Encyclopedia of Diasporas

2005 Edition
| Editors: Melvin Ember, Carol R. Ember, Ian Skoggard

Chinese in Japan

  • Lara Tien-shi Chen
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-29904-4_70


Qing Dynasty Japanese Government Chinese Community Chinese School Chinese Resident 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Japan is a country made up of four main islands surrounded by the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. China and Japan are separated mainly by the Sea of Japan, and there has been a continuous flow of visitors or migrants from China to Japan from different parts of China, mostly from the northern, eastern, and southeast coastal areas.


Early Ages: First Chinese in Japan

The early groups of Chinese came to Japan mainly as foreign delegations sent by Chinese emperors. Historical records shows that Xu Fu, whose expedition to Japan is recorded in Shima Qian’s Shiji, led hundreds of Chinese to the East China Sea in search of the medicine for eternal life for the Qing Emperor. It was said that Xu Fu landed in Japan, and there is no record showing that he returned to China. Some believe that the group resided near Kumano or Mt. Fuji and became naturalized in Japan.

In around 500 c.e., a large number of Chinese and Koreans immigrated to Japan partly due to the strong promotion of Buddhism by Japanese emperors. In addition, some Chinese and Koreans came to Japan to escape the turbulence in their home societies due to rebellions.

After the unification of Japan by the Yamato regime around 700 c.e., skilled immigrant groups from China and Korea settled in Kinki (now Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, etc.) and Oumi (now Shiga) nearer to the imperial capital in Kyoto. After the decline of the Tang dynasty in the ninth century fewer Chinese came to Japan, and the remaining Chinese residents in Japan were slowly assimilated into Japanese society.

Modern History: Chinese Diaspora in Nagasaki

After the Kamakura, Muromachi, and Edo periods, Japan imposed more restrictions on immigration. However, because maritime trade developed between China and Japan after 1000 c.e., the migration pattern of Chinese to Japan shifted from a cultural diaspora to a trade diaspora (Shiba, 2002).

Trade restriction in China during the Ming and Qing dynasties made illegal most commercial activities between Japan and China. These activities were usually conducted by Japanese and Chinese pirates, and the Chinese government made efforts to eliminate these raiders.

In the beginning of Tokugawa Shogunate (1603 to 1867), part of Nagasaki began to host a small settlement of Chinese merchants. In the early and mid seventeenth century, Chinese ships, notably owned by Fujian (or Hokkien) merchants, ran the commercial routes linking Japan with the newly opened up Taiwan as well as with Fujian and Manila.

The trade ships that arrived at Nagasaki also came from the coasts of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Jiangxi, known as the Three Jiangs (Sanjiang.) People from these areas resisted the Manchu’s Qing Dynasty, so those traders called themselves Tangren (Tang people), or Tojin in Japanese. The master mariners and mates were largely of Fujian or Shanjiang origin, while the crews tended to be Fuqing. The port of Nagasaki was the home base for intermittent seasonal traders, sojourners, and permanent residents.

In 1639 the shogunate ushered in two centuries of national seclusion, during which Japan’s foreign trade was limited to the Koreans, the Dutch, and the Chinese. The right that the Chinese enjoyed to live anywhere in the city was progressively curtailed until 1688, when the entire community was confined to a 30,000-m2 enclosure called Toujin Yashiki, which means “Chinese’s estate.” Chinese were confined to their ghetto and not allowed to travel freely. It was not until the early nineteenth century that the restriction was relaxed and Chinese peddlers could be seen in the streets of the city again (Hsu, 1998).

Japan Opens the Door to the World: Formation of Chinese Community

The year 1858 is a landmark in Japanese history as well as in the Chinese diaspora in Japan. The Edo Shogunate concluded a treaty with the United States, Britain, France, Holland, and Russia to agree to the opening of its ports and markets, which had long been closed. Japan opened the ports of Hakodate, Kanagawa (modem Yokohama), Nagasaki, Hyogo (modem Kobe), amd Niigata for trading and residence. In addition, Edo (modem Tokyo) and Osaka were opened for Westerners to live, where they enjoyed extraterritoriality status.

