "immigrant" status of residence, and (3) the still large (but rapidly decreasing) population of "Korean in Japan" are migrants who came to the prefectures between 1910 and 1945 as Japanese nationals when Chosen was part of Japan, or their descendants born and raised in the prefectures.
As the following table clearly shows, the past few decades have witnessed fairly steady and recently even sharp increases in the populations of several nationalities of aliens. Many recent migrants to Japan have settled in Japan and most likely will remain in Japan for the rest of their lives.
However, in 2007, the populations of a number of growing nationalities peaked and have since somewhat declined in the wake of a deepening economic recession. Some who had come intending to stay -- most conspicuously Brazilians of Japanese descent and their families, but also others -- have had to leave after losing their jobs, apparently because they lacked the technical qualifications and/or language skills to find other work in Japan.
Koreans ("Kankoku/Chosen" affiliates)
Koreans -- meaning mostly "Kankoku" (ROK) nationals, and legacy affiliates of the former Japanese territory of "Chosen" -- are listed first because they had been the largest alien nationality cohort until surpassed by Chinese in 2007. In fact, Koreans have been declining as a proportion of all aliens since 1947. Numerically, too, they have been declining since reaching a peak in 1991 (pink).
The total population of "Koreans in Japan" was overtaken by the topulation of "Chinese in Japan" in 2007. However, the population of recent Chinese migrants overtook the population of recent Korean migrants sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
The main reason for the leveling off the Korean population in the late 1980s and the decline after 1991 was (1) the impact of the Nationality Law revisions that came into effect on 1 January 1985 (Law No. 45, Showa 59-5-25), which allowed children born to Japanese women married to non-Japanese men to become Japanese at birth and made this provision retroactive for all non-adults, (2) an increase in naturalization from about 1990, and (3) an increase in mortality as the population of legacy-status (pre-postwar descended) Koreans aged.
At some point in the future, the increase in the general non-legacy-status cohort of postwar migrants and their descendants will exceed the decrease in the legacy cohort of pre-postwar migrants and their descendants, and the total Korean population in Japan will again begin to rise. However, in the near future, barring developments on the Korean peninsula that would cause large numbers of Koreans to flee to Japan and remain as refugees, the Korean population in Japan will rank at most fourth, following Chinese and Brazilians, and Filipinos, and may even be surpassed by Indians. Already, the newer Korean population ranks only fourth compared to Chinese, Brazilians, and Filipinos.
For more about the meaning of "Kankoku/Chosen" as an alien affiliation, see "Kankoku/Chosen" and "Chugoku".
Chinese ("Chugoku" affiliates)
Chinese have been the most steadily and rapidly increasing population of aliens since the late 1990s, and continued to increase in the late 2000s as Brazilians, Peruvians, and Americans decreased. The
For more about the meaning of "Chugoku" as an alien affiliation, see "Kankoku/Chosen" and "Chugoku".
Brazilians and Peruvians
For two glorious years in 1996 and 1997, the combined Brazilian and Peruvian populations exceeded the Chinese population. Both Latin American populations slowly grew after the war, and jumped a bit when Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972 as there had been some Latin American migration to Okinawa during the quarter century that it was under US administration.
The most significant growth of the Brazilian/Peruvian cohorts began, however, from the mid 1990s, as a result of revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act recommended by the cabinet on 28 March 1989, passed by the Diet on 8 December and promulgated on 15 December the same year (Law No. 79, Heisei 1-12-15). The revisions, which came into effect from 1 June 1990, provided a non-permanent unrestricted-activity status of residence called "Long term resident".
The "Long term resident" status was created for a number of categories of aliens, including foreign-born children and grandchildren of Japanese emigrants. Because the status did not restrict activities, approved aliens were freely permitted to work in Japan. Like other non-permanent aliens, those holding this status could later apply, if they qualified, for permission to permanently reside or even naturalize.
For more about the kinds of aliens who qualify as "Long term residents" see see Aliens residing in Japan: Statuses of residence and municipal registration.
For more about "Nikkeijin" as aliens of Japanese descent are commonly called, see "Nikkeijin" semantics: The legal status of aliens of "Japanese descent".
Filipinos, though overtaken by Brazilians in 1990, have been a longer and more constantly growing nationality, and will probably soon surpass the now dropping Brazilian population.
The Filipino population in Japan after the end of World War II in 1945 is small but slowly increases, partly through natural growth, and partly through repatriation of Japanese and Filipino family members. The number jumps in 1972, when Okinawa regains its status as a Japanese prefecture.
From 1972, the increase in the Filipino population accelerates. Increases during the 1980s reflect a relaxation in rules concerning entertainer visas and the beginning of a foreign-bride industry that is still going strong. Increases from the 1990s also reflect relaxations in rules permitting work as so-called "long term residents", an unrestricted-activity status introduced in 1991.
Historically, Japan's ties with the Philippines are old and intimate. Japanese settlements in the Philippines goes back to at least the 16th century. Commerce and migration ceased from about the 1640s but resume from the 1870s or so.
The Philippines, a territory of the United States since 1898, became a commonwealt still dependent on the United States for its foreign affairs and defense in 1935. During the early decades of the 20th century, many Japanese migrated to the islands, and start of the Pacific War in December 1941, when Japan invaded the Philippines, tens of thousands of Japanese, some married to Filipinos, had settled in the islands.
By May 1942, American forces on the Philippines had surrendered. In October 1943, the Republic of the Philippines is founded, and in September 1944, after the United States begins its invasion to retake the islands, the Philippines declares war on the United States and Great Britian. In July 1945, General MacArthur declares the islands liberated.
A number of Filipinos were living in Japan at the start of the Pacific War and more come during the war. After the war, there was repatriation in both directions -- Japanese in the Philippines returning to Occupied Japan, and Filipinos in Japan returning to the Philippines.
