How Common Is Spoken Spanish In Japan? (Honest Answer)


For those wishing to teach the Spanish language, improve on skills, or help someone that doesn’t speak Japanese, it is important to understand the climate in Japan when it comes to any foreign language. When talking about Spanish as a spoken language specifically, how widely spoken is Spanish in Japan?

Spanish is extremely rare to find in any part of Japan and is not widely spoken. It is not studied in public schools and only rarely at the University level. The number of Spanish speakers is less than one tenth of one percent of the total population of Japan.

If you are determined to find a way for you or a friend to use your Spanish skills in Japan, read on. I will go over the possibilities and pitfalls of trying to get around or make a living with Spanish while in Japan.

Why Spanish Is Not Widely Spoken In Japan?

The Japanese are a very homogenous people with strong ties to their language and culture. In general they are not as receptive to learning or people speaking other languages living in their country and influencing their culture.

Spoken Spanish is not common in Japan because of their unique culture and the strong ties the Japanese people have to it. Spanish is not the only language the Japanese rarely learn. They are not known to be a bilingual people. Many study English, but fewer than 8% can actually speak it.

The close ties between Japan and the United States lend most schools to teach English in lieu of any other language. Even with this, most Japanese don’t learn English to any level of conversational fluency. It is mostly studied for college entrance exams.

Spanish does not have a presence in Asia other than a slight Creole version spoken a one city of the Philippines. This is reflected in the attitude of the people of Japan towards the language and is contributing factor in their low number of Spanish language students.

If you would like to read more about Spanish in Asia, check out my article on How Common Spoken Spanish Is In The Philippines.

Because Japan is a very populated island nation with few Spanish speaking neighbors or close ties with Spanish speaking countries, there is not a push to learn the language.

This is coupled with the fact that the Latin based Spanish language is a significant challenge for native Japanese speakers. If there is little incentive and the goal is sitting atop a high mountain, as a general rule convincing anyone to attempt it is a hard sell.

How Many Speak Spanish In Japan And Where?

There is really no concentration of native or even second language Spanish to be found in Japan. Unlike English, those seeking spoken Spanish can’t even count on a university campus and population as a source for speakers of the language.

The Spanish language community in Japan is so small that it is virtually unmeasurable. There are a handful that study it on some level at universities or speak it for a job requiring contact with Spanish speaking international clients. Spanish is not represented in Japan in any significant way.

There is no greater push on the college level to learn Spanish to any degree. Even if someone chose to study it for their own reasons, the conversational level would be low due to the goals of passing tests set in most Japanese universities.

The Native Spanish Speakers Of Japan

Like with most things, there is always an exception to the rule. This exception really only applies to the 20 year period of so of the 1990s and early 2000s.

There is an interesting history of Japanese natives that immigrated from Japan after the second world war to Latin and South America. During the 90s, Japanese automakers and other manufacturing industry leaders requested descendants for these immigrants return to Japan to fill worker shortages in manufacturing facilities.

The majority of them ended up outside of manufacturing cities with little to no Japanese language skills. In her book, “A Cultural History of Spanish Speakers in Japan (Historical and Cultural Interconnections between Latin America and Asia)” Araceli Tinajero describes the event and its ripples through the Japanese culture.

That link is to the English version on Amazon. For the Spanish (and much cheaper version) for you or your Spanish speaking friends, here it is in español.

Besides the attempts by Spanish missionary Francis Xavier in 1549, this was the largest incursion of the Spanish language onto the Japanese islands. Neither one affected a change in the attitude of the Japanese people toward the Spanish language.

Cities Where Spanish Speakers May Be Found

In the recent past, these native Spanish speaking Japanese could be found near major manufacturing cities. This was especially true for automotive plants centered in the cities of the Tohoku and Chubu regions. These cities included…

  • Nagoya
  • Sendai
  • Akita
  • Aomori
  • Fukushima
  • Morioka and
  • Yamagata

Today their descendants have been brought up in traditional Japanese culture and have undoubtedly not retained the language of their Spanish speaking parents or grandparents. Around 10% of the total population of immigrants returned to central or South America.

