Kapaʻa Japanese Stone Lantern (Ishidoro) ​

The first Japanese immigrants to the Islands, like the Chinese, appeared not long after Western contact, but the greatest numbers arrived in the mid-1800s to fill the labor needs of the sugar plantations.

The growth of the sugar industry as the base for the Hawaiian economy in the 1850s gave impetus to an increased demand for imported labor.

Japan was not open to Western recruitment until 1868; that year, the first group of 148 Japanese immigrants included 140 men, six women and two children.

In 1872, Politician Walter Murray Gibson declared to the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaiʻi: “You have considered the races that are desirable, not only to supply your needs of labor but to furnish an increase of population that will assimilate with the Hawaiian. … We must look to races, who whilst being good workers, will not much affect the identity of the Hawaiian, and whose gradual influx will harmonize with, and strengthen, by the infusion of new blood, the native stock. A moderate portion of the Japanese, of the agricultural class, will not conflict with the view that I present, and if they bring their women with them, and settle permanently in the country, they may be counted upon as likely to become desirable Hawaiian subjects.”

King Kalākaua visited Japan for ten days in 1881 while making a global tour. His meeting with Emperor Meiji improved the relationship of the Kingdom with the Japanese government, and an economic depression in Japan served as an impetus for agricultural workers to leave their homeland.

The US Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 stopped the flow of Chinese workers to the Islands; sugar planters turned to Japan. Farmers and peasants from southern Japan (mostly from the areas of Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Kumamoto,) having suffered a series of crop failures at home, filled the Hawaiʻi jobs promising comparatively high wages.

The trickle of workers arriving in 1868 turned to a flood by 1886.

Earlier contracts which provided a wage of $4 a month plus food, housing and medical care were replaced with new arrangements for free steerage passage, wages per month of $9 for men and $6 for women, food allowance, lodging, medical care, fuel, no taxes and a required savings account. (Nordyke/Matsumoto)

While only 116-Japanese were reported as residents in the 1884 census of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the Territory of Hawaiʻi recorded 47,508-men and 13,603-women of the Japanese race in 1900. (Nordyke/Matsumoto)