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Brief History of Japanese Americans in California Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 6th, 2021

The history of the Japanese in California is characterized by adversity, handwork, community initiative, heartache, triumphs, indomitable spirits and hope. In the United States, people of color have been depicted as victims of discriminatory practices and legislation with no appreciation in their strengths, struggle and how they established and defined themselves in all aspects of their lives.

The Japanese Americans have created a big impact in California both economically, educationally, socially, religiously, politically, artistically and agriculturally.

The Japanese Americans have been among the three largest Asian American Communities. Recently, they became the sixth largest. A recent survey shows they are roughly estimated at 1, 204, 205.

These Japanese Americans are largely in the state of California. They total to 394, 896 in California according to the census done in the year 2000.


The Japanese American Immigrants began migrating to the United States from 1868. This was caused by the political, cultural and social changes that arose from the 1868 Meiji restoration. After the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882, Japanese Immigration started to move to the United States because they were sought for to replace the Chinese Immigration. In 1907 the gentlemen’s agreement was signed between the United States and Japan. This agreement permitted the Immigration to spouses of Japanese Immigrants to the United States. It is understood that out of the 1907 agreement, many women moved to the United States as picture brides.

One of the first groups of settlers that came from Japan to the United States was Wakamatsu Tea and Silk farm colony led by John Schnell. They arrived at cold Hill, Eldora do in June 1969. These Immigrants came with some plants i.e. mulberry trees, silk cocoons, tea plants, bamboo roots e.t.c.

According to 1870 census there were only 55 Japanese in the United States with only 33 in California. In 1900 census indicated that only 410 of 24, 326 Japanese were female. From 1908 – 24 Japanese women immigrated to the United States as picture brides.

In traditional Japan, arranged marriages were the order of the day. Go between and arranged marriages between male and female was done based on Social – economic status personality and family background. Due to the shortage of female in the United States, those Males who were able traveled back to Japan to marry. Those who were unable to travel back to Japanese had to undergo arranged marriage or long distance marriage.

Some people thought that signing Gentlemen’s Agreement could assist California to get rid of surging population of Japanese Americans. Instead the population of Japanese Americans increased, both through immigration and childbirth. There were groups of people who objected to the entry of picture brides to the United States. They argued that the Gentlemen’s Agreement had been violated. With the passing of Immigration Act 1924, a movement to exclude Japanese Immigrants eventually succeeded. This legislation slowed down the immigration from Japan until 1952, when it was 100 immigrants form Japan per year was granted.

The changes of immigration have left a mark on Japanese Community to date. The Immigrants of 1924 were uniformly young, the delay in immigration of women resulted in many marriages in which husbands were older than wives. The problem of women in the United States resulted to a majority of children being born within a period of 20 years that is between 1910 – 1930.

Due to this anomaly, it was found that there was a big age gap between parents and their children. Basically there was an age set of the older parents and that of young ones children. This has affected the way Japanese people are living in the United States. A gap of 25 years existed in which necessary facilities for the children were not needed and thereafter needed after this period of time. This trend creates a situation where there is a uniform class of events. For instance this age set could face the job market same time and marry same time. This Immigration trend is referred among Issei (first generation of immigrants). Vast majority are women who account for 85% of the clientele of Kimachio Kai and other Japanese Senior Citizen Organizations in California’s major cities are women.

Just like other immigrants to the United States and particularly California, the Japanese rushed to America for better life and in search of Gold which was largely known to be found in California. Today the Japanese Americans have immensely contributed to the economy of America.


Japanese Americans have made a significant contribution to the agriculture of the United States especially California. The Japanese Immigrants who moved to the United States introduced sophisticated irrigation methods that enabled cultivation of fruits, vegetables and flowers. The first generation Japanese Americans prospered in the 20th century. However, some of them lost their farms during the internment.