As for today, it is a difficult task to find any semblance of Spanish speaking outside of the largest cities in Japan. Even within them, it will be a rare sight. If it is to be found, you will be most successful with attempts in the largest cities with the most expat populations.

Here are the top 5 largest cities in Japan where there could be a slight chance to find Spanish if a concerted effort is made.

Large Japanese CityPopulation
Tokyo8,945,695+
Yokohama3,688,773+
Osaka2,665,314+
Nagoya2,263,894+
Sapporo1,913,545+

Jobs In Japan For Spanish Speakers

The job market for Spanish speakers is pretty slim in Japan if your main skill is speaking Spanish. For those coming from Spanish speaking countries with other skills than language, there will be no difference than with other cultures. The catch is, you will have to learn Japanese.

Customer Service Call Center Jobs For Spanish Speakers In Japan

There is some evidence that openings in call centers for customer support has a bit of demand for Japanese firms, but in reality this may be a problem for those wanting to do it country. Most large organizations contract these type of jobs out to call center companies around the world.

This is not a location specific job as long as the contracting company is in a country with a good communications infrastructure. Spanish speakers working in these jobs can literally do it from anywhere in the world.

That being said, there are reports of a few able to find work in Japan doing this sort of job. Just make sure you have a secure position and visa solution set up before attempting to move to Japan.

Spanish Teachers In Japan

On the surface this may seem like a viable option for Spanish speakers wishing to live as expats in Japan. The problem is the demand for Spanish teachers tends to be very low.

Most of these language instructors have spouse visas and are allowed to live in the country because what their husbands or wives are doing in Japan.

They tend to take the few Spanish tutoring or teaching positions part time and simply for extra money.

There may be the rare exception, but unless you can demonstrate native English language levels it is likely you will not find work as a Spanish teacher to support yourself in any meaningful way.

Is Spanish Spoken In The Japanese Workplace?

With Japan’s international auto and high tech industries, surely there is the possibility to find the Spanish language in boardrooms or on conference calls, right? How common is Spanish in the Japanese workplace?

Spanish is not a commonly spoken language in Japanese firms, factories, or even retail establishments. The demand for in country Spanish speakers is simply not very high, and the few that do need the Spanish language for international business make up a proportionally insignificant number.

This is not to say, like with most things that there are not exceptions. It can be found in some internationally connected businesses, but again in numbers that are not relevant to the general population.

How Japanese View Spanish Language And Culture

To be honest, the Japanese are not very knowledgeable about the cultures and language of Spanish speaking countries. They are part of a strong culture that has been influenced to some degree by the American way of life. Other than that, they are usually concerned with Japan and its closest geographical neighbors.

There is a small trend in Japan for people to learn basic French, as France has become a very popular tourist destination. This may change in the future to a Spanish speaking country, but trends are fickle things. They are very hard to predict.

Cholo and Chicano Culture In Japan

There are many unique fads that emerge and then fade away in the Japanese environment. Usually when they occur, the Japanese tend to go all in with dress, customs, and all the trappings. One such fad in recent years is the Latin American culture referred to as Cholo or Chicano.

For those hoping for a surge of interest in the Spanish language, this may be a false flag. The movement is more concerned with lifestyle, fashion, and music than the rather sizable effort language learning requires.

It is an interesting sight to see low riders and Latino fashion on the streets of a Japanese major city. Yet, for our purposes here, looking at the Spanish language in Japan, it is just an entertaining side note.

What Do Average Japanese Think About Hispanic And Latino Countries

The Japanese like all peoples are varied in their taste and opinions. Yet generalities can be surmised, as long as those are not then superimposed on any one individual. In this vein, what do the Japanese think of Hispanic and Latino cultures?

