Global Partners, Local Neighbors (Part 2): 80,000 Americans Reside in Japan


This is the second of a two-part report, looking at what the 2010 census numbers reveal about America’s Japanese population and Americans residing in Japan.

Americans Living in Japan

Americans in Japan represent a sizable share of country’s international population. In 2010, the Japanese government counted 50,667 registered foreigners from the United States living in Japan; a number that does not include over 33,000 military personnel and their dependents stationed throughout the country, US citizens residing in Japan for periods of three months or less, or people with dual Japan-US citizenship. Americans have recently edged out Filipinos to now make up the 5th largest nationality among Japan’s foreign population, after China, the Koreas, Brazil, and Peru. As we highlighted previously, this is significant as nearly all residents of Korean-decent born in Japan are required to hold South Korean citizenship, and Japan maintains special immigration agreements with China, Brazil, and Peru.

Population of Americans in Japan, 2010, Registered Foreigners from the US by Prefecture. Data Source: 2012 Japan Statistical Yearbook. Graphic by: Grace Ruch

There are Americans living in each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. The largest proportion, 60%, resided in the highly populated prefectures of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka, Aichi, and Hyogo. Per million residents however, the Okinawa Prefecture has the largest share of Americans at 1,568, followed by Tokyo (1,358), Kanagawa (556), and Kyoto (446).

At the city level (municipalities with populations over 30,000, which are home to 90% of Japan’s population), only 4 communities lacked at least one resident American. The 23 wards that comprise Metropolitan Tokyo are home to 14.8 thousand Americans alone, with popular areas including the Minato Ward (4,402 Americans), Shibuya (1,629), and Setagaya (1,512), housing more Americans in a few square miles than live in some entire prefectures. Yokohama, at 2,380, has the second largest American population, while Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka each host over 1,000.

Despite the figures not including those stationed in Japan as part of the United States Forces Japan (USFJ), the largest concentrations of Americans among the local foreign resident communities are found in regions that reflect the US security presence. The prefecture with the largest share of Americans is Okinawa, where 1 in 5 foreigners are from the US; followed by Aomori (7%) and Nagasaki (6%). Among the cities where Americans comprise of a quarter or more of the registered foreigners-Uruma, Okinawa (42%), Okinawa City, Okinwa (36%), Nayoru, Hokkaido (29%), Ginowan, Okinawa (26%), and Misawa, Aomori (25%)- each hosts at least one US military installation.

US-Japanese Tug of War Competition

As we reported in Part One of this series, in May, the city of Shimoda celebrated the arrival of the first American residents in the “Black Ship Festival.” The participation of American and Shizuoka officials in this event underscored the rich history and interaction between the people of both nations that began when Commodore Perry came ashore in that costal town 150 years ago. The visit concluded Amb. Roos’ efforts to visit every prefecture in Japan, and demonstrated the friendly relationship between American military personnel and their Japanese neighbors as sailors visited elementary schools and participated in volleyball and softball games.

At the same time across the Pacific in the US, as Americans commemorated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and the nation reflects on the 70th anniversary of the wartime internment of the Japanese, the sometimes tumultuous history of Japanese in America has been openly discussed. Community ceremonies have honored the service of Japanese WWII veterans, and nissei whose studies were disrupted by the events of the past have received honorary degrees at the Universities of Southern California and Washington- scenes that would have been as unimaginable to past generations as the sight of the military bands of the US and Japan playing in a joint concert in a Japanese port town.

Whether because of this long history, or in spite of it, the unique US-Japan relationship continues to play out both across borders and across towns.