The Japanese American detainees irrigated and cultivated land in the World War II. The Japanese community which was firmly established in Agriculture organized their produce and flower. Industries were organized vertically in a system of Japanese owned operations from raising the plants to retail sales. The cooperative societies were formed and organized to improve the growing, packaging, and marketing of crops. Many businesses were dominated by men who sowed different crops at different times. Japanese entrepreneurs traveled across the country looking for markets to sell their produce. They secured orders and delivered the goods. The Japanese Americans were engaged in farming and well known especially for their rice producing capacity. They distributed rice to different parts of the United States.

One prominent Japanese Keisaburo Koda was known as the “King of rice” he established new strains of rice. Agricultural areas with Japanese residents had a successive Japanese section of town. Cooperatives functioned successfully.

Between 1900 and 1910, the Japanese began to buy property and establish farms and vineyards. All the Japanese communities developed in agricultural areas in Central California including Florin in Sacramento County, Bowles in Fresno County, and the Yamato colony of Lavington in Merced County. Much of the city traders were directly tied to rural occupations particularly agricultural labor.

Due to high migration of Japanese Immigrants to the United States and birth rate of children, the economic and agricultural basis of the Japanese community wars firmly established in agriculture and other practices like wholesaling, retailing and distributing. Due to organized system of retailing, a lot of operations and organizations such as southern California Flower Market in Los Angeles, the California Flower Market in San Francisco, lucky produce in Sacramento and the city market in Los Angeles were established. Cooperatives like Naturipe in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, were organized to improve the growing, packing and marketing of crop produced by Japanese Farmers.

Round this time businesses were numerous. Many of city traders were directly tied to rural occupations, particularly agricultural labor. Businesses such as boarding houses, hotels, restaurants, barber shops and gambling houses were dependent on the constant traffic of single male laborers who traveled to California from one county to the There was establishment of hotels like the Miyajima Hotel, a boarding house in Lodi, San Joaquin County. These hotels provided catering services to agricultural laborers. Other city businesses were also oriented toward farming interests.

For the period, between 1910 and 1920, the Japanese Immigrant farmers were good producers and growers of crops. They did truck farming along the coast, in the Central valley and Southern California. They grew grapes and tree fruit in Central Valley and Southern California. They also grew Strawberries in different locations. Rice was also planted in Northern California. The Japanese Immigrants were involved in proving that rice can do well in Northern California. They carried out different research and experiments with different strains of rice at the Biggs Rice Experiment Station in Buttle Count where Kenju Ikuta demonstrated that rice could be produced commonly.

Later on a ranch was established near Dos Palos by Keisaburo Kado in Merced County where he produced new strains of rice. The Japanese Immigrants have under gone a disproportionate burden of work in agricultural and forestry production industries but they have had small benefits. This dispropotionality has been caused by the discriminatory laws of California. This is evident from the 1909 California legislative bill which was passed to control leasing and ownership of land owned by Asians. These laws were designed mainly to curb the Japanese Immigrants who were buying property at this time. White Supremacist and other Patriotic groups were keen to prevent non white groups from becoming permanent residents and participating members of California Society.

This law (1909 bill) caused disproportionate burden of work in agricultural and forestry production. The disproportionate was caused by the fact that the Japanese Immigrants could not firmly establish their agricultural activities since they were only allowed to lease land for only three years. This practice was discriminatory on the basis of race. The Japanese Immigrants contributed greatly to the economic growth of California through Agriculture and yet they were discriminated. There were however, small gains in which they could benefit from. This law was applied so that the Japanese Immigrants could continue working at the farms of the whites.

The Japanese Immigrants posses disproportionately small shares of private land, water as well as other natural wealth. This was caused by stringent land laws that were enacted in the state of California so as to bar the Japanese Immigrants from owning and enjoying the use of land. In South Coast, they were not allowed access to waters for fishing. Therefore they were discriminated and they could not carry out the activity which had become one of their economic activity.

The Japanese Americans saved money to buy while working as farm laborers. However, in 1913 when California had over 6,000 Japanese Farmers, It passed a law so as to deter more Japanese moving to California under the law, Japanese farm workers were no longer able to buy agricultural land or lease it for more than three years. However, the then land Act 1913 did not have effect as a result of World War I. The relevant activities did not enforce the law since there was look of food and this could have largely affected the production of food supply in California.

