Japan’s ethnic groups are one of the most culturally homogeneous major societies on earth, dominated by the Yamato people.
The Yamato Japanese are the dominant group in Japan, making up the lion’s share of Japan’s population. In fact, around 98% of the country’s residents identify as being Yamato. However, the term Yamato Japanese did was not used until the late 1800s so that the people of mainland Japan would be distinguished from the other ethnic groups who were being incorporated into the Empire of Japan. The Yamato Dynasty, has run the Imperial House of Japan since it was founded in 660 B.C. by Emperor Jimmu, who lived from 711 B.C. until 585 B.C. according to tradition. The Yamato Japanese have ruled every major dynasty, kingdom, and period in Japanese history, and are the quintessential group that one thinks of when thinking of Japan and its people.
The Ryukyuan Japanese are indigenous to the Ryukyu Islands chain that stretches from the Japanese island of Kyushu all the way to Taiwan (Formosa). Starting in 1371, the Ryukyu islands became a key trade intermediary between China and Japan. In the early 1600s the Satsuma Domain invaded the Ryukyuan Kingdom and took it over as a nominal state to keep the benefits of trading with China but later on during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) the Ryukyu Kingdom was abolished and the area was fully incorporated into Japan. Since World War Two ended the United States as had a military presence in Okinawa, which has caused Ryukyuan Japanese in Okinawa to resent the Japanese government as they are very anti-military and feel as though they carry an unfair share of the burden when it comes to housing the U.S. military presence in Japan. The Ryukyuan Japanese have several different recognized subgroups and their unique language makes up one of the two branches of the Japonic language family.
The first ethnic Chinese immigrants are thought to have first come to Japan around 2,300 years ago from both China and the Koreaan Peninsula. Japan’s first known Chinese visitor was Hui Shen, who was a Buddhist missionary who visited Japan in 499 AD, as described later in the book Liang Shu a little more then a century later. During the Sanzan period (1314-1429) in Okinawa, Chinese people were known to have migrated to the country at the invitation of the Ryukuyuan Kings to serve as royal advisers. During the Meiji period and the Taisho period (1912-26) many Chinese students came to Japan, mostly living in Tokyo, to study at universities since this country was a cheaper and closer option them Europe or America. Following the end of the Chinese Civil War (1927-50), there was some immigration from China and Taiwan by Chinese to Japan by Chinese who had backed the Republic of China. There have also been some Chinese from the People’s Republic of China, since in recent decades the Communist Party has allowed more freedom among its citizens to move and travel. Today, most Chinese live in the major cities of this country and there are five Chinese schools in Japan, as well as Chinese newspapers.
In 1910, the Japanese Empire annexed the Korean Empire and shortly afterwards a Korean migration to Japan began. A large number of Koreans were conscripted into the Japanese army during World War Two and some stayed in Japan after the war. These Koreans are called Zainichi Koreans in Japan and they refer to most Koreans currently in Japan who traced their ancestry back to when Koreans came to Japan when Korea was under Japanese Rule from 1910 until 1945. Following the end of World War Two, around seventy percent of Japan’s Korean population went back to Korea, although a new wave of migrants came to Japan from Korea following the Jeju uprising (1948-49) and the devastation of the Korean War in the 1950s. After World War Two the Koreans in Japan became divided between the Mindan, those who supported South Korea, and the Chongryon, those who supported North Korea. Since the 1970’s the amount of Koreans who are Chongryon has declined and currently around 65% of Koreans in Japan are Mindan. A major issue effecting Koreans in Japan was the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty, that ended the occupation of Japan by the allies. This caused Zainichi Koreans to lose their Japanese nationality, as Japan had to give up its territorial claims to Korea. These caused Zainichi Koreans to not be able to receive government support or insurance and caused them to be discriminated against until 1965 when Japan and South Korea signed the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea which among other things gave Zainichi Koreans status as Special Permanent Residents. Currently, assimilation is a issue as only around 1% of Zainichi Koreans living in Japan go through naturalization to become citizens as Korean identity among both the Mindan and Chongryon link Korean ethnic identity with nationality.
Most of Japan’s Latin American population is from either Brazil, Peru, or Colombia. In the 1980s, Brazilians, many of whom were of Japanese ancestry, with Brazil having the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan, starting coming to Japan as contract workers since Brazil was in the midst of huge political and economic problems at the time. In 1990, the Japanese government changed their immigration policy so that only people who were at least the third generation of the descendants could come to Japan, due to problems with illegal immigrants. This caused even more immigration from Brazil to Japan and also immigration from Peru and Colombia. Japanese Latin Americans have faced discrimination do to that fact that most of them do not act Japanese or have a Japanese identity. While Latin American Japanese are overwhelmingly Catholic, they do not have much interaction with Japan’s small native Catholic population as differences in religious tradition, culture and language make it difficult to integrate into the local Catholic community.
The modern history of Filipinos in Japan really starts with the Japanese occupation of Japan during World War Two, when many Filipino students where selected to go to Japan to study at Japanese universities in an effort to try to reorient them towards supporting Japan and not the United States. Most people from the Filipinos in Japan only stay there for a few years as overseas workers, while sending the money that they made back to there families in the Philippines. In 2014 Japan announced that visa requirements would be relaxed for people from the Philippines, as well as India, Indonesia and Vietnam, that want to visit Japan.
The Ainu are a group of indigenous Japanese people concentrated on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, the disputed Kuril Islands, and the Russian island of Sakhalin. The Ainu made active contact with the Japanese in the 1200s and by the Muromachi period (1336-1573) disputes between the two groups turned into war in with the Ainu led Koshamain’s Revolt in 1456. During the Edo period (1601-1868) the Ainu experienced increased trade with the Japanese and also suffered from smallpox and other diseases. During this period there was more mutual understanding between the two sides, though there were two large scale Ainu led revolts, Shakushain’s Revolt (1169-72) and the Menashi-Kunashir Battle in 1789. In 1869 the Japanese incorporated Hokkaido into Japan and banned Ainu language and took Ainu land. In 1899 the government of Japan label the Ainu as former aborigines and gave them automatic Japanese citizenship, with the hope of fully integration the Ainu. In 2008, the Japaneses Diet passed a resolution that the government accepted that the Ainu has been discriminated against and were to be officially recognized as a indigenous group.