Japanese settlement in Palau
There is a small Japanese community in Palau
Palau , officially the Republic of Palau , is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines and south of Tokyo. In 1978, after three decades as being part of the United Nations trusteeship, Palau chose independence instead of becoming part of the Federated States of Micronesia, a...

, which mainly consists of Japanese expatriates residing in Palau over a long-term basis. A few Japanese expatriates started to reside in Palau after it gained independence in 1994, and established long-term businesses in the country. Japanese settlement in Palau dates back to the early 19th century, although large scale Japanese migration to Palau did not occur until the 1920s, when Palau came under Japanese rule and administered as part of the South Pacific Mandate
South Pacific Mandate
The was the Japanese League of Nations mandate consisting of several groups of islands in the Pacific Ocean which came under the administration of Japan after the defeat of the German Empire in World War I.-Early history:Under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, after the start of World...

. Japanese settlers took on leading administrative roles in the Japanese colonial government, and developed Palau's economy. After the Japanese surrender
Surrender of Japan
The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought hostilities of World War II to a close. By the end of July 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy was incapable of conducting operations and an Allied invasion of Japan was imminent...

 in 1945, virtually all of the Japanese population was repatriated back to Japan, although people of mixed Japanese-Palauan descent were allowed to remain behind. People of Japanese-Palauan descent constitute a large minority of Palau's population as a result of substantial intermarrriage between the Japanese settlers and Palauans. They generally identify with, conforming to cultural norms and daily lives with the Palauans.

Early years (1820–1945)

The first recorded account of Japanese contact in Palau occurred in 1820, when a coastal sailing ship was blown off course and eight surviving men spent five years in Palau until 1825. Japanese traders began to establish settlements from the mid-19th century onwards, and by 1890 two Japanese trading stations had been established. Many of these traders married the daughters of local chieftains and raised local families. When Japan annexed Palau from Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 in 1914, Japanese settlers and their descendants acted as state liaison officials and interpreters for the Japanese military administration.
A civilian government was established in 1922 with its headquarters at Koror, replacing the military administration. The civilian government initiated a programme to identify and collectivise unused land between 1923 and 1932 for redevelopment. Much of these land were used to build new industrial estates and expand towns to accommodate immigrants from Japan and Okinawa. In Japan, the government actively encouraged the Japanese and Okinawans to resettle in Micronesia, including Palau, and began establishing farming settlements. The first farming settlement was established at Ngaremlengui
Ngeremlengui is one of Palau's sixteen states. It has a population of about 317 people and is just west of Melekeok state, where Palau's capital village is . The capital of the state of Ngeremlengui is Imeong. Ngeremlengui is on the western side of Babeldaob, which is the largest Island in Palau...

 in 1926, but the settlers encountered problems with its humid tropical environment and abandoned it by 1930, although later settlements were established more successfully.

As the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 resulted in massive unemployment in the late 1920s and 1930s, more Japanese and Okinawans migrated to Palau. Immigrants brought along their families and sought employment in various professions. The Japanese immigrants held administrative posts, while the Okinawans and a few Koreans worked as labourers in the agricultural, fishery and mining industries. By 1935, the Japanese constituted at least 60% of Palau's population and were concentrated in urban areas such as Angaur and Koror. Some Japanese settlers took Palauan wives or mistresses, and there was a sizeable minority of mixed Japanese-Palauan children towards the later years of the Japanese administration.

The Japanese navy expanded their military facilities from 1937 onwards. More labourers from Japan and Korea were employed to construct the facilities to complete the facilities within a short period of time. The number of indentured labourers rose to more than 10,000 throughout Micronesia, and placed a heavy strain on the islands' scarce resources. Many Okinawan and Japanese labourers and permanent settlers were repartriated back to their homeland. Japanese men were conscripted into regular services, and Palauans who held administrative posts in the police force were reallocated jobs in the agricultural sector. The Japanese civilians played an important role in the islands' propaganda activities. As food resources were cut off from Japan, many Japanese encountered greater difficulties in dealing with starvation than their Palauan counterparts, who were more knowledgeable with tropical survival skills
Survival skills
Survival skills are techniques a person may use in a dangerous situation to save themselves or others...


