Japanese Day parade in Seattle, during the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition of 1909

Japanese American history is the history of Japanese Americans or the history of ethnic Japanese in the United States. People from Japan began immigrating to the U.S. in significant numbers following the political, cultural, and social changes stemming from the 1868 Meiji Restoration. Large-scale Japanese immigration started with immigration to Hawaii during the first year of the Meiji period in 1868.[1][2]

Japanese American history before World War II

Main article: Japanese-American life before World War II


There is evidence to suggest that the first Japanese individual to land in North America was a young boy accompanying Franciscan friar, Martín Ignacio Loyola, in October 1587, on Loyola's second circumnavigation trip around the world. Japanese castaway Oguri Jukichi was among the first Japanese citizens known to have reached present day California (1815),[3] while Otokichi and two fellow castaways reached present day Washington state (1834).[4]

Japan emerged from isolation following Commodore Matthew Perry's expedition to Japan, where he successfully negotiated a treaty opening Japan to American trade. Further developments included the start of direct shipping between San Francisco and Japan in 1855 and established official diplomatic relations in 1860.[5]

Japanese immigration to the United States was mostly economically motivated. Stagnating economic conditions causing poor living conditions and high unemployment pushed Japanese people to search elsewhere for a better life. Japan's population density had increased from 1,335 per square ri in 1872 to 1,885 in 1903, intensifying economic pressure on working class populations.[6]: 26  Rumors of better standards of living in the "land of promise" encouraged a rise in immigration to the US, especially by younger sons who (due in large part to the Japanese practice of primogeniture) were motivated to independently establish themselves abroad.[7] Only fifty-five Japanese were recorded as living in the United States in 1870, but by 1890 there had been more than two thousand new arrivals.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had a significant impact for Japanese immigration, as it left room for 'cheap labor' and an increasing recruitment of Japanese from both Hawaii and Japan as they sought industrialists to replace Chinese laborers.[5] "Between 1901 and 1908, a time of unrestricted immigration, 127,000 Japanese entered the U.S."[5]

The numbers of new arrivals peaked in 1907 with as many as 30,000 Japanese immigrants counted (economic and living conditions were particularly bad in Japan at this point as a result of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5).[6]: 25  Japanese immigrants who moved to mainland U.S. settled on the West Coast primarily in California.[5]

Anti-Japanese sentiment

Main article: Anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States

Nonetheless, there was a history of legalized discrimination in American immigration laws which heavily restricted Japanese immigration. As the number of Japanese in the United States increased, resentment against their success in the farming industry and fears of a "yellow peril" grew into an anti-Japanese movement similar to that faced by earlier Chinese immigrants.[8]

Increased pressure from the Asiatic Exclusion League and the San Francisco Board of Education forced President Roosevelt to negotiate the Gentlemen's Agreement with Japan in 1907. It was agreed that Japan would stop issuing valid passports for the U.S. This agreement was intended to curtail Japanese immigration to the U.S, but Japanese women were still allowed to immigrate if they were the wives of U.S. residents. Prior to 1908, about seven out of eight ethnic Japanese in the United States were men. By 1924, the ratio had changed to approximately four women to every six men.[9] Japanese immigration to the U.S. effectively ended when Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which banned all but a token few Japanese people.

The ban on immigration produced unusually well-defined generational groups within the Japanese American community. Initially, there was an immigrant generation, the Issei, and their U.S.-born children, the Nisei Japanese American. The Issei were exclusively those who had immigrated before 1924. Because no new immigrants were permitted, all Japanese Americans born after 1924 were—by definition—born in the US. This generation, the Nisei, became a distinct cohort from the Issei generation in terms of age, citizenship, and English language ability, in addition to the usual generational differences. Institutional and interpersonal racism led many of the Nisei to marry other Nisei, resulting in a third distinct generation of Japanese Americans, the Sansei.[5]: 27–46 [6]: 25 [10][page needed]

It was only in 1952 that the Senate and House voted one the McCarran-Walter Act, which allowed Japanese immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens. But significant Japanese immigration did not occur again until the Immigration Act of 1965, which ended 40 years of bans against immigration from Japan and other countries.


Japanese American farmer in Mountain View, California.

Japanese-Americans have made significant contributions to agricultural development in Western-Pacific parts of the United States.

