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Japanese people in Hong Kong

Japanese people in Hong Kong
Sogo is one of many the Japanese-managed companies in Hong Kong
Total population
21,297 (2011)[1]
(0.3% of Hong Kong's population)
Regions with significant populations
Happy Valley, Hung Hom, Sha Tin, Tai Koo Shing, Tai Po
Japanese, English, Some choose Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese as second language
Related ethnic groups
Japanese people in China

Japanese people in Hong Kong consist primarily of expatriate business people and their families, along with a smaller number of single women.[2] Their numbers are smaller when compared to the sizeable presence of American, British, and Canadian expatriates. As of 2010, 21,518 Japanese people had registered as residents of Hong Kong with the Japanese consulate there.[3] Hong Kong also remains a popular destination for Japanese tourists on their way to Mainland China; in 2004, the Japanese consulate reported the arrival of more than one million Japanese tourists.[4]



Japanese migration to Hong Kong was noted as early as the latter years of the Tokugawa Shogunate. With the forced end of the sakoku policy, which prohibited Japanese people from leaving Japan, regular ship services began between Japan, Hong Kong and Shanghai; Japanese merchants and karayuki slowly began to settle overseas.[5] By 1880, 26 men and 60 women of Japanese nationality were recorded as living in Hong Kong; the total population would reach 200 by the end of the Meiji era in 1912.[6] To the displeasure of the Japanese government, which was concerned with protecting its image overseas, many of these early migrants were prostitutes. The early ones were often stowaways on coal ships from Nagasaki.[7]

By 1885, Japanese consul Minami Sadatsuke, had obtained some level of informal co-operation from the British colonial authorities in suppressing Japanese participation in prostitution: the number of Japanese women granted prostitution licences would be limited to fifty-two, and others who applied for licences would be referred to his office, whereupon he would arrange for their repatriation to Japan or have them confined to the lock hospital in Wanchai.[7] Later, their geographical origins seemed to have shifted; a 1902 report by Japanese consul Noma Seiichi identified Moji in Kyushu as the most common port of origin for these young women;[8] recruiters often targeted young women coming out of the Mojikō Station near the docks.[9] However, the Japanese consulate had little co-operation from the local Japanese community in their efforts to suppress prostitution; Japanese businesspeople in the hospitality industry depended on custom from prostitutes and their johns for its profits.[7]

Anti-Japanese riots of 1931

Following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, tensions between Japanese and ethnic Chinese residents in Hong Kong began to grow. The first report of the invasion in the Hong Kong Chinese-language press appeared in the Kung Sheung Evening News on 20 September 1931, condemning it in harsh terms and calling on Chinese people to "stand up and take action".[10] The Kuomintang government in Nanjing declared 23 September 1931 as a day of mourning for the Mukden Incident; that evening, a disturbance arose on Johnston Road in Wan Chai, where many Japanese lived, when some Chinese youths began throwing stones at a Japanese-owned pub, ironically patronised mostly by American and British sailors at the time. The next day, a Japanese flag flying in a Japanese school in Kennedy Town was burned; attacks on individual Japanese continued on the 25th.[11]

The worst crime of the riots was the murder of a Japanese family.[12] On 26 September, the date of the Mid-Autumn Festival, five members of the Yamashita family were attacked near Kowloon City in front of more than one thousand Chinese demonstrators by a Chinese man; the parents died on the scene due to knife wounds, while the grandmother and two of three sons later died in hospital.[13] As a result of the murders, the colonial government called out the military that evening, and proclaimed a state of emergency the next day.[14] Tokyo would later cite these riots, and specifically the murders of the Yamashita family, as one casus belli when they initiated the Shanghai War of 1932 (a.k.a. 28 January Incident).[15]

The Imperial Japanese Occupation and Japanese civilians

The Japanese population did not grow much in the following decade; though Japanese schools continued to operate in Wan Chai[16] and Kennedy Town,[17] by the time of the Japanese declaration of war against the British Empire and the start of the Battle of Hong Kong, the Japanese population of Hong Kong had dropped to 80.[18] Japanese settlers often followed the Imperial Japanese Army, as in the case of Manchukuo in the aftermath of the Mukden Incident; however the 1941–1945 Japanese occupation of Hong Kong was not accompanied by an influx of Japanese civilians, with the exception of a few bureaucrats and administrators.[19]

