Japanese in the United Kingdom are classified into three main groups: British citizens of Japanese ancestry Nikkei Igirisujin, permanent residents of the UK who have Japanese citizenship, and expatriate business professionals and their dependents on a variety of visas (such as fixed-term employment visas, and student visas). The first wave of Japanese settlers in the UK dates to the late 1800s, with a recorded 264 nationals of Japan living in Britain in 1884.
A thriving Nikkei community
The Nikkei community back then was comprised predominantly of traders and business professionals, many of whom migrated with their families and servants. Japanese students likewise made up a percentage of the number. The growing percentage of cross-migration, ever-increasing trade relations, and steadily-expanding cultural exchange between Japan and the UK paved the way to a strong bilateral relationship. Diplomatic relations between the two countries officially began in August 1858, with the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce.
Fast-forward over 150 years later, to 2021, and the latest available data from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows that there were 63,659 Japanese residing in the UK, as of October that year. Historically, the majority of Nikkei have always resided in the Great Britain area, with a census in the early 2000s pegging the number of Japanese in Britain at 37,293.
Pockets of Japantown
While the Japanese community in London traces its beginnings to the 1860s, it boomed in the 1980s, as Japanese firms established an international presence and opened offices in the UK, primarily across Great Britain. Moreover, majority of Japanese nationals in Britain have, through the years, chosen to reside in London, particularly in North and Central London — a situation that remains so, up to the present.
Since the boom, the hallmarks of cultural exchange and Nikkei influence have become more visible, especially in boroughs with a significant Japanese presence. Although there is no centralized Japantown in London, Barnet (particularly Golders Green) and East Finchley in North London, and Acton in West London are examples of areas that have sizeable Japanese communities. Due to its Toyota factory, Derbyshire in Central England has a considerable Japanese population, as well. Similarly, Telford in the West Midlands is home to various Japanese enterprises.
Japanese in the United Kingdom are classified into three main groups: British citizens of Japanese ancestry Nikkei Igirisujin, permanent residents of the UK who have Japanese citizenship.
A lasting legacy
Through the years, these thriving communities have made a cultural imprint upon the British way of life. For instance, Kew Gardens (formerly called Royal Botanic Gardens) in Southwest London and Holland Park (in Kensington, Central London) — popular attractions with locals and tourists, alike — both showcase stunning Japanese gardens. Japan House London in Kensington is home to Japanese cultural events and exhibitions, as well as a number of upscale Japanese restaurants and cafés. Leicester Square boasts the flagship store of Japan Centre, now with multiple branches across London, offering thousands of Japanese products and food items, for an authentic dining and shopping experience. Japan Centre even features a classic depachika -style basement food hall, with an array of unique rooms, set around open kitchens and a central dine-in courtyard, like the dining setup in Japan.
Of course, when it comes to Japanese cuisine, there is no shortage of ramen houses, sushi restaurants, and tempura bars throughout London, a number of which have made it on the Michelin Guide for The Best Japanese Restaurants in London. Meanwhile, Brighton, south of London, has played host to the Brighton Japan Festival for several years. Typically held over the course of a week, in varying months of the year, the festival showcases aspects of Japanese culture, such as Japanese Zen Garden workshops and Tokyo Kitchen classes.
Japanese heritage has also made an impact in other areas in the UK, such as in fashion, design, architecture, and visual arts. This development, which began in the mid-1800s, has been coined as the Anglo-Japanese aesthetic style, and bears witness to the ever-evolving, ever-growing Nikkei legacy on foreign shores.