There was no official agreement signed between the China’s Qing Dynasty and Japan, and as a result, Chinese did not have any legal status to reside in Japan. However, resident Chinese were overlooked by Japanese police because of the historical relation between China and Japan, as well as the important role that Chinese played as middlemen.

Most of the Westerners arrived in Japan along with the Chinese compradors and employees with whom they were already working in Chinese ports. Furthermore, Westerners and Japanese could not communicate with each other and they needed Chinese interpreters, who communicated in English with Westerners and in written Chinese characters with Japanese.

The other major event that led to an increase in the number of Chinese in Japan was the opening of steamship fines between Yokohama and Shanghai. When the steamship lines opened, the number of immigrants from Jiangsu and Zhejiang increased. Since Westerners started to trade with Japan, many Cantonese had come to work as middlemen. Later, even more Cantonese came to expand their network in the newly opened ports of Yokohama and Kobe, and very soon became one of the major groups of Chinese there (Son, 1987).

In 1894 when the Sino-Japan War began, many Chinese moved back to their homeland in China, and only one-third of the Chinese population remained in Yokohama after the war. After the war, the number of Chinese in Japan increased due to the revival of economic relations between the Qing Dynasty and Japan. In addition, an increasing number of Taiwanese entered Japan, now that Taiwan was a Japanese colony.

Facing Difficulties: Earthquake and World War II

In 1923, the great Kanto earthquake destroyed Yokohama’s Chinatown. The earthquake happened at noon when people were preparing lunch; most of the houses in Chinatown were wooden, which magnified the disaster. During the evacuation, some Koreans and Chineses were killed by Japanese because of a rumor about a foreigner who contaminated a well with poison. Many Chinese suffered and moved back to their hometowns.

During World War II, the population of ethnic Chinese living in Japan was reduced to around 20,000. After the war, by 1948 the population had bounced back to 36,932. The population of Chinese from Taiwan in 1948 was 14,046, which accounted for almost 40% of the entire ethnic Chinese population in Japan at the time (Kanrikyoku, 1980). The sharp increase in Chinese from Taiwan was a consequence of policy changes in Japan due to the loss of Taiwan as a colony. Before World War II, both Taiwanese and Koreans were legally treated as Japanese (teikoku shinmin, “subjects of the Meiji emperor”) because they were living under the colonial administration of the Japanese. They had been educated in Japanese and in many respects were assimilated into Japanese culture. Some even served in the Japanese military and fought against the Chinese during the war. After its defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to give up its colonies. In 1947, after the Foreigner’s Registration Law was established, those from Taiwan and Korea were recategorized as foreigners, losing their Japanese nationality (Tanaka, 1995). This is why in official Japanese government statistics the Chinese population in Japan increased so drastically in the 1950s.

The “Two Chinas” and Japanese Diplomatic Policy

In 1949, the Civil War in China resulted in two governments that both claimed legitimacy, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the mainland and the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. At that time, the Japanese government regarded the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China, and there were no diplomatic relations between the PRC and Japan. The flow of population between the PRC and Japan was also restricted.

Between the 1950s and the beginning of the 1970s, a considerable number of ethnic Chinese from Taiwan migrated to Japan. Many of those new immigrants were highly educated and came to Japan for study. They continued to reside in Japan after completing their education and many of them joined Chinese communities and started their own businesses. As a result, the population of Chinese in Japan increased to around 50,000 by the beginning of the 1970s.

The Wave of New Migrants (1980 to Present)

The Chinese population in Japan jumped from 52,896 in 1980 to 381,225 in 2001. Those who arrived after 1980 are called Xin Huaqiao (“new overseas Chinese”), as opposed to the Lao Huaqiao (“old overseas Chinese”), who had come earlier.

The pull factor of this flow was Japan’s 1980s economic boom and the resulting severe labor shortage, especially in the service and construction industries. In addition, Japan’s policy of welcoming foreign students attracted many young Chinese students to choose Japan as their destination for study abroad. A push factor was China’s Open Door Policy, which sent many young Chinese to abroad, including Japan, for work and study.


Ancient records show that the flow of Chinese and Koreans to Japan was quite high. Many of these early Chinese and Korean immigrants into Japan became naturalized.