The existing institutions of the Japanese civilian population in Hong Kong were co-opted by the military for their own purposes; for example, the Hong Kong News, a Japanese language newspaper, ceased publication in Japanese, but continued operations in Chinese and English versions, printing officially-approved news of the occupation government.[18] However, the Japanese civilians who remained in Hong Kong were not entirely unsympathetic to the plight of their Chinese neighbours; Patrick Yu, a celebrated trial lawyer, recalled in his memoirs the assistance his family received from the headmaster of the Japanese school in escaping from Hong Kong to Free China by way of Macau and Guangzhou Wan (then Portuguese and French colonies, respectively, and untouched by the Japanese military).[20]

Post-World War II

File:JUSCO Lai Chi Kok Store (Hong Kong).jpg
AEON (formerly JUSCO) is one of the largest Japanese retail stores operated in Hong Kong

As the Japanese economy recovered from the effects of World War II and began its boom, Japanese investment overseas grew, resulting in an increase in the Japanese population living in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Japanese School, an international school aimed at Japanese students, was established in the 1960s;[21] there is also a weekly print newspaper, the Hong Kong Post, which began publication in June 1987.[22] Between 1981 and 1999, the population of Japanese in Hong Kong nearly tripled from 7,802 to 23,480, making the Japanese community similar in size to those in cities such as London and New York; in line with this increase, the number of Japanese companies also grew rapidly, almost doubling from 1,088 to 2,197 from 1988 to 1994.[23] The reform and opening up of China and the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 spurred increasing economic integration with the mainland, and, following this trend, many Japanese-managed companies moved their operations across the border into Shenzhen and Guangzhou;[24] as a result, the Japanese population of Hong Kong declined from its 1999 peak; the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department recorded only 14,100 Japanese people in 2001, a 33% decrease.[25] However, the population would soon bounce back; in 2004, the Japanese Consulate General estimated 25,600 Japanese living in Hong Kong.[4] The Eastern District has the highest concentration of Japanese residents of any district in Hong Kong, with 0.64% of its residents being of Japanese descent (2,878 people).[26]

Attitude towards integration

Japanese communities abroad have been described as "Japanese villages abroad ... whose residents make maintenance of cultural, economic, and political ties with Tokyo their foremost concern"; however, Wong's 2001 study of Yaohan employees refuted this notion in the case of businesswomen working in Hong Kong.[27] Though the majority of Japanese coming to Hong Kong continued to be businessmen and their families, during the 1990s, there was a "boom" of single Japanese women emigrating to escape the male-oriented environment of Japanese domestic workplaces; unlike previous migration, which had often been targeted towards Anglophone countries, many of these women went to Hong Kong and other Asian cities in an effort to further their careers. Notably, in one survey, a third of the single or divorced women coming to Hong Kong during this period reported previous study abroad experience. Not only were single women more willing to emigrate, but Japanese companies in Hong Kong proved more willing to hire and promote women than those in Japan, partially due to the costs of employing male staff, which typically included allowances for children's education and other such expatriate benefits.[28]

Within Japanese-managed companies, local Chinese employees sensed a definite power differential between Japanese managers and local managers of the same rank.[29] Though many Japanese women came to Hong Kong intending to learn to speak Chinese (either Cantonese or Mandarin), upon arrival they found that communicating in English was not only sufficient for everyday life, but placed them in a privileged position vis-a-vis the local population.[30]


The Hong Kong Japanese School, an international Japanese school, serves the city's Japanese population.

The Hong Kong Japanese Supplementary School (HKJSS; 香港日本人補習授業校 Honkon Nihonjin Hoshū Jugyō Kō) is a supplementary programme for Japanese children in Hong Kong.[31][32]



  1. Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong
  2. Sakai 2001, p. 32
  3. MOFA 2010, p. 18
  4. 4.0 4.1 日港關係 [Japan-Hong Kong Relations], Consulate General of Japan in Hong Kong, 2005, retrieved 21 December 2006 
  5. Liu 2000
  6. Okuda 1937
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Mihalous 2012, Nagasaki, Kuchinotsu, Coal, and Migration Routes
  8. Mihalous 2012, Commercial shipping
  9. Mihalous 2012, Social Knowledge: Working Maps of an Informal Kind
  10. Ma 2001, pp. 14–15
  11. Ma 2001, pp. 17–19
  12. Kuo 2006
  13. Ma 2001, pp. 22–23
  14. Ma 2001, p. 32
  15. Jordan 2001, p. 22
  16. Yu 2000, p. 38
  17. Ma 2001, p. 20
  18. 18.0 18.1 Banham 2005, p. 24
  19. Han 1982, p. 10
  20. Yu 2000, p. 39
  21. 理事長メッセージ [Message from the director] (PDF), Hong Kong Japanese School, retrieved 7 September 2009 
  22. 香港ポストについて [About the Hong Kong Post], HK Post, retrieved 7 September 2009 
  23. Sakai 2001, p. 132
  24. Wong 1999, p. 182
  25. CSD 2001, p. 6
  26. 2011 Population Census IDDS Report, Hong Kong Census
  27. Wong 2001, pp. 52–56
  28. Sakai 2001, pp. 136–138
  29. Wong 1999, p. 166
  30. Sakai 2001, p. 142
  31. "アジアの補習授業校一覧(平成25年4月15日現在)" (Archive). Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Retrieved on February 13, 2015. "Hong Kong Japanese Supplementary School 1/F, YMCA Kowloon Centre, 23 Waterloo Road, Kowloon (C/O YMCA International and Mainland Affairs Section)"
  32. "Home." Hong Kong Japanese Supplementary School. Retrieved on February 14, 2015.