Recent years (1945–present)

Following the Surrender of Japan
Surrender of Japan
The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought hostilities of World War II to a close. By the end of July 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy was incapable of conducting operations and an Allied invasion of Japan was imminent...

 to the Allied forces
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

, Japanese military personnel and civilians were repatriated to Japan between 1945 to 1946, although some 350 labourers and technicians were permitted to remain behind to carry out repair works to Palau's infrastructure. However, offspring of Japanese-Palauan intermarriages were allowed to remain, although a few migrated to Japan with their fathers. In the 1950s, Japanese-Palauans formed an organisation, Sakura-kai to assist Japanese-Palauans and Japanese youths who were abandoned by their parents to search for their parents and kinsmen who were forcibly separated as a result of forced repatriation of Japanese settlers back to Japan. The organisation became a cultural organisation from the 1980s onwards, as most Japanese-Palauans had reunited with their Japanese families or voluntarily chose to leave certain family separations as they were.

Palau's interaction with Japan was kept to a minimal level during the post-war years, although Okinawan fishermen occasionally visited Palau for catches from the 1960s onwards. A few Japanese nationals resettled in Palau in the 1970s, and married local Palauans. In the 1980s, Japanese businessmen set up businesses in Palau, and by 1995 there were 218 Japanese nationals residing in Palau. Of these, about half of them expressed a desire for permanent residency in Palau and a few married Palauan or Filipino women. However, the majority brought their families from Japan along, and maintained frequent contacts with Japan. Some settlers from the 1980s also consisted of former Japanese settlers who were repatriated back to Japan after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Former settlers who returned to Palau usually consisted of individuals over 60 years of age, and often worked as tour guides or restaurateurs in Palau.

Many Japanese-Palauans assumed key positions in the public service sector and politics. At least one ethnologist, Mark Peattie
Mark Peattie
Mark R. Peattie is an American academic and Japanologist. Peattie is a specialist in modern Japanese military, naval, and imperial history.-Career:...

, suggested that the strong representation of Japanese-Palauans in leading positions in society could be attributed to the mainstream Japanese education which they had received in their youth. Palau's first president, Kuniwo Nakamura
Kuniwo Nakamura
Kuniwo Nakamura was the President and foreign minister of Palau from 1993 until 2001.-Background and early life:Nakamura is the son of a Japanese immigrant from Matsusaka, Ise Province and a Palauan chieftain's daughter. He was studying in his second year of primary school when the surrender of...

—who was half-Japanese—fostered closer diplomatic ties between Japan and Palau during his Presidency. During a state visit to Japan in 1996, Emperor Akihito
is the current , the 125th emperor of his line according to Japan's traditional order of succession. He acceded to the throne in 1989.-Name:In Japan, the emperor is never referred to by his given name, but rather is referred to as "His Imperial Majesty the Emperor" which may be shortened to . In...

 personally received Nakamura, and the visit was commended by Palauans and Japanese alike. Nakamura's visit prompted Japan to channel monetary aid to Palau to facilitate repair work on the Koror-Babeldaob Bridge
Koror-Babeldaob Bridge
The Koror-Babeldaob Bridge is a bridge in Palau that connects Koror and Babeldaob Islands. It is a reinforced concrete, portal frame, cable-stayed bridge with a total length of 413 m. It was built by the Kajima Corporation of Japan in 2002, to replace the former, collapsed bridge built by Socio...

 and securing special trade agreements with Japan.