Similar to European American settlers, the Issei, the majority of whom were young adult males, immigrated to America searching for better economic conditions and the majority settled in Western Pacific states settling for manual labor jobs in various industries such as ‘railroad, cannery and logging camp laborers.[5]: 30 [6]: 27  The Japanese workforce were diligent and extremely hardworking, inspired to earn enough money to return and retire in Japan.[6]: 26–27  Consequently, this collective ambition enabled the Issei to work in agriculture as tenant farmers fairly promptly and by "1909 approximately 30,000 Japanese laborers worked in the Californian agriculture".[6]: 25  This transition occurred relatively smoothly due to a strong inclination to work in agriculture which had always been an occupation that had been looked upon with respect in Japan.

Progress was made by the Issei in agriculture despite struggles faced cultivating the land, including harsh environment problems such as harsh weather and persistent issues with grasshoppers. Economic difficulties and discriminating socio-political pressures such as the anti-alien laws (see California Alien Land Law of 1913) were further obstacles. Nevertheless, second-generation Nisei were not impacted by these laws as a result of being legal American citizens, therefore their important roles in West Coast agriculture persisted[6]: 29  Japanese immigrants brought a sophisticated knowledge of cultivation, including knowledge of soils, fertilizers, skills in land reclamation, irrigation, and drainage. This knowledge combined with Japanese traditional culture respecting the soil and hard work, led to successful cultivation of crops on previously marginal lands.[11]: 75 [12] According to sources, by 1941 Japanese Americans "were producing between thirty and thirty-five per cent by value of all commercial truck crops grown in California as well as occupying a dominant position in the distribution system of fruits and vegetables."[6]: 26 

The role of Issei in agriculture prospered in the early twentieth century. It was only in the event of the Internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 that many lost their agricultural businesses and farms. Although this was the case, Japanese Americans remain involved in these industries today, particularly in southern California and to some extent, Arizona by the areas' year-round agricultural economy, and descendants of Japanese pickers who adapted farming in Oregon and Washington state.[13][page needed] Agriculture also played a key role during the internment of Japanese Americans. World War II internment camps, were located in desolate spots such as Poston, in the Arizona desert, and Tule Lake, California, at a dry mountain lake bed. Agricultural programs were put in place at relocation centers with the aim of growing food for direct consumption by inmates. There was also a less important aim of cultivating 'war crops' for the war effort. Agriculture in internment camps was faced with multiple challenges such as harsh weather and climate conditions. However, on the most part the agricultural programs were a success mainly due to inmate knowledge and interest in agriculture.[11]: 77–79 [14] Due to their tenacious efforts, these farm lands remain active today.[13][page needed]

By the 1930s the ethnic Japanese population living in Seattle had reached 8,448, out of a total city population of 368,583[15] meaning that, "Japanese were Seattle’s largest non-white group, and the fourth-largest group behind several European nationalities."[15] Prior to World War II, Seattle's Nihonmachi had become the second largest Japantown on the West Coast of North America.[16] East of Lake Washington, Japanese immigrant labor helped clear recently logged land to make it suitable to support small scale farming on leased plots.[17]: 11, 31  During the 20th century, the Japanese farming community became increasingly well established. Prior to World War II, some 90 percent of the agricultural workforce on the "Eastside" was of Japanese ancestry, also 90% of produce sold at the Pike Place market in Seattle were from the Japanese-American farms from Bellevue and the White river valley.[17]: 155 


Main article: Internment of Japanese Americans

Posted Japanese American Exclusion Order
Juneau High School valedictorian John Tanaka received his diploma at a special graduation ceremony at the school's gymnasium in Juneau, Alaska in April 1942 prior to his internment. He was unable to attend actual graduation the next month due to evacuation orders.

During World War II, an estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals or citizens residing in the United States were forcibly interned in ten different camps across the US, mostly in the west. The Internment was a "system of legalized racial oppression" and was based on the race or ancestry rather than activities of the interned. Families, including children, were interned together. Each member of the family was allowed to bring two suitcases of their belongings. Each family, regardless of its size, was given one room to live in. The camps were fenced in and patrolled by armed guards. For the most part, the internees remained in the camps until the end of the war, when they left the camps to rebuild their lives.[18][10]

World War II service

Main article: Japanese-American service in World War II

Further information: Military history of Asian Americans § Japanese Americans

See also: List of Japanese American servicemen and servicewomen in World War II

Rohwer Director Ray Johnston congratulates George Kiwashima on his decision to volunteer in the United States Army, while Captain John Holbrook and two other Japanese-American volunteers look on.

