How the resident foreigner population of Tokyo has changed in the past year

Not to overstate the obvious, a lot has changed in Japan in the past year. In this article we take a wide-angle look at how the foreign resident population of Tokyo has changed, based on population data compiled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

It was about 13 months ago, on April 3rd, 2020, when Japan expanded its entry ban, effectively barring entrance to the country for visitors from 73 countries and regions. Basically, the border situation, including a moratorium on the issuance of new work and student visas, remains the same.

There are a myriad of ways in which the pandemic and its effect on the economy and society have affected people’s lives in Japan, and it’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss them all.

But even just looking at population data, a number of things stand out thus far in 2021 with respect to how the pandemic, the economy and the immigration situation have affected the lives of Japan’s foreign residents.

The overall population of foreigners dropped by about 5%

As of January 1st, 2021, there were about 546,436 foreigners living in Tokyo, comprising about 4.1% of the total Tokyo population of 13,297,089 people.

This was a drop of about 5.4% versus 2020, the first time the foreigner population has dropped year-on-year since 2013, when it was 390,674 (a drop of 3.8% compared to 2012).

As of January 1, 2021, Tokyo lost about 30,893 foreign residents compared to 2020.

On January 1st, 2020, there were 577,329 foreigners living in Tokyo, the highest annual January 1st number ever recorded.

Here is what the numbers look like for the past five years:

Population of Tokyo as of January 1 of Each Year
Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Year Total Population % Change v. Previous Year Foreigner Population % Change v. Previous Year
Foreigner Population
as % of Total
2021 13,297,089 0.3% 546,436 -5.35% 4.1%
2020 13,257,596 0.5% 577,329 4.65% 4.4%
2019 13,189,049 0.6% 551,683 5.79% 4.2%
2018 13,115,348 -3.1% 521,500 7.23% 4.0%
2017 13,530,053 486,346

The top ten nationalities were the same, but the population of Taiwanese dropped by a greater percentage than the overall average

The top ten nationalities, other than Japanese, living in Tokyo comprise about 85% of the total population of foreigners.

The top ten countries, by foreigner population, are:

  1. China
  2. South Korea
  3. Viet Nam
  4. Philippines
  5. Nepal
  6. Taiwan
  7. US
  8. India
  9. Myanmar
  10. Thailand

Every nationality in the Top 10 saw a year-on-year drop, but the population of Taiwanese fell by about 11% year-on-year versus the overall Top 10 average drop of 5.4%.

The population of Filipinos dropped the least in percentage terms, by about 1.8% year-on-year.

Here are the year-on-year percentage changes in population:

Looking at the Tokyo 23 Wards, the total of all nationalities not in the top ten also dropped by a greater percentage (down 6.8%) than the overall average drop of 5.4%.

The population of foreign women dropped slightly more than that of men

The population of foreign women dropped by about 5.5% year-on-year, versus a 5.2% drop for men.

Foreigner Population by Gender, January 1, 2021 v. January 1, 2020
2021 % of Total % Change YoY 2020 % of Total
Women 278,559 51.0% -5.5% 294,841 51.1%
Men 267,877 49.0% -5.2% 282,488 48.9%
Total 546,436 577,329

The population of 65+ foreign residents increased

The 15 to 64 year-old age group, considered to be those in education or in the working population decreased by about 6.1%, but the population of 65+ foreign residents increased by about 5.1%.

Here are the year-on-year percentage changes by age group:

Every ward in Tokyo had a net population loss of foreign residents in March

Every ward in the Tokyo 23 Wards had a net population loss of foreign residents in March, which makes 2021 an outlier compared to the last few years.

Change in Resident Foreigner Population from March 1 to March 31 for Each Year
Population Increase or Decrease
in March 2021
Population Increase or Decrease
in March 2020
Population Increase or Decrease
in March 2019
Population Increase or Decrease
in March 2018
Tokyo Total Foreigner Population -8,670 -7,411 -296 792
23 Wards -7,600 -7,138 -695 190
Chiyoda △82 13 29 15
Chuo △21 11 27 81
Minato △203 2 31 59
Shinjuku △1,403 △1,685 △461 △466
Bunkyo △244 △340 44 47
Taito △265 △363 △119 △94
Sumida △81 △140 △72 14
Koto △254 △26 30 24
Shinagawa △76 29 67 124
Meguro △99 △72 12 52
Ota △115 5 119 224
Setagaya △186 △34 90 206
Shibuya △185 △46 168 119
Nakano △553 △601 △143 △62
Suginami △390 △384 116 100
Toshima △776 △1,058 △577 △156
Kita △353 △451 △109 △11
Arakawa △294 △426 △123 △140
Itabashi △534 △440 87 △54
Nerima △345 △288 176 69
Adachi △297 △152 91 141
Katsushika △265 △179 △11 28
Edogawa △579 △513 △167 △130

More foreign residents left Tokyo in March (the end of the fiscal and school year) than in previous years

March 31st is the end of the fiscal year for many Japanese companies, universities and language schools, so it’s a time when where is a lot of population movement, for everyone in Japan, foreigners included.

Even in pre-COVID times we would expect to see a population decline in Tokyo, for example, because foreign exchange students would finish their school year and return to their home countries.

Looking at the past few years’ data, we see that there is usually a drop in the resident foreigner population of Tokyo in March, but the drop in March 2021 was higher than for last year, when the pandemic started and much higher than in 2019, both in absolute and percentage terms.

The majority of the resident foreigner population decline was due to people leaving the country

The table above tells us that the foreign population of Tokyo dropped by 8,670 people in March 2021, but it doesn’t tell us where they went.

When we drill down a bit, we see that the majority of the decline in the foreigner population was not due to people moving out of Tokyo to another prefecture; but because they left the country.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • 28.6% of the population change was due to people moving to another prefecture
  • 4.2% was due to people moving somewhere else in Tokyo
  • 2.5% was due to a net gain in births versus deaths
  • 69.7% was due to “other” causes, including people leaving Japan


Data Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Lead image: Pedestrian crossing in Ginza, iStock 930295916


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