This discriminatory law, has made the Japanese to possess small shares of private land and insufficient access for water needed for irrigation purposes of their crops like rice, strawberries etc. California is well known for its Gold. Unfortunately the Japanese were not allowed to mine and own this precious material. They could work for the whites in mining industries. This caused a disproportionate ownership of owning Gold.

They were discriminated on the access to the coastal waters of Southern California. They were not allowed to access the waters in order for them to fish. Japanese immigrants being good fishermen there relied on fishing as their economic activity besides agriculture.


The Japanese Americans have suffered a variety of discriminatory practices, legislation and restrictions. This is attributed to the way in which the Japanese Americans were enticed to migrate to the United States of America. They expected United States to be the land of fortunes. The Japanese were considered as rigid and capable of ruling the state.

In 1905, a league called Asiatic Exclusion League was formed to mount a campaign excluding the Koreans and Japanese from the United States. Due to pressure from the league, the San Francisco Board of Education ruled that all Japanese and Koreans should join the segregated Oriental School. At this time there were 93 students in public schools.

In order not to embarrass those Californians who were agitating for change. Theodore Roosevelt the then United States of America President agreed with the Japanese Laborers Immigrating to the United States. However, the agreement stimulated anti – Japanese movement in the United States. Due to the Gentlemen’s Agreement, more Japanese moved to the United States. Women migrated to the United States in big numbers. Children were born in America and the population of Japanese increased steadily. Arranged marriages took shape. Picture brides were the order of the day. This was done in order to convince Americans that the Japanese were not sneaky and untrustworthy.

As the population of Japanese Americans grew the anti-Japanese crusades regrouped. These crusaders argued that the population of Japanese Americans was growing three times than that of ordinary white Americans. This accelerated the passing of 1924 immigration Act which completely cut off the Japanese Immigration for 28 years.

Since January 1950, anti- Japanese bills were introduced into California legislature every year. The first to become law was the Hartley Law commonly known as Mien Land Law of 1913.This law was meant to bar the Japanese from buying land and not leasing land for not more than 3 years.

The matter of U.S Citizenship was eventually decided by the 1922 Supreme Court decision of Takao Ozawa United States which declared that Japanese were ineligible for U.S Citizenship. “Free White Persons” were made eligible in U.S Citizenship by congress in 1970.

Due to the anti- Japanese movement, an amendment to the State political code in 1921 allowed establishment of separate schools for Indians, Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian Parentage. The children of the Asians were not allowed in public schools once their special schools were established.

In 1945, a Japanese family challenged the legality of segregated schools. The Los Angeles County superior Court concurred that segregation on the basis of race or ancestry violated the fourth Amendment. The California legislature repealed the 1921 provision in 1941.

The internment camp policy of World War II was the most discriminatory action. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066. Estimated 120,000 Japanese were sent to eleven camps across the U.S mostly in the Wet. Thirteen temporary detention camps in California were hastily established to hold Japanese Americans until more permanent camps in remote sections of the Country were constructed.

After the Executive order 9066 was issued, Lt General John De Witt, Commander of the Western Defense command directed the controlling the movement and freedom of Japanese Americans. Eventually, the civilian – exclusion orders, issued by De Wilt directed the all Japanese Americans along the West Cost to report for detention at designated times and places.

The incarceration policy was challenged by Gordon Hirabayoshi who violated curfew regulations in the State of Washington. Fred Kamabu of Oakland who was prosecuted for violation of curfew Orders. Mitsuye Endo of Sacramento who claimed unlawful detention. It is out of these cases and specifically Ex Parte Endo issued on December, 16, 1944 that resulted in rescinding of exclusive orders effected on January 2, 1945, which closed the 13 concentrated camps in the United States.