Many Japanese Americans served with great distinction during World War II in the American forces.

Nebraska Nisei Ben Kuroki became a famous Japanese-American soldier of the war after he completed 30 missions as a gunner on B-24 Liberators with the 93rd Bombardment Group in Europe. When he returned to the US he was interviewed on radio and made numerous public appearances, including one at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club where he was given a ten-minute standing ovation after his speech. Kuroki's acceptance by the California businessmen was the turning point in attitudes toward Japanese on the West Coast. Kuroki volunteered to fly on a B-29 crew against his parents' homeland and was the only Nisei to fly missions over Japan. He was awarded a belated Distinguished Service Medal by President George W. Bush in August 2005.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Infantry Battalion is the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military history. Composed of Japanese Americans, the 442nd/100th fought valiantly in the European Theater. The 522nd Nisei Field Artillery Battalion was one of the first units to liberate the prisoners of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. Hawaiʻi Senator Daniel Inouye was a veteran of the 442nd. Additionally the Military Intelligence Service consisted of Japanese Americans who served in the Pacific Front.

On October 5, 2010, Congress approved the granting of the Congressional Gold Medal to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion, as well as the 6,000 Japanese Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Service during the war.[19]

Post–World War II and redress

Main articles: Japanese-American life after World War II and Japanese American redress and court cases

In the U.S., the right to redress is defined as a constitutional right, as it is decreed in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Redress may be defined as follows:

n. 1. the setting right of what is wrong: redress of abuses. 2. relief from wrong or injury. 3. compensation or satisfaction from a wrong or injury.[20]

Reparation is defined as:

n. 1. the making of amends for wrong or injury done: reparation for an injustice. 2. Usually, reparations. compensation in money, material, labor, etc., payable by a defeated country to another country or to an individual for loss suffered during or as a result of war. 3. restoration to good condition. 4. repair.[20]

The campaign for redress against internment was launched by Japanese Americans in 1978. The Japanese American Citizens' League (JACL) asked for three measures to be taken as redress: $25,000 to be awarded to each person who was detained, an apology from Congress acknowledging publicly that the U.S. government had been wrong, and the release of funds to set up an educational foundation for the children of Japanese American families. Eventually, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 granted reparations to surviving Japanese-Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II and officially acknowledged the "fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rights" of the internment.[21]

Under the 2001 budget of the United States, it was decreed that the ten sites on which the detainee camps were set up are to be preserved as historical landmarks: "places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency".[22]


The Hilo Japanese Immigrant's Assembly Hall. Built in 1889, today located in Meiji-mura museum, Japan.

There is evidence to suggest that the first Japanese individual to land in North America was a young boy accompanying Franciscan friar, Martín Ignacio Loyola, in October 1587, on Loyola's second circumnavigation trip around the world.[citation needed] Tanaka Shōsuke visited North American in 1610 and 1613. Japanese castaway Oguri Jukichi was among the first Japanese citizens known to have reached present day California (1815).[23] Otokichi and two fellow castaways reached present day Washington state (1834).[24]

