Between 1861 and 1940, about 275,000 Japanese people moved to Hawaii and the U.S.
mainland. Currently, about 25 percent of Hawaii residents claim Japanese ancestry.
Following is a timeline that follows Japanese immigration to Hawaii, according to
1860: The Kingdom of Hawaii began efforts to bring Japanese laborers to work
in the sugar cane fields. When their contracts expired, some workers returned to
Japan or moved on to the U.S., and those who stayed in Hawaii worked in a variety
of trades. They faced challenges as they tried to create new lives that contained
elements of their traditional culture and elements of Hawaiian culture.
1869-1885: Japan barred emigration to Hawaii for fear Japanese laborers would
degrade the reputation of the Japanese race, as Japan believed it had for the Chinese.
1885: After years of Japanese workers in Hawaii being unhappy with their
treatment, Hawaii's King David Kalākaua visited Japan to strengthen relations between
the two nations, and the first major emigration from Japan began.
1887: The "Bayonet Constitution" took away much of the Hawaiian monarchy's
authority, initiating a transfer of power to U.S., European and native Hawaiian
elites. Use of intimidation by an armed militia forced King Kalākaua to sign the
constitution or be deposed. The new constitution offered voting rights only for
Hawaiians, Americans and Europeans, denying voting rights and Hawaiian citizenship
for Japanese and other groups.
1893: Nearly 70 percent of plantation workers in Hawaii were Japanese.
1898: Hawaii was annexed to the U.S., and plantation owners hurried to bring
in Japanese laborers before a ban on contract labor took effect. More than 30,000
laborers were brought to Hawaii during a one-year period, and by 1900, more than
61,000 Japanese were living in Hawaii.
1907: A "Gentlemen's Agreement" restricted Japanese emigration to the U.S.
Japan agreed to eliminate new Japanese emigration to the U.S. In exchange, the U.S.
agreed to accept the presence of Japanese immigrants already residing in the U.S.
and permit the immigration of wives, children and parents.
1909: Japanese laborers went on strike to protest abuse by plantation management
1920: Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese laborers organized
a strike for higher wages. Although they lost the strike, they learned to work together
for the common good and formed the Hawaii Laborers' Association, the islands' first
multiethnic labor union.
1922: Racial prejudice against Japanese grew, prompting laws that denied
Japanese citizenship. In Ozawa v. U.S., the Supreme Court upheld a Hawaiian statute
that denied Japanese immigrants citizenship because of state and municipal laws
that restricted naturalization to free whites and aliens of African descent.
1923: By this time, indigenous Hawaiians made up only 16 percent of Hawaii's
population compared with 97 percent in 1853. The largest percentage of Hawaii's
population was Japanese.
1924: The Federal Immigration Act prohibited further emigration from Japan
for permanent residence.
1935: The Onomea plantation camp was segregated into separate Japanese, Filipino
and Portuguese camps.
1939-1945: During World War II, many Nisei (second-generation Japanese born
in Hawaii) fought for the U.S.
1940: By this year, people of Japanese ancestry accounted for almost 40 percent
of the population of the Hawaiian Islands. Although many were prohibited from becoming
citizens and owning property, many owned homes, farms and businesses in the names
of their children, who were born in the U.S. and automatically were citizens.
1950: Issei (the first-immigration generation that stayed in Hawaii) were
granted U.S. citizenship and the right to vote.
Japanese immigrants have carved a permanent place for themselves in Hawaii, and
Japanese visitors remain an important part of the state's tourism industry.