New York City is often described as a cosmopolitan metropolis and a melting pot. In 2015, its population reached 8.5 million of which roughly 37% were born in a foreign country.
What about the Japanese population? Do you know how many Japanese nationals reside in the city? According to census data from 2011, approximately 24,000 Japanese lived in NYC, and 55,000 in the New York Metropolitan Area which includes parts of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. The size of the Japanese community in the NY Metro Area is second only to that in Los Angeles (approximately 70,000 in 2011) within the United States.
The earliest Japanese immigrants to settle in NYC came in the Oceanic in 1876. They were merchants who set up businesses to import silk. By 1900, there were approximately 1,000 isseis (first generation immigrants) in New York State, almost all of them in New York City. The center of the Japanese community in the early twentieth century were the Japanese Methodist Church founded in 1901, the social club Nippon Club (1904) and the cultural foundation Japan Society (1905). A Japanese supermarket in Midtown, Katagiri, which still thrives today was also founded in 1907.
The Japanese population in New York City did not grow much after that, especially due to the National Origins Act of 1924 which barred immigration from Japan. Once war started, the Japanese Consulate in NYC was closed, Nippon Club was seized and sold, and isseis were interned on Ellis Island. Immigration from Japan only resumed in full force after 1965, when federal Asian immigration quotas were abolished by the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Japanese population in New York State never exceeded 5,000 until then, but the population in the NY Metropolitan Area grew from the late 60s to approximately 50,000 in 1988. Close to 80% of Japanese nationals at this time were temporary residents on short to mid-term assignments.
Today, the City is home to many Japanese expatriates (both temporary and permanent) as well as Japanese Americans. New York City is one of Tokyo’s sister cities. Every May, Japan Day is held in Central Park with Japanese corporations and government organizations hosting food and activity booths and performances. New York Road Runners also hosts Japan Run, a four-mile race inside Central Park in the morning. Brooklyn Botanic Gardens celebrates Sakura Matsuri in April with fun performances and activities set against the backdrop of beautiful cherry blossoms in full bloom.
If Global Link students miss Japanese food and culture during their month-long stay in NYC, below are some places they can visit.
Japan Society is constantly organizing amazing cultural and academic events such as film screenings, lectures, musical performances and family activities. There is also a small gallery on the second floor, where you can enjoy exquisite art exhibitions at very affordable rates (usually $10 for students). Check out their calendar of events to find one that may interest you!
The Japanese population in NYC isn’t concentrated in one particular neighborhood but more or less spread out through the city. However, the East Village is sometimes called “Little Tokyo,” as there are many Japanese restaurants and grocery stores. This article is a good guide to the East Village.
My personal favorites are Sobaya and Wasan. When you step into Sobaya, you will feel like you’re in a tidy little soba restaurant in downtown Tokyo. Make sure to arrive early for lunch, as there is always a line on weekends. Wasan is only open for dinner, and the chef, Mr. Kakutaro Sakurai, was a chef at the Japanese restaurant Inagiku in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Another place to find many Japanese restaurants and shops is Midtown. Grocery stores such as Sunrise Mart (there is also a store in the East Village and Soho), Dainobu and the aforementioned Katagiri, Zaiya bakery are in the East 40s and 50s, and Kinokuniya, the bookstore, is located at 40th St. and 6th Avenue. There is even the secondhand bookstore Book Off nearby.
There is a wide array of Japanese restaurants in midtown - here are some of my favorites.
Sakagura is in the basement of an non-descript office building, but at lunch time on weekdays, it's packed with the business crowd. Their "higawari (daily) special" is a great deal.
Aburiya Kinnosuke specializes in grilled food. Dinner can be expensive so go for lunch!
Katsuhama is an affordable restaurant that specializes in tonkatsu.
Finally, New Yorkers are obsessed with Japanese ramen.
You will find Japanese ramen shops from the southern tip of Manhattan to Harlem.
Here are just a few of them:
- NYC Department of City Planning website
- “New 2010 Census Data Show Increasing Diversity in New York City’s Asian Community,” Asian American Federation website
- Robinson, Greg. "Japanese." In: Eisenstadt, Peter R. and Laura-Eve Moss (editors). The Encyclopedia of New York State. Syracuse University Press, 2005
About Aki: Aki is an ICU and Oxford graduate who loves art, dance, cooking and netflix. She lives in New York with her husband and two kids. Feel free to contact her with any questions in Japanese/English at firstname.lastname@example.org.