This year is the 150th anniversary of U.S. contact
with Japan, and the exhibit was just one of a number of special
programs commemorating the various interactions of the two
nations. While the experiences of many West Coast Japanese
during World War II is widely documented, little was known
about Hawai‘i internees and their experience.
Surprised at the lack of such information on these unfairly
incarcerated Hawai‘i residents, the Resource Center at the JCCH set
out to document their lives in this exhibition, which, with JCCH’s
permanent exhibitions about the Japanese in Hawai‘i, helped
history come alive for today’s community.
Part of the JCCH’s effort is the Center’s permanent
historical, cultural and educational gallery, called “Okage
Sama De: I am what I am because of you,” focuses on the
values that influenced the Japanese in Hawai‘i from their
arrival more than a century ago to their place in the Hawaiian
community today (jcch.com).
The Japanese who possessed the courage to leave the comfort
of their homeland to make a better life for themselves and
families shared much in common with thousands of other immigrants
who came to Hawai‘i. The JCCH permanent historical gallery
chronicles their travels from Japan, starting in 1868, through
their lives on the plantations of Hawai‘i, through World
War II, to their economic and political triumph in the last decades
of the 20th century and the freedom they experience today (hawaiiweb.com).
The first emigrants from Japan arrived in Hawai‘i in 1868.
Most of them were not farmers and were not prepared for hard
work in the field. They had diverse backgrounds, were largely
urban dwellers, and included displaced samurai and an assortment
of rogues (JCCH exhibit notes). Their response to plantation
life caused a “very unpleasant impression” in Japan,
and the Japanese government halted migration until the Hawaiian
government agreed to protect the laborers.
A sugar plantation was owned by people: Americans, British or
Germans. They hired managers, usually Americans or Portuguese.
The Japanese worked under the managers,” said JCCH docent
Sumi Oda. “The owners were a variety. Some of them were
quite strict, but others had a lot of heart.” While maltreatments
was not common, the feelings of Japan’s government were
strong enough that migration did not resume until 1881, when
Hawaiian King David Kalakaua traveled to Japan to visit with
the Japanese Emperor Meiji and to invite Japan to again send
settlers to work on Hawai‘i’s agricultural plantations
(honolulu.us.embjapan.go.jp). Along with providing labor for
the sugar plantations, Kalakaua was also concerned about the
diminishing Polynesian population. He considered the Japanese
a related race and hoped they would help to increase the island’s
population and reduce intermarriage with Caucasians.
In 1885, after extended negotiations, resumed Japanese immigration
proved successful, according to Dennis Ogawa, professor of
American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i (hawaiiguide.com).
Both Japan and Hawai’i learned from the mistakes of the
first emigrant experience. This time a careful arrangement was
worked out. Hawai‘i’s sugar planters requested country
people who were ready for very tiring, hard work, and the Japanese
government set standards for recruiting workers.
In 1894, the Japanese government gave private emigration companies
the right to control emigration. These companies very often
treated the immigrants unfairly, so their first three years
using all their salary to repay their debts to the company.
In the same year, a treaty was negotiated between the Japanese
and U.S. governments permitting citizens of both countries
mutual free entry, although both governments were empowered
domestic interests by legislating against excessive immigration
of laborers (www.nps.gov).
Hawai‘i’s plantation communities always had a disproportionate
number of single male workers, and in the early years, a bachelor
lifestyle was common. However, by 1920 women and children made
up half of the plantation community, as the single men who had
at first dominated the Japanese immigrations sent home for picture
brides, and families became more common.
As the largest immigrant group, the Japanese influenced the
entire plantation community, and soon picture brides photographs
exchanged across the Pacific Ocean and Okinawan, and Filipino,
and Korean women came to labor in Hawai‘i (hawaiiplantationvillage.org).
Immigration regulations and family growth didn’t stop management
and labor from clashing. In 1909, Japanese plantation workers
at Aiea Plantation engaged in the first organized strike in Hawai‘i
(cetel.org). From June until August, about 7,000 workers and
their families were on strike on O‘ahu in what was to be
the first of many strikes against island sugar planters.