See also


  1. ^ Easton, Stanley E.; Lucien Ellington. "Japanese Americans". In Thomas Riggs (ed.). Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. Vol. 2 (3rd ed.). Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale. pp. 537–554. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  2. ^ Matray, James I. (2003). "Japanese Americans". In Stanley I. Kutler (ed.). Dictionary of American History. Vol. 4 (3rd ed.). Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 462–465.
  3. ^ Frank, Sarah (2005). Filipinos in America. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co. ISBN 9780822548737. OCLC 57311848.
  4. ^ Tate, Cassandra (2009-07-23). "Japanese Castaways of 1834: The Three Kichis". HistoryLink.org. Archived from the original on 2016-06-10. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (2000) [1982, 1983 (Vols. I & II, 1st Ed.); 1997 (2nd Ed., 1st printing)]. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Foreword: Tetsuden Kashima (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.; Seattle: Civil Liberties Public Education Fund; University of Washington Press. ISBN 9780295802343. OCLC 774403173.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Iwata, Masakazu (January 1996). "The Japanese Immigrants in California Agriculture". Agricultural History. 36 (1): 25–37. JSTOR 3740395.
  7. ^ Neiwert, David (2005). Strawberry Days. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 25. ISBN 978-1403967923.
  8. ^ Anderson, Emily (8 October 2020). "Anti-Japanese exclusion movement". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  9. ^ Hoobler, Dorothy; Thomas Hoobler (1995). The Japanese American Family Album. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 34. ISBN 0-19-512423-5. OCLC 31604512.
  10. ^ a b Muller, Eric L. (2007). American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807831731. OCLC 86110062.
  11. ^ a b Lillquist, Karl (Winter 2010). "Farming the Desert: Agriculture in the World War II–Era Japanese-American Relocation Centers". Agricultural History. 84 (1). JSTOR 40607623.
  12. ^ Graff, H. F. (April 1949). "The Early Impact of Japan upon American Agriculture". Agricultural History. 23 (2): 110–116. JSTOR 3740925.
  13. ^ a b Ingram, W. Scott (2004). Robert Asher (ed.). Japanese Immigrants. Immigration to the United States. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 9780816056880. OCLC 55847483.
  14. ^ "Telling Our Stories: Japanese Americans in the San Fernando Valley, 1910's–1970's". CSUNAsianAmericanStudies. 28 June 2021. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  15. ^ a b Lee, Shelley Sang–Hee (2011). Claiming the Oriental Gateway: Prewar Seattle and Japanese America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 46–47. ISBN 978-1-4399-0215-8.
  16. ^ "Seattle Chinatown Historic District". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  17. ^ a b Neiwert, David (2005). Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403967923. OCLC 57429025.
  18. ^ Nagata, D. K.; Kim, J. H. J.; Wu, K. (January 2019). "The Japanese American Wartime Incarceration: Examining the Scope of Racial Trauma". American Psychologist. 74 (1: Racial Trauma: Theory, Research, and Healing): 36–48. doi:10.1037/amp0000303. PMC 6354763. PMID 30652898. NIHMSID: NIHMS1007724.
  19. ^ Steffen, Jordan (October 6, 2010). "White House Honors Japanese American WWII Veterans". Los Angeles Times.
  20. ^ a b "Reading: Legacies of Internment: Redress". 2002. Archived from the original on 17 October 2002. Retrieved 14 September 2023. Citing:
    • Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary (Special Second ed.). New York: Random House. 1996. pp. 1617 and 1632.
  21. ^ "Civil Liberties Act of 1988". Archived from the original on 2012-01-17.
  22. ^ Tateishi, John; William Yoshino (Spring 2000). "The Japanese American Incarceration: The Journey to Redress". Human Rights. 27 (2): 11. JSTOR 27880196.
  23. ^ Schodt, Frederik L. (2003). Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan. Stone Bridge Press. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-880656-77-8.
  24. ^ Tate, Cassandra (2009-07-23). "Japanese Castaways of 1834: The Three Kichis". HistoryLink.org. Archived from the original on 2016-06-10. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  25. ^ Van Sant, VE., 'Pacific Pioneers: Japanese Journeys to America and Hawaii, 1850–80'(2000)
  26. ^ Jones, Terry.,The Story of Kanaye Nagasawa(1980), pp. 41–77
  27. ^ A Digest of Constitutional and Synodical Legislation of the Reformed Church in America, Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1906
  28. ^ Imai, Shiho. "Gentlemen's Agreement". Densho. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  29. ^ "Edmonston Maryland: A Bridging Community". Retrieved 2020-01-11.
  30. ^ Mary Granfield (6 August 1990). "Hiroshima's Lost Americans". People. Time, Inc. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  31. ^ "Kaufering IV – Hurlach – Schwabmunchen". Kaufering.com. 19 January 2008. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  32. ^ USHMM photos of Waakirchen with 522nd FA BN Nisei personnel and rescued prisoners
  33. ^ "Milestones for Women in American Politics | CAWP". Cawp.rutgers.edu. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  34. ^ "Congressional Gold Medal Presented to Nisei Soldiers of World War II". United States Mint. 2011-11-02. Retrieved 2020-05-30.

Text of the Immigration Act of 1907

Further reading