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Japanese Americans Essay, Research Paper

Japanese Americans

The Japanese Americans have maintained loyalty to the United States throughout

the history of there immigration beginning in 1843 (Leathers, 6). Over the years, they have persevered through the trials and tribulations of discrimination and prejudice. The white community often discriminated them because of the misunderstanding of their language and culture. They overcame this obstacle, and became productive citizens of the United States of America.

The immigration of the Japanese into the United States was first recorded in 1843. Because of the strong currents and winds, sea traders and fishing fleets from many nations learned to exploit these winds and currents to travel from East Asia toward North America. Japanese seafarers were among this group. The first Japanese to come to the United States were accidental visitors- shipwreck survivors who were rescued by U.S. vessels. Over the next few decades, several such incidents occurred, but these incidents only involved a few sailors. Only a few remained to live in the United States permanently. By 1880 fewer than 150 Japanese lived in the U.S. (Leathers, 6-7).

This number stayed so low because it was illegal for most Japanese to emigrate from their home country. However, in 1885, the Japanese government eased it?s restrictions on emigration (Leathers, 7). Through this action the number of Japanese in the United States and Hawaii increased rapidly. At this time, Hawaii was not yet part of the United States. During the 1890s, the average number of Japanese entering the United States increased by about 1,000. In 1900, more than 12,000 Japanese entered the U.S. (Leathers, 7-8).

In 1924, immigration of Japanese was virtually halted when a new immigration law was passed by the U.S. Congress to prohibit the entry of Asians. Significant immigration of Japanese to American did not resume until the late 1940s (Leathers, 8). According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, only 450,359 Japanese immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 1988. Japanese immigration to the United States constitute less than 10 percent of the total of Asian immigrants between 1820 and 1988 (Leathers, 8).

The Japanese word Issei is used for any person who was born in Japan but later moved to another country- a first generation immigrant. A Nisei is an immigrant?s son or daughter who was born outside of Japan. The third generation, the Sansei, are the daughters and sons of the Nisei. The fourth generation, the Yonsei, are the children of the Sansei (www.honolulu.miningco.com, 1). Japanese immigrants to the United States nurture a strong awareness of their ancestry. Japanese Americans classify themselves into specific groups depending on know many generations have passed since a person?s family immigrated to the United States (Leathers, 8).

There were two major reasons for the sudden increase in Japanese immigration. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 stopped the immigration from China to America. This was passed because of the concern over Chinese labor flooding the market and leaving few jobs for the Americans. However, a result of the act was labor shortage in the western part of our country. Thus, there was a demand for Japanese immigrants who were good farm laborers and who would work for low wages. Another factor which helped stimulate Japanese immigration was a law passed by the Japanese Government in 1896. This Emigrants Protections Law required that each departing worker have someone responsible for his financial support so that if he became ill, he would not suffer. This law intended to keep those who emigrated well taken care of (Leathers, 12). Because of the financial requirements many families could not afford to support an emigrant to the United States. As a result, emigration companies furnished the Japanese emigrant with the necessary financial assistance and guaranteed him a job in the U.S. (Leathers, 12).

The life of Japanese immigrants in America was not found to be what the average immigrant expected. Many found that the stories of the great wealth and the wonderful life in the United States were greatly exaggerated. Unskilled workers became agricultural laborers worked for lower wages than native Americans who were performing the same kind of work. The types of work which the Japanese found varied greatly. Farming, merchandising, domestic service, railways, factory work, canneries, dairying, plant nurseries, fisheries, and clerical tasks claimed most of the new immigrants. However, by 1920, there were also more than 350 Japanese-Americans employed as professionals (Leathers, 14-15).

Most immigrants were men between the age of 20 and 40. The imbalance of men to women varied greatly, by about three to one. As a result, many Japanese men married women from Japan and brought them to the United States. A male immigrant in the U.S. did not often have the money or the time to return to Japan, so a practice known as a “picture bride” marriage developed (Kitano, 46-47). This long-distance form of courtship received its name because it often involved an exchange of photographs between a man in the United States and a women in Japan. The immigrant would then send a letter home telling his parents telling them that he wanted to marry a suitable women. Investigations would then take place, and if both parties seemed satisfactory, the marriage would be performed while the husband was in the U.S. The Japanese government would permit the bride to join her new husband in the United States (Kitano, 47-48).

Picture bride marriage seemed strange to many non-Japanese Americans and this helped build prejudice against Japanese immigrants. In 1921, the Japanese government announced that it would discontinue issuing passports to picture brides because of the American opposition (Kitano, 46).