The population of Chinese in Japan started to grow as early as 200 c.e. and increased steadily from 500 c.e. to the earlier part of the sixth century, reached a peak in 700 c.e., and fell back by the late ninth century. In 1688, the shogunate started to allow foreign trade in Nagasaki. At that time, 9,128 Chinese arrived in Japan on 193 ships and settled down in their ghetto, called Tojin Yashiki. However, in the following year a fire burned down the Chinese enclosure. In 1880, the number of Chinese residents in Japan was reduced to only 549 in Nagasaki, of whom 59 were women. Nagasaki lost its position as Japan’s only international seaport in 1858 as Japan opened up more ports for foreign trade. This other ports included Kobe and Yokohama, where an increased number of Chinese chose to settle. Yokohama became the city with the largest Chinese population, growing from 1,002 in 1869, to 2,169 in 1880, and to 3,644 in 1907. The Chinese population in Yokohama was surpassed by Tokyo’s only after the World War II.

Changes in the population of registered Chinese from the 1881 until 2001 are shown in Table 1. This number is derived from the number of Chinese (PRC and ROC) passport holders. Therefore, naturalized Chinese, holding Japanese passports, are not included. In addition, the figures do not include the number of ethnic Chinese descendants who lived in Japan but held passports of countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and the United States. Thus, it is difficult to determine the actual number of the Chinese diaspora in Japan. Futhermore, it is said that there are many overstayed Chinese in Japan. In 2001, it was estimated there were 40,000 illegal immigrants from China staying in Japan in addition to the 381,225 registered Chinese.

After Koreans, Chinese are now the second-largest foreign group in Japan. Of the total of 1,778,462 foreigners in Japan, 21.4% are Chinese. The Chinese population has increased continuously since 1979, while the number of Koreans in Japan has decreased year by year.
Table 1.

Chinese Passport Holders Living in Japan


Total population



























Source: Kanrikyoku, 1980.

The Chinese population in Japan is relatively small compared to other Chinese diaspora communities around the world. One reason is that Japan did not allow unskilled labor to enter Japan from the beginning. In addition, compared to the United States, Canada, Australia, and other multiethnic countries, Japan is less tolerant of immigrants. For example, in Japan, many of the second- or third-generation Chinese are still regarded as foreigners, although these Chinese speak fluent Japanese and may have never stepped out of Japan. These Japanese-born Chinese live without citizenship, the right to vote, and other privileges enjoyed by other Japanese.

Most of the Chinese in Japan came from Taiwan until recently, when those from the region around Shanghai took the top position. Japan also has many Chinese from the northeast provinces of Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Jilin. The reason for the large number of Chinese from northeast China is due to the following factors:
  1. 1.

    Between 1931 and World War II, northeast China, then known as Manchuria, was colonized by Japan. Therefore people from the region have certain social connections with the Japanese as well as knowledge about Japan, including language skills.

  2. 2.

    After the World War II, many Japanese wartime orphans were left in northeast China. Some of these orphans returned to Japan, and along with them, many relatives came to Japan as spouses or children of Japanese nationals.

  3. 3.

    Many Chinese in Korea who were originally from Shangdong Province tended to remigrate to Japan rather than stay in Korea, which had a stricter immigration policy.


Tokyo is proportionally the largest place of residence for registered Chinese in Japan. The Greater Metropolitan Area, which includes Kanagawa (Yokohama), Saitama, and Chiba, accounts for 49.3% of the Chinese population in Japan. Osaka and Hyogo (Kobe) also have relatively high concentrations of Chinese residents.


Most Chinese in Japan are generally able to read and write in Japanese and Chinese. Both Chinese and Japanese are used at home, and Japanese is used in most other circumstances. The younger generation of Chinese feel more comfortable speaking Japanese than Chinese. Older generations stick to their own dialect, such as Cantonese or Shaghainese, at home and when they need to communicate with friends and relatives. However, when they need to communicate with Chinese from other localities or with their grandchildren, they use Japanese rather than Mandarin Chinese. The common language used in meetings with overseas Chinese associations tends to be Japanese.

