People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Japanese Americans Part 1

About the Japanese Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Japanese-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: Since the beginning of large-scale Japanese immigration in the 1880s, the majority of migrants have come from southern Japan's Hiroshima prefecture (county) and the neighboring prefectures of Yamaguchi and Okayama. Other prefectures that have sent significant numbers to the U.S. are Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Wakayama.

Why They Left: With the overthrow of the 265-year-old dictatorship of the Tokugawa shogunate and the restoration of the Emperor Meiji in 1868, a revolutionary period in Japanese social and political history began. Ports which had been closed to Western trade were open for the first time in three centuries; the feudal land system was abolished. With the influx of Western culture came the ideas of capitalist industry, parliamentary government, and civil rights. Peasant farmers were free to move to Japan's cities, which were not, however, economically ready to absorb the new labor force. The resulting overpopulation and famine precipitated a massive movement of Japanese emigrants to the U.S. in the late 1880s and 1890s. Emigration was legalized in Japan in 1868, although it was never encouraged. That same year, the Hawaiian Board of Immigration chose Hiroshima as the site for a labor-recruiting center, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 having greatly diminished the U.S.'s pool of cheap Asian labor.

Where They Settled: About 80% of the Japanese immigrants to the U.S. Settled in Hawaii (which became a U.S. territory in 1900) and California, 10% in Washington, and 10% in Oregon. Sizable communities developed as far east as Arkansas as a result of relocation after the W.W. II internment camps were disbanded. Some Japanese went to Canada, others to Brazil, which today has a larger Japanese community than the U.S.

Numbers: The first Japanese immigrants were a handful of deposed feudal landlords, who fled to the U.S. in 1869; several hundred Japanese came in the 1870s and 1880s; several thousand came in the 1890s. By 1900 there were 24,000 on the mainland and 61,000 in Hawaii; by 1920 there were 111,000 on the mainland and 109,000 in Hawaii. The Immigration Act of 1924 cut off Japanese immigration entirely until 1952.

In 1970 there were 591,000 Japanese Americans. The largest number, 217,000, were still in Hawaii, followed by California, New York, and Washington. The largest metropolitan concentrations were in Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, and New York City.

In 1978 the estimated 650,000 Japanese Americans comprised about 3/10 of 1% of the U.S. population. The community's growth is now almost entirely by natural increase, although many war brides came in the 1950s. Since a nondiscriminatory immigration law took effect in 1968, Japanese immigrants have averaged 5,000 a year.

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