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As Japanese ( JAP. 日本人 , Nihonjin ) refers to either the owner of Japanese nationality or ethnic Japanese commonly referred to as Yamato ( Jap. ,大和民族Yamato minzoku be referred to). Today the Yamato make up the vast majority of the population of Japan with over 98% .


Japanese sociologists define what a Japanese is based on three criteria:

  1. The descent from Japanese ancestors
  2. Have Japanese citizenship
  3. Integration into Japanese culture (including learning the Japanese language )

A strict yes-no criterion is both Japanese citizenship and Japanese ancestry. The extent to which the Japanese are ethnically a unit and what theories there are about their origin is considered below. Japanese culture is the “softest” criterion.


As hāfu ( ハ ー フ ), "half" from Engl. "Half" is the term used in Japan to refer to those who only have one parent who is Japanese.

There are also a number of other groups that only meet one or two of the aforementioned criteria:

  • The Zainichi Koreans : The first wave of Korean immigration to Japan began around 1900. With the full incorporation of Korea as a colony in 1910, Koreans became Japanese citizens. By the 1930s, around 300,000 came, including many migrant workers whose land in Korea was robbed by the Japanese. In World War II, two million Koreans were forced round, in Japan as forced laborers to serve. After the end of the war, a minority of around 600,000 Koreans remained in the country, the number of whom has remained stable over the decades through naturalizations, births, deaths and new immigrants.
  • The Chinese minority in Japan : Over the centuries, Chinese traders and scholars have relocated to Japan, and even during the isolation of the Edo period , there was a Chinese colony in Nagasaki . After the opening of Japan , a large Chinatown was built in Yokohama , which is still the largest Chinatown in Japan today. Today the Chinese minority in Japan consists of around 300,000 people.
  • There are a number of other naturalized gaikokujin as well , including some better-known names like Debito Arudou and Dave Spector .
  • Ainu : The Ainu people developed as an independent culture around the 10th century and inhabited Hokkaidō (former name: Ezo), South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands . However, their original hunting culture was destroyed in the 18th century by the Matsumae , a noble family who had received the island of Hokkaidō as a fiefdom of Matsumae from the shogunate . It was not until the 1970s that attempts to save and reconstruct the traditional Ainu culture and make it usable for tourist purposes began. Today the Japanese population statistics show around 27,000 people as Ainu, 24,000 of them in Hokkaido. Ainu are Japanese citizens, but not Japanese in terms of their culture.
  • Ryūkyū Peoples : Inhabitants of the Ryūkyū Islands and the former independent Ryūkyū Kingdom .
  • Nikkeijin : ethnic Japanese who once emigrated and are now returning home.
    • Japanese Brazilians : the Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Brazil. Younger Japanese-Brazilians in particular are still Japanese in terms of their ancestry, but are culturally largely "Brazilianized" and often no longer or only inadequately speak the Japanese language.
  • Japanese in Micronesia : In Micronesia there is still a minority of Japanese from the colonial times.
  • Kikokushijo (roughly: "Homecoming"): Children of Japanese people who have lived abroad for a period or who grew up abroad.


The Yamato-Japanese subjugated the local non-Japanese tribes and partly ousted them completely. Here the Ainu pay tribute to a Yamato Japanese in Hokkaidō.

Today's Japanese (Yamato) descend from the prehistoric people of the Wa ( 倭人 , Wajin ) (a synonym for the Yayoi people ).

According to some sources, people settled in Japan 100,000 years ago, but no later than 25,000 BC. BC when it was connected to the mainland during the Ice Age. After the Ice Age, the Jōmon culture formed in Japan, a hunter-gatherer culture with the eponymous Jōmon ceramic. In the late Jōmon period, the transition to sedentarism and agriculture took place in this population. The Ainu or the Emishi are considered to be descendants of this (heterogeneous) population.

