Living in Japan

What are the most popular places for foreigners to live in Japan?

In this article, we take a look at population data to see which parts of Tokyo, specifically and Japan, in general, have the highest population of foreigners and where the population of foreigners is growing the fastest.

What is the population of foreigners in Japan?

In 2016, there were 2,382,822 registered foreigners living in Japan. This was a 6.7% year-on-year increase, and the highest number ever recorded by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ 2016 Registered Foreigner Survey [In Japanese]).

Japan’s population is 126,740,000, so foreigners comprise about 1.88% of the total.

Where do foreigners live in Japan by prefecture?

The majority of foreigners in Japan live in the greater Tokyo area, which consists of Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba. In 2016, there were 978,172 registered foreigners living in greater Tokyo, or about 41% of the total.

If we look at individual prefectures, Tokyo still leads the pack with a population of 500,874 (21.0% of the total), followed by Aichi (where Nagoya is located), with a population of 224,424 (9.4%), and Osaka with a population of 217,656 (9.1%).

Please see the chart below for a breakdown of registered foreigner population by prefecture.

Population of Foreigners in Japan by Prefecture 2016

Population of Foreigners in Japan by Prefecture 2016

What regions in Japan have the highest rate of growth in the foreigner population?

In 2016, Tokyo saw a net 8.2% increase in the population of foreigners. The surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba all recorded increases, as well.

However, it was the outlying regions that saw double-digit growth in the population of foreigners, albeit from a much smaller base.

These prefectures had the highest rate of year-on-year growth:

# 1 Saga Prefecture

In 2016, the population of registered foreigners in Saga grew 13.0%, to 5,203.

Saga is located on the northwest corner of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island. It is best known for its pottery. Photo: hirotsu-motoko.com/

#2 Okinawa Prefecture

In 2016, the population of registered foreigners in Okinawa grew 10.5%, to 14,285.

Okinawa prefecture is made up of more than 150 islands in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Japan’s mainland. It’s known for its tropical climate, white-sand beaches and coral reefs!

Sea kayaking in Zamami, Okinawa. Image: Wikimedia

#3 Miyazaki Prefecture

In 2016, the population of registered foreigners in Miyazaki grew 10.5%, to 5,100.

Miyazaki prefecture is located on the southeastern coast of Kyushu. It is known for beautiful mountainous and coastal scenery and mild climate.

Takachiho Gorge (Takachiho-kyō) is a narrow chasm cut through the rock by the Gokase River in Miyazaki prefecture. Image: Wikimedia

Where do foreigners live in Tokyo by ward?

The majority of foreigners living in Japan live in Tokyo’s 23 Wards.

Some stereotypes would have us believe that foreigners are concentrated in Tokyo’s central wards (Chiyoda, Minato, Chuo, Shibuya, and Shinjuku). These wards are indeed where Tokyo’s business, political, and entertainment hubs are located. It’s also true that the popular high-end ex-pat areas (such as Roppongi, Ebisu Hiro, Aoyama, Azabu, and Iidabashi) are concentrated in the center of the city.

Looking at the data, however, what we see is that the population of foreigners in the city is far more dispersed.

Some points that stand out:

  • Registered foreigners comprise about 4% of the population of the 23 Wards.
  • 10% of the total population of foreigners living in the 23 Wards lives in Shinjuku. Foreigners make up 11% of the total population of the ward, the highest ratio of any of the 23 Wards. The main reason for this is the high concentration of Korean nationals living in Shin Okubo (known as Tokyo’s Korea Town).
  • Setagaya, the most populous ward with a population of 919,000 (about 10% of the total population of the 23 Wards) only has 1.8% of the registered foreigner population.
  • Except for Shinjuku and Minato, the Top 10 wards by population of foreigners are all outside the center of the city.
  • About 80% of the foreigner population lives outside the central five wards of Chiyoda, Minato, Chuo, Shibuya, and Shinjuku.
Population of Foreigners in Tokyo by Ward 2016

Population of foreigners in Tokyo by Ward. Sources: Ministry of Internal Affairs “Survey of Population Change Based on Basic Residents’ Ledger” (Published January 1, 2017, in Japanese). and Wikipedia

What is the breakdown of foreigners in Japan by nationality?

It’s also useful to understand the nationality breakdown of foreigners living in Japan because it can give us some insight as to why some areas have concentrations of foreigners from certain countries. For example, as we pointed out above, one reason for the high percentage of Shinjuku’s foreigner population is because Korea Town is centered around Shin Okubo.

Population of foreigners in Japan by nationality 2016

You may also be interested in: Cost of Living in Japan, Cost of Living in Tokyo

Photo Credit: Metro Centric via Flickr
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  • John R. Harris

    How many Canadians in Japan?

    • REJ

      Thank you for your comment. The Ministry of Justice 2016 survey reports that there were 10,034 Canadians living in Japan as of the end of the year.

      • John R. Harris

        Aha, including me in the Chiba count. 1-man, nice round number. Thank you!

        • REJ

          No worries!

  • Josh Yates

    Is there a place to see the same ward breakdown for Osaka?

  • Brian

    By the way, Shin-Okubo is in Kanagawa. In Shinjuku-ku, there is only Shin-Okubo Station.

    • Layfon

      i think writer has forgotten to put the [station] after shin-okubo.. and yes shin-okubo station is where the korea town is at in shinjuku area..

  • Layfon

    is there any breakdown of specific foreigner nationality staying in that particular district??
    for example, where do most indian nationals stay?? etc etc..

  • Casp

    Why the 100,000 foreigner difference in measuring Tokyo in national figures and the Tokyo by ku table?

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  • Not to get all pedantic, but it’s a plurality of foreigners who live in Tokyo and Kanto. A majority would be more than 50%.