Map of Foreign Born Japanese Population by State. Data Source: US Census; American Community Survey, 2009 (Click to Enlarge)

Census Counts 767,000 Japanese in US; 88,000 Americans in Japan


The 2010 US Census data reveals an increasingly diverse demographic landscape in America, with Asians as the fastest growing racial-group in the past decade, we recently reported. According to the American Community Survey, a new nationwide survey by the US Census Bureau, 3.4% of America’s foreign-born Asian population, or 343,746, were from Japan.

However, the population of Japanese-Americans far surpasses the number of foreign-born Japanese nationals. Among those identifying their race as “Asian-alone,” the 2009 ACS reported 766,875 Japanese, with some respondents representing fifth generation Japanese Americans (gosei). The bulk of the population of Japanese in America is represented by long established families, with little coming from new migration. Japanese citizens accounted for only 1% of all immigrants from Asia obtaining either citizenship or permanent residency in 2010, according to the 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

While Japan ranked 6th as country of origin among US foreign-born Asians, statistics provided by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs show the United States is home to the largest number of Japanese nationals outside of Japan. More Japanese nationals lived in the US in 2008 than in all other Asian countries combined. The states with the largest populations of foreign-born Japanese are California, New York, and Hawaii.

Lithograph image of Manjiro, first Japanese national to come to the US. Image Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Visualizing Cultures

The first Japanese national to reach the continental United States arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on May 7, 1841, despite Japan’s continued isolation to the Western world at that time under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The unlikely first “ambassador” from Japan was a 16 year old boy named Manjiro, who was rescued and adopted by the captain of an American whaling vessel after a sudden storm stranded his fishing party on a desert island for five months. After living and studying in New England, Manjiro eventually returned to Japan, giving some of the earliest Japanese accounts of American life and serving as a translator and console on the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US that opened Japan to the world. Manjiro’s arrival was commemorated in the establishment of May as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month” twenty years ago in May 1991 by a joint resolution of Congress. That legacy of nihon-jin in America continues to this day.

Japan is also home to a sizable population of Americans. The Japanese Ministry of Justice reported 52,683 registered American foreign residents in 2008, a number up 15% from 2000. These figures do not include those US military personnel stationed in Japan, which number an additional 35,329. Of Japan’s foreign-born population, Americans constitute the 6th largest group after China, Korea, Brazil, the Philippines, and Peru. Considering that the majority of those of Korean-decent born in Japan are required to hold South Korean citizenship, and the remaining countries of the top five have special migration agreements established with Japan, America’s ranking is not insignificant.

Americans make up the largest percentage of the foreigner population in Okinawa, where nearly a quarter of all foreigners are from the US. In terms of total numbers, the prefectures with the largest American populations are Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka, Aichi, and Hyogyo. While only 2% of Americans living in Japan were registered in the three prefectures most affected by the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in March, much of the coverage of the disaster by the American media included contributions from these expatriates.