From the 1st millennium BC migrated from southern China from Yayoi -people on the Korean peninsula one to Japan and ousted the Jōmon population almost completely. The majority of researchers assume that Proto-Japanese and Proto-Japanese originated in southeastern China. The proportion of Yayoi DNA in today's Japanese is on average 97%. The Japanese (Yamato) are considered to be one of the most homogeneous and endogamous peoples of mankind and are closely related to other East Asians.


According to Japanese myths , the legendary emperor Jimmu , a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu , united in 660 BC. The Yayoi tribes and founded the Yamato Empire in the south of the main island of Honshū , whose line is said to have continued unbroken until today. Over the centuries that followed, the Yamato continued to expand northward.

The Japanese founding legends were not proven until the 8th century (710 at the earliest), as a fire in the official school of the court (the daigaku ) destroyed older written documents.


Numerous books have been written by Japanese and foreigners (from a Japanese point of view) who have tried to fathom what Japanese are and what defines them. In the post-war period, a separate genre of literature developed, which is known as Nihonjinron . Books belonging to the Nihonjinron deal with the following four theses:

  1. Uniqueness: The Japanese are unique as a people, as a culture, as a race.
  2. Racial nature: The specialty of the Japanese is an expression of the characteristics of their race.
  3. Ahistoricity: The characteristics and peculiarities of the Japanese are not subject to historical changes.
  4. Homogeneity: The Japanese are homogeneous as a people / nation / culture / race.

These four basic theses and all of their derivatives have become highly controversial in Japanese studies. However, the influence of individual theses, such as the concept of amae , continues to exist. Many books belonging to the Nihonjinron are not only rather popular science, they have also become popular.

Japanese in different countries

Country number
Japan 125,000,000
Brazil 2,000,000
United States 1,300,000
China 140,000
Phlippinnen 120,000
Canada 110,000
Peru 100,000
Australia 90,000
Thailand 70,000
Germany 70,000
Great Britain 65,000
Argentina 65,000
France 40,000
Singapore 35,000
South Korea 35,000
Mexico 30,000
Hong Kong 25,000
Malaysia 20,000
Taiwan 20,000
Micronesia 20,000

See also


  • Werner Steinhaus: Controversial ancestors . In: Adventure Archeology, page 76, 3/2005 Heidelberg 2005 PDF
  • Peter Landers: All in the Family - Ethnic Origins. In: Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) of December 17, 1998. Hong Kong 1998
  • K. Antoni, H. Kubota, J. Nawrocki and M. Wachutka: Religion and National Identity in the Japanese Context. Münster: Lit, 2002
  • Kiyoshi Inoue: Nihon no rekishi . Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1963, German history of Japan . Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2002 ISBN 3-88059-994-7

Web links

Wiktionary: Japanese  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. James B. Minahan: Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia: An Encyclopedia . ABC-CLIO, 2014, ISBN 978-1-61069-018-8 ( google.com [accessed November 25, 2019]).
  2. Gabriele Vogt - Population Development in Japan: Focus on Migration. In: Online Handbook Demography, Berlin Institute for Population and Development. October 2008.
  3. ^ Aston, William G. 1924. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD 697. Charles E. Tuttle reprint 1972.
  4. Donald Denoon, Mark Hudson, Gavan McCormack: Multicultural Japan: Palaeolithic to Postmodern . Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-521-00362-9 ( google.com [accessed November 25, 2019]).
  5. ^ Earlier Start for Japanese Rice Cultivation . In: Science | AAAS . May 30, 2003 ( online [accessed July 23, 2018]). Earlier Start for Japanese Rice Cultivation ( Memento of the original from July 7, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.sciencemag.org
  6. Alexander Vovin: Out of Southern China? ( academia.edu [accessed July 21, 2019]).
  7. Takashi Gakuhari et al .: Jomon genome sheds light on East Asian population history . 2019, bioRxiv : 2019/03/15/579177 ( preprint full text).
  8. ^ Y. Wang, D. Lu, YJ Chung, S. Xu: Genetic structure, divergence and admixture of Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations. In: Hereditas. Volume 155, 2018, p. 19, doi : 10.1186 / s41065-018-0057-5 , PMID 29636655 , PMC 5889524 (free full text).