Japanese Americans [Image Source: Getty Images/Hill Street Studios]

Global Partners, Local Neighbors (Part 1):Census counts 1.3 million Japanese in US


The weekend of May 19-20, two communities on either side of the Pacific celebrated over 140 years of Americans living in Japan and Japanese living in America. In the Japanese city of Shimoda, Shizuoka, performances by the US Forces Japan (USFJ) military band, and a parade featuring US Ambassador John Roos and his wife were among the festivities enjoyed by over 230,000 visitors to the Black Ships Festival, commemorating the 1854 arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry, which reopened Japan to the world and made Shimoda the first home of Americans in Japan. Meanwhile residents of Sacramento, California experienced Japanese food and cultural demonstrations at the Wakamatsu Festival at the site of the first permanent Japanese community in the mainland United States, the “Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm” which was established by Japanese immigrants from Fukushima in 1869. Both festivals represent the long history of interaction and integration that have made Americans and Japanese literally neighbors in each country.

In this two-part report, we will look at what the 2010 census numbers reveal about America’s Japanese population and Americans residing in Japan.

Population of Japanese in America, 2010 (Japanese Alone and in Combination). Data Source: 2010 US Census

Japanese Living in America

In 1880, only 148 Japanese lived in the US. Today, according to Japanese government statistics, 384,411 Japanese citizens live in America, making it home to the largest number of overseas Japanese in the world and 38% of its permanent expatriates. The findings of the 2010 US Census however, reveal a broader picture of the Japanese community in the US: while over 763,000 people identified their ethnicity as “Japanese alone,” over 1.3 million in America identify themselves as having Japanese heritage in some form.

Among America’s Asian community, Japanese make up the 6th largest group, after the more sizable Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, and Korean populations. Census data indicates that Japanese in America show the highest rates of intermarriage and integration among the largest groups of Asians and Asian Americans, as 41% reported multiple heritages in addition to Japanese. While the number of those who identify themselves as “Japanese only” declined slightly over the course of the past decade, since 2000 the population of “Japanese in combination”(with another race or ethnic group) increased 13.5%.

Part of this is due to the fact that much of the immigration from Japan occurred a long time ago; with the first large scale waves arriving in late 1880s as Japanese were recruited from specific agricultural regions for work on Hawaii’s sugar plantations, and many moving on to the West Coast to substitute the then restricted Chinese labor as coolies and farm workers. Anti-immigrant unrest in California and other places eventually lead to legislation to restrict entry to only the wives and children of Japanese laborers in 1907, and to completely cut off immigration from Japan in 1924. This along with strained US-Japan relations leading up to World War II required the Japanese community in the US to become self-sustaining and encouraged its integration with the mainstream population.

Now, only 24% of people of Japanese ethnicity in the US in 2010 were born in Japan, despite fresh immigration-largely spurred by business investment- over the past 20 years.

Most of the Japanese population in the US resides in the Western part of the United States, with states that were the traditional destinations of the first Japanese in America, California, Hawaii and Washington, remaining home to the largest numbers. More than 13% of Hawaii’s total population reports Japanese heritage. Much like the broader group of Asians in America, the Japanese community is growing as well, increasing since the last census in every state but West Virginia. North Dakota saw the largest increase of 67%, followed by Nevada (63%), Arizona (49%), and North Carolina (45%).