From the beginning Japanese were unable to become naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1870, Congress passed an act that stated persons of African ancestry could now be granted citizenship; however, this still excluded people from Asia. Few immigrants managed to gain citizenship, because, in some cases, the law was not strictly enforced. Because of this exclusion this gave rise to the hatred that developed against the Japanese in America, especially in California (Leathers, 25).

Hostility against the Japanese surfaced in San Francisco. After the mayor Eugene E. Schmitz and his political boss, were charged with corruption in office, they tried to divert public attention by blaming the social problems on the Japanese. Hostility grew amongst the American public. In 1906, the San Francisco school board ruled that Japanese-American students could no longer go to school with students of European descent. All children of Japanese descent attended a separate “Oriental school” in Chinatown (www.askasia.org, 1).

In 1913, the California legislature passed the Alien Land Law of 1913. This law banned the purchase of farmland by anyone who was not eligible for citizenship. This targeted the Japanese immigrants. Although there were pleas from the president, he was unable to persuade the legislature passed the Alien Land Law (Leathers, 28).

Although the hostility and prejudice against the Japanese Americans was great during the early 1900s, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, intensified this prejudice. As a result, President Roosevelt, declared that all people of Japanese descent, American or not, were enemy aliens. They were to be relocated to detention camps throughout the nation. Though there was no evidence of a single case of Japanese-American espionage throughout the war, the executive order authorized the wholesale deportation of 70,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent and 42,00 Japanese resident aliens (www.thesierraweb.com, 1).

Japanese Americans responded voluntarily to the evacuation notices. Families could only take what they could carry. Life in the detention camps was strictly controlled. Barbed wire fences and towers with armed guards surrounded the camps. Some Nisei were able to leave the detention camps, after being permitted by the government ( Kitano, 58).

In 1943, the military started accepting American born Japanese. Many Japanese Americans were eager to prove their loyalty by serving in the military. The Japanese-American soldiers received great public attention for their valor throughout the Pacific and Europe. Through the dedication and patriotism of the men who participated 442d, the view and attitudes towards the Japanese Americans was changing (Kitano,60-61).

The war changed traditional roles for the Japanese Americans. By the 1950?s the same schools that had barred Japanese students were found hiring Nisei as teachers. The acceptance of Hawaii as the 50th state of the Union marked a milestone in the Japanese-American society. Hawaii had become the first American state to elect public officials of Japanese ancestry (Kitano, 61-62).

In a 1980 census, more than 700,000 Japanese Americans resided in the United States. Slightly more women than men made up this group, and their median age was 33.6 years. More than 90 percent lived in urban areas. Almost 70 percent of persons of Japanese ancestry residing in the United States were born here (Kitano, 63).

Japanese-Americans have become prominent contributors to today?s society. Jokichi Takamine arrived in the United States in 1884 and began working to isolate adrenaline. In 1985, Ellison Onizuka became the first descendant of Japanese immigrants to fly in space. He was a mission specialist on the classified military flight of the space shuttle Discovery in 1985. However, in 1986, he was a member of the tragic flight of the space shuttle Challenger. (Kitano 75)

The contributions of the Japanese-Americans to our country have been great. Their industry and good citizenship are widely known to those familiar with them. They have become scientists, journalists, entertainers, businessmen, farmers, and have entered into a wide diversity of occupations throughout the history of the United States. Juvenile delinquency is practically unknown in Japanese-American groups. The Japanese have served a great service for all Americans. They have endured prejudice, insult, physical harm, loss of property, and the evacuation from their homes. Despite these hardships, they have maintained a loyalty to the United States and served all Americans. (Leathers, 68) This proves true to all Americans that the color of skin, religion, physical appearance, or religion have nothing to do with the patriotism one has for it?s country.



Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars. New York: Vintage Contemporaries.

1995. 460 pgs.

Kitano. Harry. The Japanese Americans. New York: Chelsea House Publishers,


Leathers, Noel L. The Japanese in America. Minnesota: Lerner Publications

Company. 1974.

Leathers, Noel L. The Japanese in America. Minnesota: Lerner Publications

Company. 1991.


Asian Society. Linking Past to Present: Asian Americans Then and Now.

1996. www.askasia.org/frclasrm/readings.r000192.html.

Durham, Kathy. Issei, Nisei,Sansei, Yonsei: Japanese Americans on O?ahu- Part 1


Thistlewaite, Chuck. Manzanar National Historic Site: America?s Concentration

Camp. www.sierraweb.com/lonepine/manzanar.html


“Japanese Americans.” Britannica Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Encyclopedia

Britannica. 1998.

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