Living in Japan

Why do foreigners come to live in Japan? Breakdown by Visa Status

In this article, we analyze visa and residency status data to answer the question, “Why do foreigners come to live in Japan?”

Before we go any further we realize that there are limits to what visa status can actually tell you about why foreigners come here. And a straw poll of your friends might probably reveal the motivations just as well: for work, to study, because you love the culture, people, and/or food; to fall madly in love or have already done so; because your partner has to come here for work; so you can be with your family, and so on!

Whatever your motivation, Japan’s Ministry of Justice has categorized you into a neat visa category, and this is the data we will be looking at below. This survey comes from the Ministry of Justice’s semi-annual statistical report on Foreigners Living in Japan (in Japanese) and excludes visas issued for short-term activities, such as tourism.

Nationalities of Foreigners Living in Japan

Non-Japanese living in Japan comprise about 1.88% of the total population (126,740,000) of  Japan.

By region, Asian passport holders make up the overwhelming majority of foreigners living in Japan, comprising almost 83% of the total. This is followed by South Americans (10%), Europeans (3%), and North Americans (3%). The chart below shows the breakdown by region.

Foreigners in Japan by Region of National Origin 2016 Survey

The top five countries represented in the foreigner population in Japan are all located in Asia: China (with 14.5%of the total), South Korea (9.4%), the Philippines (5.1%), and Viet Nam (4.2%), except for Brazil (3.8%), coming in at number five. For the tables below, people holding diplomatic and official visas were excluded from the data, but as these visa statuses only account for 0.51% of the total, it does not skew the result.

Together, the top ten countries (the five above, plus Nepal, the United States, Taiwan, Peru, and Thailand) account for about 86% of the total population of foreign nationals living in Japan.

Foreigners in Japan Rank by Nationality 2016 Survey 1 of 2

Foreigners in Japan Rank by Nationality 2016 2 of 2

Foreigners in Japan: Breakdown by Visa and Residence Status

In the tables below, we break down the data to understand the visa and residence statuses of foreigners living in Japan.

These are the key takeaways:

The large majority of people whom the official data considers to be “foreigners” living in Japan have a permanent or long-term residence status. Five residence categories (Permanent Resident, Special Permanent Resident, Long-Term Resident, Spouse or Child of Permanent Resident, and Spouse of Japanese) account for 58.6% of the total number of foreigners living in Japan.

A Permanent Resident (永住者, eijyuusha) of Japan has no restrictions on the activities (for example, work) they can engage in. This status is valid for life. People with permanent resident status do not have to go through visa renewal procedures and can more easily apply for a loan from a Japanese bank.

A Special Permanent Resident (特別永住者 tokubetsueijūsha) is a resident of Japan whose ancestry can be traced to Japan’s former colonies (Korea or Taiwan) when those countries were under Japanese colonial rule.

A Long-Term Resident (定住者 teijyuusha) are “refugees as stipulated by the convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Indochinese refugee settlers, second- and third-generation Japanese settlers, etc.” (Source: Embassy of Japan in the USA).

One-fifth of foreigners are living in Japan for study or technical internships. People studying in Japan (with a visa status of “Study Abroad) account for 11.6% of the foreigners living in Japan and Technical Internship visa holders account for 9.5% of the total. Together, these two categories make up over one-fifth of the total number of foreigners in Japan.

The largest work visa category (by percentage of visa holders) is the Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa. These are defined as “activities to engage in service that requires knowledge pertinent to jurisprudence, economics, sociology, or other human science fields.”

These activities include, for example: interpreting, translation, copywriting, fashion design, interior design, sales, overseas business, information processing, international finance, design, or public relations and advertising based on a contract with a public or private organization in Japan.

Foreigners in Japan by Visa Residence Status 2016 1 of 2

Foreigners in Japan by Visa Residence Status 2016 2 of 2

Foreigners in Japan: Breakdown by Region of Origin and Visa Status

In the tables below, we breakdown the data by both visa/residency status and region of national origin  (Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America, Oceana, or “No Nationality”).

Please note that the Totals shown in the yellow-highlighted row refer to the total for all three tables.

Foreigners Living in Japan Visa Status by Region of National Origin 2016 Table 1 of 3

Foreigners Living in Japan Visa Status by Region of National Origin Table 2 or 3

Foreigners in Japan by Visa Status and Region of National Origin Table 3 of 3

You may also be interested in: What are the most popular places for foreigners to live in Japan?

Photo Credit: Cheng-en Cheng via Flickr