With regard to the use of the written language, Chinese in Japan often publish newsletters of overseas Chinese associations in Japanese, although official documents are still written in Chinese. As for newspapers, Chinese mainly rely on Japanese newspapers and some Chinese papers from Taiwan and China. There are small local Chinese papers published in communities, but they are of limited distribution and influence. In the 1980s, with the wave of new immigrants from China, usage of Chinese has increased noticeably, especially written Chinese. There were more than 140 weekly papers established in this period, of which 40 are still in circulation.

Culture and Community

Economic Activities

In the early nineteenth century, along with the wave of reformation and modernization, Japan tried to end extraterritoriality and abolished the Foreigner’s Residence Area in 1899. However, with the prospect of opening the ethnic boundaries between communities, many Japanese began to fear losing their jobs to Chinese immigrants. Therefore, the Japanese government issued Ordinance 352 to restrict the admission of foreign workers. Although Ordinance 352 was applicable to all foreign labor, it targeted Chinese immigrants. Under the law, only those Chinese who were categorized in selective occupations could reside in Japan. Hence, the composition of the Chinese population transformed significantly as well as their economic activity. Under the new ordinance, Chinese were only allowed to work as cooks, tailors, or barbers, the so-called San-badao (“three knives”). Limited by these restrictions, it was difficult for Chinese to expand their businesses and join mainstream society. The only “knife” that has survived and flourished is cooking. With their many restaurants, local Chinese have successfully revitalized Chinatown as a tourist attraction. Yokohama’s Chinatown has become one of the most popular tourist spots and attracts 17 million tourists annually, and seems more famous as a sightseeing spot than as a home of the ethnic Chinese community. Many Chinese businesses have expanded with the development of Chinatown as tourist attraction to include trading, travel, transportation, hotel, and other entertainment-related businesses.

Gender Roles and Status

Although men maintain their authority at the core of society, women are very active in managing their family businesses, unlike Japanese women, who are often housewives. This can be easily recognized in shops of Chinatowns, where female owners play important roles in their business as well as in the development of the community.

Housing and Use of Space

In 1858, although Japan allowed foreigners to cross its national borders, there was a clear boundary between Japanese nationals and foreigners within the country. Under the system, foreigners were only allowed to reside in an area designated by the Japanese authority as the Foreigner’s Residence Area (Gaikokujin kyoryuchi). Areas in which Chinese lived huddled together eventually became the Chinatowns of the present day. There are three Chinatowns, one in Nagasaki, another in Kobe, and the biggest in Yokohama. Yokohama Chinatown occupies a 25-hectare area into which are squeezed 570 shops and restaurants.

In the past, houses were combined with the family shop; however, nowadays people tend to separate their working and living spaces, and usually live in a nearby apartment or house or in a neighboring town.

Property and Inheritance

When a treaty was signed between Qing Dynasty China and Japan in 1871, many Chinese moved to Japan. Being resourceful and energetic, the newly arrived Chinese soon began to build their own houses and start small businesses. The earlier settlers established the Chinese Association (Zhonghua huiguan) as the umbrella organization to manage most of the property of the Chinese community. In Yokohama, a temple to worship the popular deity Guandi (in Chinese, Guandi-miao; in Japanese, Kantei-byo) was built with community donations in the early 1870s, and the Chinese cemetery Dizhang Wang Miao (Jizou Ou byo) was established in 1892.

Marriage, Family, and Household

Until a few decades ago, both Chinese in Japan and Japanese were hesitant to let their offspring intermarry because of the bitter history both nationals experienced in World War II as well as worries about problems of cultural differences. Therefore, marriages of second-generation Chinese were often arranged by their relatives with other Chinese who had similar cultural backgrounds. However, recently, cross-marriages between younger-generation Chinese and Japanese are more common. A considerable number of these Chinese obtain Japanese citizenship.

Socialization and Education

There are five full-time Chinese schools in Japan. The Yokohama Overseas Chinese School has grades from kindergarten to high school. The classes are basically taught in Chinese using textbooks sent from Taiwan. They also teach Japanese and English as language classes. Most of the students are bilingual. However, students tend to speak Chinese in the classroom and with teachers, but use Japanese after school with friends.

