Where Is the Largest Japanese Community Outside of Japan?

It is uncommon for Japanese people to live abroad. Tokyo alone holds upwards of 13 million people, yet there are only about 2.5 million Japanese descendants living outside of Japan. But here’s a kicker. About 60% of those Japanese descendants are living in one country. And it’s not in Asia. And it’s not the United States. As it turns out, the largest Japanese population outside of Japan is in Brazil.


A Brief History

In 1871, the han system, which was basically the Japanese feudal system, was abolished in Japan. In many ways it was a positive change for the country, as feudal lords (known as daimyo) were replaced by a central government. However, it also caused problems for farmers in rural areas, which in turn yielded immigration abroad.

Within decades, many farmers were eager to find new land with less regulation. But the search proved to be more challenging than planned, as many countries with thriving economies and available farmland had passed laws promoting racial exclusivity. In 1901, Australia passed the Immigration Restriction Act, which was also referred to as the White Australia policy, preventing the entrance of non-white immigrants. The United States passed the 1924 Immigration Act, which was similar Australia, but was targeted more directly at the prevention of Japanese immigrants from entering.

As a result, Brazil inherently became the promised land for frustrated Japanese farmers. Between 1926 and 1930, just under 60,000 Japanese immigrants entered the ports of Brazil. From 1931-35 came another 72,000. Many found success in the coffee industry and other farming based enterprises.



The first 709 Japanese immigrants of 1907 spoke no Portuguese whatsoever. Today, the third generation Japanese Brazilians can only speak limited Japanese to their elders, but otherwise recognize Portuguese as their native tongue.

Japanese Brazilians have also transformed religiously. The first generation was almost 100% Buddhists (although this was according to birth records and many didn’t actively practice).  Now only about 25% of Japanese Brazilians practice some form of eastern religion, while around 60% describe themselves as Roman Catholic.

Brazilians in Japan

In many ways, Japan is a wonderfully extravagant metropolis full of bright lights, technology, and culture. However, Japanese culture can be difficult to penetrate for foreigners. According to the CIA World Factbook, over 98% of Japanese citizens have no ethnic trace outside of Japan.

But nowadays there is a strange and interesting connection between the Japanese and Brazilian people. Portuguese is considered the third most important foreign language in Japan after Chinese and Korean. And of the few foreign residents living in Japan, most of them are from Brazil. In fact, people of Brazilian descent are the most populous non-Asian ethnic group living in Japan today. Japan also has the most Portuguese speakers in Asia and is home to the largest carnival parade in the world outside of Brazil.

The world isn’t as small as you think. More people are electing to study a second language every day. The demand for foreign language skilled employees has steadily increased since the dawn of the Internet. Regardless of whether you’re interested in learning Japanese or Portuguese, Language Trainers can get you to where you need to be.  If you’d like to get in touch, please don’t hesitate to contact us anytime.