Post World War I inflation caused plantation workers to agitate
for an increase in wages, and in early 1917, the Hawaiian Sugar
Producers Association issued a warning to its managers that
wage demands of Japanese organizations could lead to trouble,
to Edward D. Beechert, UH emeritus professor of labor history
(ialhi.org). In 1920, 10,000 Japanese and Filipino sugarcane
workers went on strike. The 6,000 strikers camped out in Honolulu
and more than 1,200 died in a flu epidemic (pww.org).
The planters broke the strike by bringing in Korean and other
ethnic workers from other plantations, and the strikers eventually
capitulated. The Hawaiian territorial government brought the
strike leaders to trial for conspiracy, and the U.S. Bureau
of Investigation, the predecessor of today’s FBI, produced
a report in 1921 describing the strike as “a weapon in
Japan’s strategy to take over Hawai‘i.” The
Bureau cited the Japanese Federation of Labor as an example of
the frightening unity and teamwork of the Japanese (ialhi.org).
Racism took a particularly ugly and authoritarian form when
President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, on
1942, two and a half months after the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor. It directed the U.S. Army to “evacuate” people
of Japanese, many of whom were Americans by birth, according
to Shigeru Miyagawa, professor of linguistics at Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (web.mit.edu).
On February 1, 1943, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated
all-Nisei unit, was activated. A call for volunteers yielded
vastly different results in Hawai‘i than on the mainland:
some 10,000 Hawai‘i Nisei (second-generation Japanese)
volunteered within days.
On September 2, 1943, after nearly a year and a half of training,
the 100th Infantry Battalion, an all-Nisei unit from Hawai‘i,
finally landed in Oran, North Africa. They were joined by the
442nd in June 1944. Together, the two units compiled a sterling
war record, suffering high casualty and low desertion rates,
and winning numerous unit and individual citations (janet.org).
The Japanese internees were officially released on January
2, 1945; they were never at any time, found to be a threat
security. Furthermore no person of German or Italian descent
was subjected to a similar form of racism (web.mit.edu).
Playing the different races off against each other, the planters
continued to break local strikes until the mid-1950s when union
organizer were able to cut across racial and ethnic lines to
usher in the modern era.
When Hawai‘i became a state on August 21, 1959, Daniel
K. Inouye became the first Japanese American elected to the House
of Representatives (janet.org). Inouye had served in the U.S.
Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and his right arm had been
blown apart by a German rifle grenade at close range. He returned
home with the rank of Captain and a Distinguished Service Cross
(the second highest award for military valor; senate.gov), and,
with other returning Japanese American veterans, took advantage
of the G.I. Bill to get a degree from the University of Hawai‘i.
On November 6, 1962 Inouye became the first Japanese American
to be elected to the U.S. Senate with a resounding victory
over Republican Ben Dillingham. In 1968, he delivered the keynote
address at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, appealing
for racial understanding and progressive change through democratic
institutions. He is currently serving his seventh consecutive
term in the Senate (senate.gov).
In recognition of the crime perpetrated on Japanese Americans
by their internment, Gerald Ford signed Presidential Proclamation
4417 in 1976, in which he, and the U.S. government, officially
apologized for E.O. 9066. In 1988, the U.S. government paid
$20,000 to each of the existing survivors of the interment
Today, in Hawai‘i, Japanese and Filipinos make up 41.6
percent of the state’s population, the largest proportion
in any state (worldalmanacforkids.com). Among many plans to celebrate
the history of the Japanese in Hawai‘i, is one for a voyaging
canoe to sail, in 2006, from Hawai‘i through Micronesia
to Japan, as King Kalakaua did in 1881.
For more information visit the JCCH at 2454 S. Beretania St.
in Mo’ili’ili. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday,
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 for kama‘ainas and
children under 12, and $5 for other adults and high school students.