One major problem of these Chinese schools is that the Ministry of Education in Japan does not recognize the high school degree of Chinese schools. Therefore graduates are not allowed to enter Japan’s National University, but only some private colleges and only after they pass a special exam. Thus, many graduates tend to go to China, Taiwan, and the United States for college. Because of this problem, many students transfer to a Japanese school at a lower grade, where they are mainly educated in Japanese and do not speak Chinese except in the home.

Community Organization and Structure

The first umbrella organization of Chinese communities, the Chinese Huiguan, was established in Yokohama in 1867. Other hometown associations based on locality were later established, such as Guangdong Huiguan, Sanjiang Gongsuo, and Fujian Huiguan. Other kinds of organizations include clan associations based on a common family name and professional associations, such as chambers of commerce.

There are also Overseas Chinese Associations (Huaqiao Zhonghui), which basically deal with a wide range of issues of the Chinese diaspora in Japan and form the core of the community. In Yokohama there are two Overseas Chinese Associations with the same name, but the one written with traditional characters is pro-ROC, whereas the other, written with simplified characters, is pro-PRC.

The most active association in Yokohama is the Yokohama Chinatown Development Association. It played, and continues to play, a key role in healing the old antagonisms between the pro-PRC and pro-ROC factions and concentrates on culture and economic development of the community. Under its leadership the members of Chinatown are learning to take advantage of their special cultural identity and utilize it to promote the modernization and globalization of their community.

Social Stratification

As one can see from the economic activities in which Chinese are engaged, most of the old comers (Lao Huaqiao) are in business and have their own property, so they have a certain stability in Japanese society. They belong to the middle or upper-middle class. Because unskilled workers are not allowed to enter Japan in theory, the new comers (Xin Huaqiao) first come on student visas and spend most of the time outside the classroom working part-time. Many college students (known as ryugakusei) study as well as work hard to pay for the high cost of tuition and living in Japan. Some even have to spend a few years in Japanese schools before they pass the language exam and qualify to enter college. These pro-college students are called shugakusei.

Many Xin Huaqiao are highly educated. By the year 2002, more than 6,000 of them had completed their PhDs and more than 1,000 of them taught in Japanese colleges. Many came as ryugakusei and after acquiring their degree got a job in Japan and decided to stay and become naturalized. This group soon joined the middle class of Japanese society.

Besides students, there are other Chinese who come under the category of kenshu, or “trainee.” Under this system, many qualified Chinese professionals are recruited by various enterprises through official channels and work as short-term contracted staff. The purpose of the program is to invite skilled labor and train them to assist the development of their country after they return home. However, in reality, the jobs are fairly low-grade ones and are located in ill-equipped factories in remote countryside locations, where Japanese are reluctant to work.

There are an estimated 40,000 illegal or overstayed Chinese in Japan. Some entered Japan with traveler or student visas, but overstayed. Some came with fake documents or were smuggled into Japan by boat. These Chinese are often accused of causing legal problems in Japan, and are considered to belong to the lower class.

Political Associations and Activities

Japan has long been an important base in Asia for Chinese political activists. Sun Yet-sen spent more than seven years in Japan preparing his revolution. There are many political factions and branches of China’s political parties, such as the Kuomintang (KMT), in Japan. Political activists supporting Taiwan’s independence have had an association since the 1950s. In 1999, the Association for Promoting Peaceful Unification of China was established in Japan.

Religious Beliefs and Practices

From 1612 onward, Christian missionary activities were banned in Japan and suspected Christians persecuted. Chinese erected Buddhist temples to make clear their religious affiliations. Each bang, or group based on place of origin, built their own places for worship. Some examples of these places are the Xingfu Monastery, the Fuji Monastery, the Chongfu Monastery, and the Shengfu Monastery. These temples have remained sites of historical interest in Nagasaki, and contemporary festivals mark the days when merchants and seamen carried images of Mazu and Taihou around the port. The temple served both as places of worship and as a base for community associations responsible for rituals, burials, welfare matters, and mediating disputes (Hsu, 1998).

Chinese also erected a temple for Confucius in 1647. This temple was damaged by bombs during World War II and was rebuilt in 1967 and again in 1980. Ceremonies marking Confucius’s birthday are still held there. The temple ran primary school classes for more than 80 years, but the school was forced to close down in 1988 due to the diminishing Chinese population in Nagasaki.