In the early years of civilian administration, the Japanese population consisted of about a few hundred individuals, and reached a little over 2,000 by 1930. The Japanese resident population increased at an exponential rate from the mid 1930s onwards, and there were about 15,000 Japanese in Palau by 1938, the vast majority of whom were concentrated in Koror. The influx of Japanese immigrants fuelled the development of Koror into a city by 1939. The Palauans were quickly outnumbered by the Japanese, and constituted only about 16 percent of the city's population in 1937. The Japanese made up more than half of the islands' population, as well as 27% of Micronesia's Japanese population in a 1938 census. A large minority of the Japanese populace consisted of Okinawan immigrants, as well as a few Koreans. Palau's Japanese population was repatriated after the Japanese surrender, but people of Japanese-Palauan descent remained behind and constitute a large minority of Palau's population. A study done by the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund estimated that about 10% of Palauans are born to a Japanese father and Palauan mother, the vast majority of whom were born before 1945. Another study done by the Foundation for Advanced Studies in International Development from Japan in 2005 estimates that about 25% of Palau's populace have some Japanese ancestry.

The following table shows the increase in the Japanese population in Palau throughout the Japanese colonial era:
Japanese and Palauan populations in Palau (1912–1943)
Year Japanese Palauans
1912 73 -
1920 592 5,700
1922 206 5,700
1925 1,054 -
1930 2,078 5,794
1931 2,489 -
1932 3,346 -
1933 3,940 -
1934 5,365
1935 6,553 5,851
1937 11,400 -
1940 23,700 7,000
1943 27,500 -


During the Japanese colonial era, Japanese settlers mainly used Japanese in their daily discourse, and Japanese was the lingua franca used for communication between Japanese and Palauans. English was also recognised as a co-official language along with Japanese, and many Japanese had at least some knowledge of the language as well. People of mixed Japanese-Palauan heritage were more competent in Japanese than to Palauan, especially those who attended mainstream primary schools. The Japanese also introduced the use of the Katakana
is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet . The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. Each kana represents one mora...

 script in Palauan, which was also used in informal settings. After the Japanese surrender, the use of Japanese was discouraged in place of Palauan and English. Most Japanese-Palauans use Palauan in their daily discourse in favour of Japanese or English, although Japanese was used more frequently among Japanese-Palauans than to those that do not have Japanese ancestry. As the number of Japanese tourists increased during the 1990s, Japanese was introduced as an elective subject to Palauan schools and in elections.


State Shinto
State Shinto
has been called the state religion of the Empire of Japan, although it did not exist as a single institution and no "Shintō" was ever declared a state religion...

 was heavily emphasised in the 1930s as a means to promote Japanese nationalism and acculturalisation of Palauans to Japanese norms. A few shrines were built around Palau during the 1930s. Of particular note was the completion of the Taisha Nanyo Jinja
Nan'yō Shrine
The is a Shinto shrine located in the island of Koror, in Palau. The shrine was the ichinomiya of the Japanese-administered colonial government of the South Pacific Mandate ; and it was established in 1940...

(transliterally the Great Southern Shrine) in November 1940 at Koror, which subsequently served as the central shrine in Micronesia. Civilian participation of Shinto rituals was heavily emphasised, which focused on Japanese cultural ideals and worship of the Japanese emperor
, posthumously in Japan officially called Emperor Shōwa or , was the 124th Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order, reigning from December 25, 1926, until his death in 1989. Although better known outside of Japan by his personal name Hirohito, in Japan he is now referred to...

. Shinto
or Shintoism, also kami-no-michi, is the indigenous spirituality of Japan and the Japanese people. It is a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written...

, Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

 Buddhist and Tenrikyo missions were also encouraged to establish religious missions, and the first Buddhist temple in Palau was erected in 1926, mainly to cater to the spiritual needs of the Japanese settlers. Early Japanese settlers reportedly built small Shinto shrines in agricultural colonies before the civilian government actively encouraged religious missionary activities in Palau.

