Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Trivia Question

I need to clear something up.

What city has the largest Japanese population living outside Japan?

Go ahead, look it up. Use Google.

What'd you come up with? Sao Paolo, Brazil?

Wrong. This is an internet myth that, like a lot of myths, has a grain of truth to it. But that grain of truth has been twisted and misunderstood.

According to Japan's foreign ministry (quoted in this NY Times article), New York City has the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan at 59,295 people. That's only the official statistic - the article is actually about all those who are not counted in that stat. Nearly 500,000 Japanese come to New York City every year, and many of them don't leave when they're supposed to. (Yes, that makes them illegal immigrants.)

Even the official stat is larger than Sao Paolo's, though. In fact, in all of Brazil, there are only about 83,000 Japanese-born residents, which is dwarfed by the number in the United States (officially over 400,000).

Where the myth probably comes from is the number of Japanese descendants in Brazil. Japanese emigration to Brazil has been pretty long-standing, and it's a community that never fully assimilated into the rest of the country - they've married and had children mostly with their ethnic brethren. So there are literally millions of ethnic Japanese Brazilians. But they are Brazilians, not Japanese - the same way a US-born person of Japanese descent is an American. You wouldn't call such a person "a Japanese person living outside of Japan". That'd almost be a little racist.

Anyway, just wanted to clear that up. It came up in a discussion I was having today, and I was pretty annoyed when I looked it up and saw how often this myth is repeated in the top Google search results (including Wikipedia).


  1. How exactly did Brazil get an influx of Japanese? Does this have anything to do with a post-WWII relocation?


  2. Jeff, do you know or not know? :)


  3. I really don't know. The wikipedia article says there was an influx of Japanese refugees after WWII, but the chart below shows only 12(?!) immigrants from 1945-1949 and only 5,447 1950-1954. It seems like the largest influx happened 1924-1933, when 110,191 Japanese moved to Brazil. There's no explanation of why that would be. It seems like it was somewhat spontaneous, a word-of-mouth kind of thing. I'm not sure if there was more reason for it than that.

    But that's really not a huge number of immigrants - it looks like quite a few more Japanese came to the United States over that same period. Maybe it was just Brazil's immigration laws being more relaxed than other countries in the region, I'm not sure.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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