Due mainly to World War II and its outcome in Asia, nationals of the United States (excluding military personnel) ranked as the third largest alien cohort in Japan from 1947 until 1989, when Filipinos moved into third place. The very next year, Brazilians bucked Filipinos back to fourth and Americans to fifth. And in 2000, Peruvians took over fifth and bucked Americans down to sixth.
Though the population of Americans in Japan continued to gradually increase, the rate of increase slowed to the point that the proportion of Americans among all aliens in Japan has been falling since reaching a peak in 1990. The American population dropped a bit in 2009, but whether this marks the start of a downward trend remains to be seen.
The population of stateless aliens lept tenfold from 900 in 1971 to 9,000 in 1972.
Part of this sudden increase was due to the addition of stateless people in Okinawa to the Japan total after the reversion of the islands to prefectural status in Japan on 15 May 1972. Most of the increase, though, appears to reflect the effects of Japan's switch of its recognition of "China" from ROC to PRC on 29 September the same year.
Okinawa had been administered by the United States since its capture in 1945 during the Pacific War.
There were a number of ways in which people became stateless during the American administration of Okinawa -- most of them by falling through the then much larger holes in the nationality laws of Japan, the United States, but also some other countries. Though Okinawa was under US administration, Japan's Family Registration Law continued to operate for the purpose of register matters, hence Japan's Nationality Law continued to determine qualifications for entering an Okinawan register at time of birth.
A child of an unmarried Okinawan women entered her register and became Okinawan, hence latently Japanese, regardless of its father. If she was married to an alien, however, the child would not qualify for Okinawan (latent Japanese) registration. And if the child was unable to acquire it's alien father's nationality, it became stateless. This was likely if the father was an American national who had not met the age-residence qualifications that would have enabled his foreign-born offspring to acquire US nationality through descent.
Loss of ROC nationality
Japan's switch of recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People's Republic of China (PRC) did not itself cause ROC nationals in Japan to lose their ROC status. Some ROC nationals in Japan sought to divest themselves of ROC nationality just before the switch, since after the switch ROC's embassy and consulates would close.
About half of Japan's ROC nationals were Taiwanese who had become ROC nationals when Taiwan was occupied by, and incorporated into, ROC after World War II. The other half were mainlainders who had been ROC nationals when the war ended, and who had remained ROC nationals after 1949 when communists established PRC on the mainland and drove the ROC government into exile on Taiwan.
Some of these mainland-affiliated ROC nationals established ties with Taiwan. Others were anxious to affiliate themselves with PRC, especially now that Japan was switching its recognition from ROC to PRC. Yet others decided it was time to naturalize and become Japanese.
So long queues formed in front of the ROC embassy in Azabu and at missions elsewhere in Japan, as thousands of ROC nationals with mainland ties renounced their ROC nationality and obtained "loss of nationality certificates". Such certificates would facilitate acquisition of either PRC or Japanese nationality.
Rapid decline in statelessness
By 1982, just ten years after the reversion of Okinawa and the shift of recognition from ROC to PRC, the suddenly higher stateless count quickly melts down to the 2,000 level. Then after 1985, when the revised Nationality Law became operative, it immediately plunges to the 1,500 hundred level, reflecting the revised law's easing of the requirements for naturalization of stateless people.
See the article on Statelessness under Nationality on the menu, for details about the kinds of statelessness that have been possible in Japan.
|Registered alien residents of Japan|
|Number by country of nationality, 1947-2010|
|Compiled and computed from printed and web government sources, and designed, by William Wetherall.|
|Linear projections for 2005-2009 based on average annual increase during 1999-2004|
|Registered alien residents of Japan|
|Percent by country of nationality, 1947-2010|
|Linear projections for 2005-2009 based on average annual increase during 1999-2004|
|Cohorts||Aliens = persons who do not possess Japan's nationality, including stateless aliens.|
|Kan/Cho = "Korea" meaning "Kankoku" (Republic of Korea) and "Chosen" (former Japanese terr|
|Chugoku = "China" meaning Republic of China (until 1972) and People's Republic of China (since|
|Others = Other alien national affiliations (computed).|
|Stateless = No national affiliation (Mukokuseki).|
|See "Kankoku/Chosen and Chugoku" for details on "Korea" and "China" affiliated aliens.|
|Sources||Basic figures are from various government reports and other sources.|
|Design, computations as noted, and cross checks are mine (William Wetherall).|
|See article on "Aliens residing in Japan" for full descriptions of published sources.|
|1952||Chosenese and Taiwanese lose their Japanese nationality.|
|As aliens, most gain special statuses, and most are eligibile for naturalization.|
|1972||Okinawa returns to Japan after 27 years under America's control and jurisdiction.|
|Japan changes its "China" recognition from ROC (Taiwan) to PRC (Mainland).|
|1985||Nationality Law permits ambilineal acquisition and eases some naturalization.|
|1991||Revised immigration control law introduces unrestrictied activity "Long term resident" status.|
|88,611 people, most Koreans, some Japanese, migrate to DPRK from 1959 to 1967.|
|Most left Japan in 1960 (49,036) and 1961 (22,801), hence the sharp drops.|
|See Homusho Nyukan 1971, page 96, Table 40 for details.|
|Peak populations of listed alien affiliations.|
|1972 jump in statelessness reflects mainly Japan's switch of recognition from ROC to PRC.|
|From 1991, decrease in special status Koreans overtakes increase in general status Koreans.|
|From 2007, economic recession results in drops in several populations, most notably Brazilians.|
|Increasing Chinese population overtakes decreasing Korean population.|
|Ordinary status Koreans increasing but special status Koreans decreasing faster.|