Christian missions were initially given financial support by the Japanese civilian government and were encouraged to stamp out certain Animist rituals practiced by Palauans, but many were later imprisoned from the late 1930s onwards as the Japanese became suspicious of the missionaries' involvement in espionage activities. After the war, many of these shrines were abandoned or demolished, and Japanese-Palauans chose to adopt Christianity in favour of Buddhism or Shinto. In the 1980s and 1990s, miniature replicas of the Great Shinto Shrine, Peleliu
Peleliu is an island in the island nation of Palau. Peleliu forms, along with two small islands to its northeast, one of the sixteen states of Palau. It is located northeast of Angaur and southwest of Koror....

 and Angaur shrines were reconstructed. Unlike Shinto shrines during the Japanese colonial era, reconstructed shrines served as memorial sites for Japanese soldiers who in battles died during the Second World War, and are visited by Japanese tourists and family members of slain soldiers.

Racial segregation

The Japanese civilian administration segregated the Japanese immigrants from the Palauans and adopted policies that were intended to protect the welfare of the Palauans. From the 1930s onwards, focus was later shifted towards providing more for the Japanese immigrants as the civilian administration faced difficulties in meeting the demands of an increasing immigrant population. Racial segregation
Racial segregation
Racial segregation is the separation of humans into racial groups in daily life. It may apply to activities such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a public toilet, attending school, going to the movies, or in the rental or purchase of a home...

 was practiced in most sectors of society, but was more highly pronounced in the workforce and educational sectors. Palauans faced difficulties in getting employed in administrative positions in the workfroce, which was dominated by Japanese settlers. In the educational sector, Japanese children attended mainstream primary schools (shogakko) whose lessons are based on the mainstream curriculum as with other schools on mainland Japan. Palauan children attended "public schools" (logakko) and attended lessons that focused on imparting skills for menial labour. Most students from "Public schools" dropped out after completing their elementary education and some children of Japanese fathers and Palauan mothers also faced difficulties in getting enrolled into primary schools, especially for those who were born out of wedlock.

Mixed-race descendants

During the Japanese colonial-era, a sizeable minority of mixed-race Japanese-Palauans emerged. Japanese-Palauans were offsprings of intermarriages between Japanese men and Palauan women. Most of them lived in urban areas, and were brought up in accordance to Japanese norms and values and spoke Japanese in their daily lives. A few sought further education in Japan, and at the same time had limited knowledge of Palauan customs and language, although children that were born out of wedlock reportedly had a greater exposure to their matrilineal customs and spoke both Japanese and Palauan fluently. Although Japanese-Palauan children were generally classified as Japanese in official figures and had access to Japanese social privileges, many reportedly faced discrimination when placed in Japanese and Palauan circles. In rural areas where Palauans formed higher concentrations, spouses and mistresses of Japanese men were shunned upon, and Palauan nationalists (especially Modekngei
Modekngei, or Ngara Modekngei is a monotheistic religious movement founded around 1915 by Temedad, a native of the island of Babeldaob, that spread throughout Palau...

) actively discouraged mixed unions between Japanese men and Palauan women. The Japanese government encouraged such intermarriages, and provided social benefits to women who had married Japanese men. However, only unions with civilian men were recognised and military personnel were prohibited from marrying Palauan women, although they were allowed to keep mistresses. The civilian government suppressed unions between Palauan men and Japanese women, and there was only one known case of a union between a Palauan man and a Japanese woman during the Japanese colonial-era.

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Japanese settlers were repatriated back to Japan, and male Japanese settlers who had raised Japanese-Palauan families abandoned their families in favour of repatriation, reasoning that the offspring would be able to better adapt in Palau than in Japan. Many of these Palauan women raised their mixed-race children singlehandedly, while others were abandoned and adopted by Palauan families. Some Japanese-Palauan families migrated to Japan, but generally faced a cultural shock and petitioned to return to Palau after living in Japan for some years. Most petitions were allowed, although they were not allowed to bring their Japanese spouses along.

