Although Japanese is spoken almost exclusively in Japan, it has been spoken outside. Before and during World War II, when Japan occupied Korea, Taiwan, parts of China, the Philippines, and various Pacific islands, locals in those countries learned Japanese as the language of the empire. As a result, many elderly people in these countries can still speak Japanese.

Japanese emigrant communities (the largest of which are to be found in Brazil, with 1.4 million to 1.5 million Japanese immigrants and descendants, according to Brazilian IBGE data, more than the 1.2 million of the United States) sometimes employ Japanese as their primary language. Approximately 5% of Hawaii residents speak Japanese, with an estimated 12.6% of the population of Japanese ancestry in 2008. Japanese emigrants can also be found in Peru, Argentina, Australia (especially in the eastern states), Canada (especially in Vancouver where 1.4% of the population has Japanese ancestry), the United States (notably California, where 1.2% of the population has Japanese ancestry, and Hawaii), and the Philippines (particularly in Davao and Laguna).

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