The Japanese Americans were affected during the Internment period. Several legislative actions affected thousands of Japanese Americans. The 1934 California Status as amended in 1945 prohibited aliens ineligible to Citizenship from entering and earning their living from fishing activity. The Japanese Americans did not get access to enough water in coastal area. It is through Torao Takahasis suit that the U.S Supreme Court ruled the statute as unconstitutional and the Japanese Americans were once again allowed to fish the waters off the California Coast in 1948.

The 1944 federal statute amended the Nationality Act of 1940 to permit U.S. citizens to renounce Citizenship during war time. This was intended that leaders of Tule Lake segregation center renounce their citizenship, in order to make them eligible for detention. Only 5,522 renunciations came from the Japanese American. Upon the closure of the camps, many internees regretted renouncing their U.S Citizenship. They cited coercion, intimidation and fear of hostility by the dominant society. Suits to restore Citizenship were brought forward which restored U.S Citizenship to 4,315 Nisei.

During World War II California Attorney General seized the opportunity to prosecute Japanese Americans on violation of Alien Land Law Act 1913. This is because during this time the Japanese Americans were unable to defend themselves. During the war 79 cases were filed and 59 cases after the war. The case of Harade Valley State of California was the first one in which the superior court of Riverside County declared in 1918 that Jukichi Harada could purchase property in the name of his children who were U.S Citizens though still minors. It is through the 1952 case of Fuji v. State of California that the Alien Land Law 1913 was declared unconstitutional. The legal obstacles regarding the purchase of land by Asians were removed.

In order to compensate the losses and damages suffered by the Japanese Americans, an Evacuation claims Act was passed by congress. The losses by Japanese Americans were estimated to be around & 400,000,000. Only 10 percent of the amount was disbursed to former internees. The congressional commission was established to investigate the historical, legal, economical and psychological impacts of the forced internment of over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Further discriminatory practices meted out on Japanese Americans have also been experienced in other areas. The Japanese Americans were denied access to other activities like shopping, dining and recreational facilities at some businesses. Restrictive events affected them especially in their houses. Even when some deceased members of 442 combat team were returned for burial some cemeteries refused to allow their burial due to their ancestry. They were also denied entry some professions. They were only considered as gardeners in the farms of whites.

Generally, the practices of racial discrimination are far from ever in the United States. To date the Japanese Americans being discriminated silently even though the constitutional of the United States of America clearly states that no American can be discriminated on the basis of race, color, religion, gender etc. Recent cases involving employment and promotion prove this. However, the courts in the United States have tried to eliminate these discriminatory practices by declaring some statutes unconstitutional for instance the Alien Land Law Act 1913, the segregated schools issue, the 1945 California statute prohibiting Japanese Americans access to waters for the purpose of fishing etc. All these practices were declared unconstitutional. Therefore the Judiciary in the U.S is trying to eliminate discriminatory practices meted out to Japanese Americans.

Economic contribution of Japanese Americans

The Japanese Americans have contributed greatly to the economy of the United States of America. Right from the beginning, the Japanese Americans contributed to building of railroads in the United Stated of America.

The Japanese American eventually settled on Agriculture as their main economic activity. Coupled with a lot of discriminatory practices, the Japanese immigrants contributed greatly to the development of economic growth in the U.S. They cultivated various crops and owned ranches which earn revenue to the U.S.

Other racial groups like the Chinese also classified under Asian immigrants, have played a vital role in the development of the U.S. The Chinese working as miners, railroad builders, farmers, factory workers and fishermen. The Chinese represented 20% of California’s labor force by 1870. They constituted 002% of the entire United States population.


The detention camps also known as assembly centers represented early phase of the mass in incarceration of 92,785 Californians of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Japanese Americans were held at temporary detention camps for 2-7 months until their transfer to one of the permanent concentration camps. When global war reached the United States of America in 1941, the FBI summarily arrested over 2,000 Japanese Nationals during the first few days of the war. No criminal charges were preferred against those individuals who were arrested. They considered them suspicious because they held leadership positions in the community. A total of over 2,000 Japanese nationals were arrested and placed in the 26 various internment camps run by Justice Department.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D Roosevelt authorized the mass expulsion and incarceration of Japanese Americans by signing order 9066. The order was clearly worded to avoid it being challenged constitutionally. The first action under authority of Executive order 9066 was the expulsion of the entire Japanese American Community from Terminal Island i.e. San Pedro Bay, Los Angeles County on February 25 – 27.