  • Kuo, Huei-ying (August 2006), "Chinese bourgeois nationalism in Hong Kong and Singapore in the 1930s", Journal of Contemporary Asia 36 (3): 385–405, OCLC 101521907, doi:10.1080/00472330680000241 
  • Banham, Tony (2005), Not the slightest chance: The defence of Hong Kong, 1941, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press 
  • Jordan, Donald (2001), China's Trial by Fire: The Shanghai War of 1932, University of Michigan Press 
  • Ma, Yiu-chung (2001), Hong Kong's responses to the Sino-Japanese conflicts from 1931 to 1941 : Chinese nationalism in a British colony, PhD Thesis, Department of History, Hong Kong University, retrieved 22 December 2006 
  • Mihalous, Bill (27 August 2012), "Women and Overseas Sex Work and Globalization in Meiji Japan", The Asia-Pacific Journal 10 (35), retrieved 27 August 2012 
  • Sakai, Chie (2001), "The Japanese community in Hong Kong in the 1990s: the diversity of strategies and intentions", Global Japan: The Experience of Japan's New Immigrants and Overseas Communities, United Kingdom: Routledge, pp. 131–146 
  • Wong, Dixon (2001), "Japanese businesswomen of Yaohan Hong Kong: Towards a diversified model of a Japanese "ethnoscape"", Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of the Japanese Presence in America, Asia and Europe, United Kingdom: Routledge 
  • 2001 Population Census Thematic Report – Ethnic Minorities (PDF), Hong Kong: Census and Statistics Department, December 2001, retrieved 21 December 2006 
  • Liu, Jianhui (November 2000), 大陸アジアに開かれた日本 [Japan, Opened to Continental Asia] (PDF) (in Japanese), Nichibunken ; only abstract freely available
  • Yu, Patrick Shuk-Siu (2000), A Seventh Child and the Law, Hong Kong University Press 
  • Wong, Dixon (1999), Japanese Bosses, Chinese Workers: power and control in a Hong Kong megastore, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0-8248-2257-6 
  • Han, Wing-Tak (1982), "Bureaucracy and the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong", Japan in Asia, Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Two Thru Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Five, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore University Press, pp. 7–24 
  • Okuda, Otojiro (1937), 明治初年に於ける香港日本人 [Japanese in Hong Kong in the Early Meiji Period] (in Japanese), Taipei: 台湾総督府熱帶產業調査會, OCLC 33750570 
  • MOFA (2010), 海外在留邦人数調査統計 (PDF), Japan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, retrieved 26 April 2011 

Further reading

  • Lam, Wing-Sze (16 June 2005). 《嫁雞隨雞,嫁狗隨狗?: 隨丈夫來港的日本婦》 [The Adventures of Japanese Housewives in Hong Kong]. Hong Kong Anthropological Society. 
  • Mathews, Gordon (2001). "A collision of discourses: Japanese and Hong Kong Chinese during the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands crisis". Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of the Japanese Presence in America, Asia and Europe. United Kingdom: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-28566-7. 
  • Mathews, Gordon; Sone, Akiko (2003). 《香港日本人中的`日本人'和`非日本人'之間的衝突》 [The Struggle Between "Japanese" and "non-Japanese" Among Japanese in Hong Kong]. Warsaw, Poland: Japan Anthropology Workshop, European Association for Japanese Studies Conference. 
  • Ng, Benjamin Wai-ming (October 7, 2005). "Chapter 6 - Making of a Japanese Community in Prewar Period (1841-1941)". In Chu, Cindy Yik-yi. Foreign Communities in Hong Kong, 1840s-1950s. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 111–132. ISBN 9781403980557. 
  • Sone, Akiko (2002). <span />'Being Japanese' in a Foreign Place: Cultural Identities of Japanese in Hong Kong. M.A. dissertation. Anthropology Department, Chinese University of Hong Kong. OCLC 51761825. 

External links

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