Second and third-generation descendants of Japanese-Palauans who were descended from earlier settlers generally chose to remain behind, although those who were raised in Japanese-speaking families reportedly faced trouble conversing in Palauan. Most retained their Japanese surnames, but Japanese-Paluans generally identified themselves as Palauans after the war. Second-generation Japanese-Palauans usually married Palauan women, and became assimilated with the local Palauan populace. In terms of self-identification, Japanese-Palauans usually emphasised their Japanese identities only on occasions when they associate with other Japanese, for instance when they participate in memorial services for Japanese soldiers who died during the Pacific War. Some Japanese-Palauans also chose to be buried in Japanese cemeteries after their deaths, notably those in Koror.


The Japanese civilian administration encouraged Japanese businessmen and settlers to the expand phosphate
A phosphate, an inorganic chemical, is a salt of phosphoric acid. In organic chemistry, a phosphate, or organophosphate, is an ester of phosphoric acid. Organic phosphates are important in biochemistry and biogeochemistry or ecology. Inorganic phosphates are mined to obtain phosphorus for use in...

 mining and copra
Copra is the dried meat, or kernel, of the coconut. Coconut oil extracted from it has made copra an important agricultural commodity for many coconut-producing countries. It also yields coconut cake which is mainly used as feed for livestock.-Production:...

 production, which came into commercial existence during the German colonial era. During this time, new infrastructure was built between towns—including road and harbour facilities, and electricity and sewerage lines were laid out. Immigration from Japan, Okinawa and Korea to Palau intensified as a result of new job opportunities. A state-owned enterprise, Nanyo Kohatsu Kabushiki Kaisha
Nanyo Kohatsu Kabushiki Kaisha
The was a strategic development company which aimed to promote economic development and Japanese political interests in Micronesia and Southeast Asia. Founded in 1921 by Haruji Matsue to exploit the new mandated territory of Micronesia, Nanko received substantial support from the colonial...

 (South Seas Colonization Corporation) was formed in 1936 to streamline the islands' economic activities with the administration objective of developing the islands' self-sufficiency capabilities. In the late 1930s, Japanese pearl divers made regular visits to the Arafura Sea
Arafura Sea
The Arafura Sea lies west of the Pacific Ocean overlying the continental shelf between Australia and New Guinea.-Geography:The Arafura Sea is bordered by Torres Strait and through that the Coral Sea to the east, the Gulf of Carpentaria to the south, the Timor Sea to the west and the Banda and Ceram...

, and stopped by Palau from October to April. The influx of pearl divers from Japan led to the development of the island's tourist industry, and some Japanese settlers from Saipan
Saipan is the largest island of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands , a chain of 15 tropical islands belonging to the Marianas archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean with a total area of . The 2000 census population was 62,392...

 opened new café
A café , also spelled cafe, in most countries refers to an establishment which focuses on serving coffee, like an American coffeehouse. In the United States, it may refer to an informal restaurant, offering a range of hot meals and made-to-order sandwiches...

s, geisha
, Geiko or Geigi are traditional, female Japanese entertainers whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music and dance.-Terms:...

houses and liquor houses in Koror to cater to the pearl divers during their stopovers in between October to April.

When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Japanese business enterprises and organisations in Palau closed, effectively ending the Japanese influence on Palau's economy. In the first two decades after the war, the American occupation government imposed strict trade restrictions with Japan. Contact with Japan was reestablished in the 1960s, starting with Okinawan fishermen who were granted fishing rights. Japanese tourists began to visit Palau in increasing numbers from the mid-1970s. The growing influx of tourists to Palau led to the restoration of heritage sites around Palau, particularly memorial sites and administrative buildings built in the Japanese era as well as Palauan longhouses to accommodate to the interests of Japanese tourists, which accounted for half of all visiting tourists. Many of Palau's tourist sites were run and maintained by Palauan citizens of Japanese-Palauan heritage, whose knowledge in Japanese and Palauan customs and languages helped to facilitate tour groups consisting of Japanese tourists.
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