Twice each year, Japan’s Ministry of Justice publishes statistics on foreign residents in Japan (current as of June 2015).

Population of Japan: 126,958,000
Non-Japanese residents: 2,172,892

Non-Japanese (NJ) residents make up just 1.71% of the overall population. Not surprisingly, the majority of these are from Asia, which accounts for 1,782,866 people or 82.05% of the NJ population (Note: Regional groupings reflect Ministry of Japan categorization):

1. China: 656,403
2. Korea (North & South): 497,707
3. Philippines: 224,048
4. Vietnam: 124,820
5. Nepal: 48,403
6. Taiwan: 45,209
7. Thailand: 44,175
8. Indonesia: 32,524
9. India: 25,309
10. Pakistan: 12,235

You may be surprised to learn that the next largest population by region comes from South America, which accounts for 234,266 people or 10.78% of the NJ population:

1. Brazil: 173,038
2. Peru: 47,800
3. Bolivia: 5,394
4. Argentina: 2,631
5. Columbia: 2,240
6. Paraguay: 1,863
7. Chile: 633
8. Venezuela: 361
9. Ecuador: 196
10. Uruguay: 96

North Americas account for 64,968 people or 2.98% of the NJ population:

1. United States: 51,523
2. Canada: 9,304
3. Mexico: 2,135
4. Jamaica: 492
5. Dominican Republic: 466
6. Cuba: 215
7. Costa Rica: 157
8. Honduras: 134
9. Guatemala: 119
10. Ecuador: 116

It is worth pointing out that in addition to the 51,523 U.S. citizens residing in Japan, the U.S. has 23 military bases and over 60 military facilities in Japan at which 54,000 active military personnel are stationed, along with 42,000 dependents and 8,000 Department of Defense civilian employees. These 102,000 people are presumably not included in the Ministry of Justice statistics. If they were, it would make U.S. citizens the fifth largest NJ population in Japan.

Europeans account for 64,661 people or 2.97% of the NJ population:

1. England: 15,197
2. France: 12,219
3. Russia: 7,973
4. Germany: 6,019
5. Italy: 3,399
6. Spain: 2,448
7. Romania: 2,330
8. Sweden: 1,800
9. Ukraine: 1,636
10. Uzbekistan: 1,365

Residents hailing from Oceania account for 12,823 people or 0.59% of the NJ population:

1. Australia: 9,167
2. New Zealand: 3,081
3. Fiji: 209
4. Tonga: 122
5. Samoa: 67
6. Papua New Guinea: 50
7. Solomon Islands: 37
8. Micronesia: 35
9. Palau: 30
10. Marshall Islands: 10

Africans account for 12,271 people or 0.56% of the NJ population:

1. Nigeria: 2,569
2. Ghana: 1,959
3. Egypt: 1,676
4. Kenya: 644
5. South Africa: 623
6. Uganda: 489
7. Cameroon: 472
8. Senegal: 457
9. Morocco: 414
10. Tanzania: 379

The Ministry of Justice indicates that there are 587 NJ residents who are categorized as “stateless.” I am not sure if these people are refugees,  asylum seekers or if they fall under some other category. Considering how strict immigration is in Japan, this is a surprisingly large number.

Speaking of refugees, despite popular misconceptions, Japan does extend temporary/permanent resident status and even citizenship to Muslims or people from countries where the official state religion is Islam. However, it is also true that currently, Japan is not admitting many refugees from Syria or other war-torn countries. In 2014, Japan’s Immigration Bureau received 5,000 applications for refugee status, a 53% increase over the previous year. Of those, only 11 (0.20%) were approved.

There are groups, such as the Japan Association for Refugees, which offer support and assistance to refugees, although it would appear they have little to work with at the present time. Look at any online discussion of this issue, and the vast majority of comments are against accepting refugees. Many think that refugees would be happier in countries that are more culturally compatible than Japan. Given Japan’s tendency toward xenophobia, plus the fact that the Chinese are vilified more than any other group in Japan, I wonder if there are any NJ cultures the Japanese consider compatible? Sadly, Japan has moved a long way away from its pre-Word War II pan-Asianism.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there are over 81,000 NJ residents from countries whose populations are 80% or more Muslim, comprising approximately 3.75% of the NJ population. Of these, Syrians account for 429 or 0.52%. By country, the ten largest groups are:

1. Indonesia: 32,524
2. Pakistan: 12,235
3. Bangladesh: 10,205
4. Malaysia: 8,585
5. Iran: 3,992
6. Turkey: 3,906
7. Afghanistan: 2,323
8. Egypt: 1,676
9. Uzbekistan: 1,365
10. Saudi Arabia: 999

There are over 60 mosques across Japan, nearly half of which are in the Tokyo area. These not only serve Muslims, they are also actively proselytizing, as indicated in this video introducing the Japan Islamic Trust‘s “Quran in Japanese Audio Video Project.” This project is intended to “help [a] new generation of children, youth and adults to understand the Quran and convey the message of Allah” in Japan.

Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all, however the Japanese are not a religious people. The infamous Aum Shin Rikyo subway gas attacks, Soka Gakkai and other laughably phony spiritual movements have made the Japanese quite suspicious of religion in general. There are Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses running around the country pestering the poor Japanese, but they tend to have little success in converting any of them. Often, the missionaries themselves become converted by Japan (i.e. marry a Japanese, settle down in Japan, leave the church, etc). For these reasons, I’m not sure how much headway Islam will make in Japan.

That being said, when I first came to Tokyo in 1994, I rarely crossed paths with another NJ, much less a Muslim. Now, I see women wearing hijab, niqab and burka everywhere I go. I often see men in thwab sitting on park benches smoking cigarettes in my neighborhood. Until 2015, I had never seen any of this in Tokyo, although I am sure Muslims have been here all along. My sense is that the Muslim community is on the rise, but that seems to be the case with the NJ population in general these days.

For the record, I don’t think accepting Syrian or other Middle Eastern/African refugees is in Japan’s best interest. It’s a lose-lose proposition. Japan is not an easy place for NJ to live. This is a country that demands you follow its rules, even if those rules don’t always apply to you or work in your favor. Japanese social interactions are based on an in-group/out-group dynamic that NJ can never overcome, no matter how long they live here or how well they speak Japanese. NJ are by definition an out-group. If you are a foreigner in Japan, you are an outsider—forever. You will never be accepted in this society. Does that sound appropriate for a place of refuge?