The Japanese language is one of the most unique languages in the world, and has developed in relative isolation over the history of the island nation. This can also be deduced from the fact that it is one of the only two languages belonging to the Japonic linguistic family.
Today, as a consequence of migration, Japanese pop culture, and other factors, the language has crossed its nation’s boundaries and spread to many other parts of the world.
As a result, the geographic range of countries that speak Japanese is quite spread out. In Japan itself, 99.8% of the population speaks and understands Japanese, with Ainu, Ryukyuan, and other indigenous languages accounting for the rest of the population. Although there is no official status, the sheer majority makes Japanese the de facto recognized, standardized language of the country.
So, how many people speak Japanese across the globe? Well, statistics from World Data (worlddata.info) suggest that around 126 million people can speak the Japanese language.
And, these people are spread out across the Asia Pacific (APAC) region and the continental United States.
How many people speak Japanese outside of Japan?
As mentioned earlier, Japanese speakers form the lion’s share of Japan’s population, numbering to nearly 120 million. The rest of the 6 to 7 odd million speakers are spread out across many countries.
Here is a list of Japanese speaking countries (countries with significant clusters of people who recognize Japanese as their mother tongue or speak/understand the language):
- The continental United States
- The United Kingdom
- The US Island territory of Guam (in Micronesia)
- The Philippines
- The People’s Republic of China
- South Korea (Republic of Korea)
- Palau (minority language)
And, even in Japan itself, there are diverse accents, dialects, and local variations of the language, for example the Osaka and Nagoya accents, which have found many mentions in Japanese films and anime.
Read on to know more on how the language spread to the United States, Brazil, and other countries, and why you should learn it!
Japanese speakers in the United States
Although minor migrations of Japanese populations to the US have been common in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was mostly post World War II that Japanese migrations and settlements rose.
As a result, there are significant Japanese-American populations all over the US (close to 1.5 million), with most Japanese speakers residing in:
- New York
Guam, a Micronesian territory of the US, has been a popular destination for Japanese tourists every year. Hence, one can find at least 4000 to 5000 Japanese speakers on the island. Another beautiful travel destination where you can flex your Japanese speaking muscles.
Thanks to the proper integration of Japanese-Americans, and the rise of Japanese pop culture (literature, anime, manga, J-pop music, J-horror films, etc.), Japanese is one of the most important languages in the United States.
With a steadily rising Japanese speaking customer base, many corporations are increasingly showing interest in not just using this language, but by actively recruiting Japanese speakers to serve their clients.
So, in case you were wondering, learning Japanese doesn’t just give you an excuse to travel to Japan, one of the most unique cultures with regard to aesthetics, literature, food, and music, but also might help you get employment opportunities in many fields as well.
Read on to know more about the spread of Japanese to places as far off as Brazil!
Spread of the Japanese language to Brazil
Significant migrations of Japanese people to Brazil started happening in the early 1900s, mostly to places like Parana and Sao Paulo in Brazil. Despite the expatriation trend in the 80s, Brazil boasts of the second largest Japanese speakers after Japan.
There are around two million Japanese-Brazilians living in Brazil as of 2019, while around 200,000 people in Japan claim to have Japanese-Brazilian heritage. The latter is mostly thanks to a rising trend of intermarriage between the two nationalities.
Around ninety-five percent of Japanese-Brazilians (stylized as Nipo-Brasileiros in Portuguese) inhabit large urban centers. Historically, they were also associated with the large-scale coffee trade in Brazilian fazendas.
And, thanks to forced assimilation efforts in the past, today most Japanese Brazilians adhere to the Roman Catholic religion, although there are Shinto and Buddhist minorities as well.
Read on to know more on countries that speak the best Japanese and why!
Country-wise breakdown of the best Japanese speaking nations
- South Korea (ROK)
- Countries that speak Spanish
- Francophone countries including France
- Anglophone nations including the UK
And here’s why we think these countries speak the best Japanese (or why people living in these nations can learn Japanese more easily).
- Mongolia: Similarities of grammar and syntax. However, the pronunciation of both languages is very, very different.
- Indonesia: General familiarity with Japanese culture and affinity towards the language and nation ensures that a large number of people in Indonesia learn the Japanese language. In fact, Indonesia boasts of the second largest population of Japanese learners, right after China.
- Republic of Korea: Geographical affinity, combined with a history of Japanese colonization, makes Koreans very accepting of Japanese. While English is the de facto second language, Japanese is quite popular too.
- Spanish and Italian speakers: Japanese has a unique linguistic feature, in as much the language stresses on a vowel sound with every consonant, with ‘n’ also having an independent existence. This unique vowel pronunciation has parallels in Italian and Spanish as well.
- Francophone countries and speakers: French is a complex language with multiple genders assigned to different nouns, complex number names, as well as eight possible tenses. This makes learning Japanese look like a walk in the park, with no gendered nouns and just three tenses.
- Anglophone speakers: Since Japanese uses a lot of derivative English loanwords, and because many Japanese speakers also speak English, it is easier for people with a grasp of English to learn Japanese.
Right from the 50s, when classic Japanese films such as Rashomon and The Seven Samurai saw widespread fame, Japanese pop culture has seen a rise in almost all the countries of the west. Even last year, a Japanese film, Drive My Car, won the Academy Award (and many others in other film festivals) in the Best International Feature category.
Besides films, manga and their anime adaptations have taken the world by storm, being translated and dubbed in English and many other languages and reaching an ever-widening consumer base across the globe.
So it is not surprising that the number of students of Japanese has also increased manifold. And this trend is also seen in the fields of technology and IT, both of which are quite booming in Japan. And hence it is important as a field of study too.
If these are not reasons enough, Japanese culture and the beauty of the nation, especially in times like the Cherry Blossom season, is breathtaking! So, if you’re considering taking up a language, or grew up watching the likes of Dragonball Z, you should definitely look up Japanese as an option.
While language academies under the purview of Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs (Ministry of Education) are common, this is the era of the Internet and asynchronous, online learning, which makes accessing the millions of online courses teaching Japanese merely a button-click away.
So, what are you waiting for?
Ikimashou and happy learning!