A temple to worship the popular deity Guandi was established in the early 1870s in Yokohama and rebuilt a few times afterward due to war and fire, most recently in 1990. Mazu, Taihou, and Guanyin are worshiped together with Guandi. The newly built temple is a main attraction for Japanese tourists.

Ceremonies and Holidays

Chinese living in Japan try to keep Chinese traditions and culture intact. Different traditional Chinese festivals, such as the Lunar New Year, the Qingming Festival, the Duangwu Festival, Guandi Dan (the birthday of Guandi), and the Mid-Autumn Festival are celebrated in Yokohama. These festivals attract tourists from other parts of Japan.


Lion-and-dragon dances are among the most popular arts for Chinese in Japan. Children who study in Chinese schools usually learn these dances after school, and girls learn the dances of China’s ethnic minorities. Taichi is very popular among Japanese, even more so than among Chinese. Chinese painting and traditional instruments, such as the Pipa and the Erhu, are popular in Japan. Many Xin Huaqiao are responsible for reintroducing these traditional arts to the community.

Cultural Variation

Chinese diaspora in Japan can be classified into three groups. The first group is the early settlers, who came to Japan before the reopening of the PRC in the late 1970s. The second group is the second-generation Chinese in Japan, who are the children of the earliest settlers. The third and final group is the new settlers who came from the PRC after 1980s.

The earlier settlers can be further classified into the pre-civil war settlers, who came to Japan before the retreat of ROC government to Taiwan, and those who came after. The pre-civil war settlers were normally laborers and merchants who came directly to Japan, whereas a considerable number of the post-civil war settlers came to Japan via Taiwan or Hong Kong. Politically, the pre-civil war settlers did not have strong political inclinations, while the post-civil war settlers generally held anti-Communist views. They tended to support the KMT, or nationalist government, on Taiwan and opposed the Communist rule of the PRC on the mainland. The stage was set for divisive political battles caused by the differing political outlooks between the two groups.

One common characteristic of the earlier settlers, regardless of whether they came before or after the civil war, was their relationship to their hometown in China. In Yokohama’s Chinatown, overseas Chinese associations and other civic groups were formed partially due to their affiliation with their home regions. In some cases, these associations and civic groups own a considerable amount of resources and properties. After the civil war in China and during the Cold War era, with two Chinese governments and two distinct political viewpoints vying for legitimacy, confrontations occurred, especially over the rightful ownership of some of the resources and properties owned by the associations and civic groups. Factions disagreed on what version of modern Chinese history to teach in their community school or how to use school facilities, which were in theory owned by the entire community. Political animosity sometimes degenerated into physical conflict.

The atmosphere was extremely turbulent during the 1960s and the 1970s, when China was swept up by the Cultural Revolution. The older Chinese residents were forced to take political stands on issues that did not seem to directly affect their community.

Today, the younger-generation Chinese do not have strong political inclinations toward the PRC or the ROC, nor do they have strong cultural inclination toward hometowns in China. Although the younger-generation Chinese are often bilingual, they can communicate better in Japanese than in Chinese and generally associate better with Japanese of their own generation, rather than Chinese from their homeland.

The new settlers who came after the 1980s can be categorized into two groups: professionals, and semiskilled or unskilled people. The professionals normally come to Japan to further their studies and work in Japan. These professionals often learn the Japanese language and assimilate into Japanese society. However, semiskilled or unskilled people start off in lower-level jobs and often stay in Chinatowns, as they cannot effectively assimilate into Japanese society.

Relationship to Host Country, Homeland, and Other Diasporic Communities

In early times, by invitation of the Japanese government, Chinese skilled labor came to Japan, helping to diffuse Chinese knowledge and technology. The most noticeable influence of Chinese culture is Kanji, the Chinese characters that Chinese interpreters, writers, and diplomats brought with them to Japan and were later adopted as part of the Japanese written language.

The ancient Japanese also acquired military technology and tool manufacturing from Chinese craftsmen, such as ironworkers, sake brewers, painters, and fabric workers. Chinese scholars brought with them Chinese astrology and medicine, and religion and philosophy, such as Confucianism and Buddhism.