On March 2, Gen De Witt declared the Western halves of California Oregon and Washington plus the Southern half of Arizona as military area and announced his intention to remove every person of Japanese ancestry there from Japanese Americans were urged to voluntarily give up their homes and jobs before they were forcibly expelled by the Army.

By May 26 to October 30th 1942 approximately 500 detainees per day were taken from the temporary detention camps and placed aboard trains with armed guards for transfer to one of the permanent camps. Two permanent camps were located in California. In Southern California, the Manzanar War Relocation Center, located between Independence and home pine in Inyo County originally as a temporary detention center, was the first center established on March 21st 1942.

In general the Japanese Americans were incarcerated without apparent reason. Today a California State Historical Landmark plaque and monument identify the Camp site where some of the original barrack buildings have been converted into contemporary housing facilities.

Organizations / Religion of Japanese immigrants

The first Japanese American Community Organization to be established in the United States was the Gospel Society or Franklin Kai which was established in October 1877 in San Francisco.

The Gospel Society offered English classes, a boarding house and social place for Japanese to meet. The Japanese Americans established three different social organizations. The churches, social or political organizations as well as Japanese Language Schools. Various religious organizations like churches, Buddhists Temples or Shinto were the focus of interest of the Japanese Americans. Various women Organizations were established as well as youth Organizations. The majority of the Japanese Americans accounting to about 85% were Buddhists. Christians accounted for 15% and they were found at living stone (Yamato Colony). Churches served as storage centers for items of Japanese immigrants during internment. Various Church Organizations included, the Buddhist Churches of America, The Japanese Evangelical Mission Society, The Holiness Conference and the Northern and Southern California Christian Church Federation.

The political and social organizations were organized under different names depending on the community, some of the names depending on the community. The names included Doshikori, Kyogikai and Nihonjinkai (Japanese Association). It was known that irrespective of their religious affiliation all the Japanese American associations had a common good of addressing the problem affecting them. They could hold meetings and discussion groups in their offices and buildings which they owned.

At one point the Japanese language schools picked up. This was due to the fact that children were being born and they had grown. The most prominent Japanese Language in the state was shogako in San Francisco founded in 1902. By the year 1930 at least every Japanese American Community had their school run by an organization or church. Teachers of these schools were either church ministries, wives of the Japanese people, or other well educated persons in the community. In some Schools there was a provision of boarding especially for those children whose parents were busy. Due to incarceration, many of the schools closed down during the World War II. However, some of them were revived in the 1950’s and 60’s.

People originating from the some place formed Kanjinkai (social organization) which supported them. They provided social services in the form of financial and informal counseling, care for the sick and aged etc. If the community was small and came from the same place in Japan, they had one Kanjinkai. If the community was large for instance in Los Angeles there existed more Kanjikais

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACKL) was formed in 1930. This organization became very powerful Headquartered in San Francisco, JACL gained prominence as am organization during the World War II internment period. The organization had chapters throughout the U.S and it represented a certain segment of the Japanese American Community.

In the due course of time, the Japanese Americans dropped the name Japanese from their naming of organization. This was done so as not to retreat from being too ethnic. Many Japanese started attending churches of mixed race.

The Japanese American community has been in existence since 1877. They have been agitating for the welfare of their member. More recent they have formed senior Citizen centre which include Kimochikai in San Francisco, pioneer center in Los Angeles, Nikkei Service center in Fresno and Asian Community center in Sacramento.

In conclusion the Japanese immigrants have greatly contributed to the growth and well being of the United States. Therefore it is the right time that they are recognized as Americans and be given equal opportunities in various government sectors and other important sectors. Their contribution in terms of new methods of agriculture, technology, etc shouldn’t be ignored.


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