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News Navigator: Why are there many people of Japanese descent around the world?

A gateway to a shrine is seen in Sao Paulo, where many people of Japanese ancestry live, on May 23, 2008. (Mainichi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers common questions readers may have about why there are more than 3.6 million people of Japanese descent living around the world.

Question: I hear there are many people of Japanese descent living in Brazil. Are there many such people in other countries as well?

Answer: Japanese and their ancestors who emigrated abroad are called "nikkeijin," or people of Japanese descent. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, the number of people of Japanese descent is more than 3.6 million around the world. Brazil has the largest number at some 1.9 million, followed by the United States with about 1.33 million and Peru with approximately 100,000.

Q: When did such a large number of Japanese emigrate?

A: In 1868, about 150 Japanese people arrived in Hawaii to live, and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of Japanese immigration there. There are currently some 310,000 people of Japanese descent living in Hawaii. Meanwhile, a ceremony was held in Brazil on July 21, 2018, to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the start of Japanese emigration to the country.

Q: What does the term second-generation Japanese or third-generation Japanese mean?

A: Basically, people who were born in Japan and emigrated abroad are called first-generation Japanese, and their children, who were born in those countries, are called second-generation Japanese, followed by third generation, etc. Hawaii, which has a long history of Japanese immigration, is home to eighth-generation Japanese, while sixth-generation Japanese reportedly live in Brazil.

Q: Why did Japanese immigrate to countries far away from their own?

A: At a time when Japan was poor and the population was growing fast, the government recommended that people emigrate. Japanese people crossed the sea, hoping to become rich, buy land and find good jobs.

Q: It's good for people of Japanese descent to have emigrated, isn't it?

A: Yes, but those first-generation emigrants faced hardships. It was very difficult to start farming or other businesses in countries that they didn't know very well. In Brazil, some of them who failed to make a living suffered from malnutrition, and others died of diseases, such as malaria. Those who lived in the United States were sent to concentration camps because of the war as Japanese immigrants were deemed to be the enemy. Moreover, those who moved to the Dominican Republic subsequently protested against the Japanese government as it had recommended land to them that was unsuitable for farming. The government offered an apology to them 50 years after they emigrated. Those who battled through tough conditions and created today's Japanese communities in each country have gained much respect.

(Answers by Manabu Niwata, Foreign News Department)

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