Although there was a reduction of Chinese coming to Japan in the Japanese middle ages (ca. 700 to 1850 c.e.), the exchange of skills and cultures between China and Japan continued. These cultural exchanges had an enormous influence on Japanese religion and spiritual culture, especially by the Zen and Joudo priests who came to Japan during the Song and Yuan Dynasties.

Although the Japanese have been basically respectful of Chinese culture and people, there was a change of attitude toward Chinese after the Sino-Japan War marked by increased discrimination and hostility, which reached its peak during World War II. Since then discrimination and hostility toward the Chinese community in Japan has declined due to the sociocultural and economic contributions of the Chinese community to Japan during the postwar era and the opening up of the PRC to foreign trade. However, there is some discrimination against the latest Chinese arrivals. These Chinese were brought up and educated in the Communist regime during the Cold War era. They are not well-off economically and tend to be discriminated against in many circumstances, such as when renting homes and finding jobs.

The Chinese in Japan maintain strong ties to their homeland as well as Chinese diasporic groups in other parts of the world. The strong ties with the homeland in China have increased recently due to the opening up of the PRC to foreign trade and the increased number of direct flights between Japan and many different cities in China.

Chinese culture has also tied the Chinese in Japan with Chinese diasporic groups in other parts of the world through international conventions and activities organized by hometown, clan, or business associations. The leading entrepreneurs often participate in the international convention of the Association of Chinese Chambers of Commerce. The leaders of the community in Japan often attend international meetings of associations in China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and other counties.

The Chinese in the Chinatowns of Japan form cultural exchange groups to visit diasporic groups in other parts of the world. For example, the Lion Dance group from the Yokohama Chinatown participates in competitions with Lion Dance groups from different Chinese communities all over the world and recently won a prize in the worldwide Lion Dance competition.


The Chinese living in Japan are constantly struggling among their ethnic identity as a Chinese, their social identity as a resident of Japan, their cultural and economic affiliation with Japan, their attachment with their own dialect group from their hometown in China, and their political affiliation between the ROC and the PRC. In particular, the mass movement of the Xin Huaqiao provoked the Lao Huaqiao to rethink their “Chineseness.” There are barriers between the Lao Huaqiao and the Xin Huaqiao in terms of language, way of living, and values. Many Lao Huaqiao are already assimilated into their host society, and feel much closer to Japanese culturally, especially the younger generation.

Political events caused a crisis of legal identity of the Chinese in Japan when, in 1972, Japan changed its diplomatic relationship with China by recognizing the PRC as the legitimate government of China. At the same time, Japan decided to cut its diplomatic relationships with the ROC in Taiwan. This had a great effect on the ethnic Chinese groups in Japan. With the change in Japanese government policy, Chinese living in Japan who held an ROC passport were advised to change their legal documents if they wanted to remain living in Japan. They could either convert from an ROC passport to a PRC passport, convert to Japanese citizenship, or become stateless. At that time, quite a number of Japan’s Chinese hesitated to convert to Japanese citizenship because the process of conversion required them to change their family names and adopt a Japanese surname. The lingering perception of Japan as the wartime enemy was an additional factor that added a feeling of resistance toward the idea of converting. Many Chinese also hesitated to acquire PRC citizenship because they did not believe in the Communist ideology of the PRC, especially during the chaos and destruction of the Cultural Revolution. Moreover, most ethnic Chinese were merchants and it was a certain that they would be stigmatized as capitalists by Communist China. As a result, great numbers chose the third option and became stateless.

The visas of some Chinese who live in Japan indicate that they are either foreign residents (teijûsha) or permanent residents (eijûsha). As foreigners, they come under the control of the Foreigner’s Registration Law and have to register as “aliens” and carry their Certificate of Alien Registration card with them at all times. Like most Asian foreigners in Japan, the ethnic Chinese living in Japan were restricted from owning land, taking loans from banks, and even in finding jobs. Today, many of the second- and third-generation Chinese in Japan still hold a Certificate of Alien Registration and are treated legally as foreigners even though they were born, raised, and have lived their whole lives in Japan; culturally, they are completely assimilated to Japan.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lara Tien-shi Chen

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