The Japanese by in large are not familiar with Latino or Hispanic culture in more than a surface knowledge. They do not have a Spanish speaking country or culture near them or many examples through immigration. This leaves them in general with caricatures and memes as their understanding.

They will give answers of food, clothing, or dance to answer a question like, “What do you think of Spanish culture?” This is not because of any bias, but simply not knowing much about an unfamiliar and far away culture.

With the predominance of British and American culture in their media and products, the average Japanese has not considered Hispanic or Latino cultures.

Do Students Learn Spanish In Japanese Schools

Even though most public school language programs utterly fail at teaching any meaningful use of a foreign language, they at least bring the culture and language in front of children that would otherwise have no exposure to them. Do the students in Japan’s public schools learn the Spanish language?

Students in Japanese public schools do not study Spanish nearly anywhere in Japan. This is true in elementary, middle, and high school levels. There may be the rare private secondary school or college, but mostly, Spanish is not learned by students in Japan.

This doesn’t bode well for the future of the Spanish language in Japan either. With the social conscience so low around Hispanic and Latino cultures and the language very hard to find being taught anywhere, Spanish may remain obscure in Japan for the foreseeable future.

Spanish On Japanese Television And Media

There are very few options when looking for Spanish on Japanese television and movie screens. Even if a Spanish film becomes popular, it is unlikely that it will make it to Japanese screens without being dubbed into Japanese.

Are Foreign Films Dubbed In Japanese For Screens In Japan?

If we are looking at English there is actually an option to not have to watch a movie in the dubbed Japanese version, but for most other languages, they will most likely be voiced over by Japanese actors. This understandable in a monolingual society like Japan.

All foreign films in Japan are dubbed into the Japanese language. The rare exception is a double showing of an English language movie with one screen showing the dubbed version and the other in the original language with subtitles. All others are normally dubbed.

For English movies, there will be a Japanese dubbed version and an original English one with subtitles. Yet for languages not as common in the population like Spanish, these movies will most certainly be dubbed.

Where Can Spanish Be Found On Japanese Television?

Most all television series are either Japanese in origin or English language shows dubbed into Japanese. There is a whole industry devoted to dubbing in many countries around the world. Japan’s practice is much the same as Germany’s.

To read about it, see my husband’s article on How Common Is Spoken English In Germany?

For Spanish language news and shows, you are more than likely going to be looking for NHK. This is the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. They have world news and documentaries that can even be viewed online.

Is Japanese Hard To Learn For Spanish Speakers?

Though it is a common fad in the language learning community to tell Spanish and Japanese speakers that their languages are similar and thus easier to learn for one another, don’t believe it. This simply isn’t the case.

Japanese is notoriously hard for Spanish speakers. The sounds, structure, and vocabulary are very different than the Latin base of Spanish. The FSI branch of the US State Department classifies Japanese as a “Super-hard language” for English speakers, and the same holds true for Spanish natives.

All foreign and second languages are hard to learn. Even the ones designated as easy are difficult and most students contemplate quitting at one point or another. This is what makes learning to actually speak a language so fulfilling in the end.

Japanese is hard for Spanish speakers to learn and it a language like this usually takes learning it in country over several years of intense immersion. Can it be done outside of Japan. Sure, but it will be even harder and take longer.

If your resolve is adequate you can learn Japanese anywhere. I would suggest for these people to try a trial course out first to see if it is for you. I recommend Rocket Japanese for this. It is an all encompassing guide through the basic levels of the language.

The Spanish Language In Japan Final Talking Point…

Hopefully this honest look into Japan and their sparse understanding or pursuit of the Spanish language has helped you in some way. There just isn’t a good spin to put on it for those hoping that Spanish is somehow useable in the Japanese society.

That type of discussion simply isn’t real anyway. I am wanting to be as helpful here as I can, and the way to do that is simply to say Spanish is not that common or widely spoke in Japan.

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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