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May 27, 2019

Spotlight on Japanese American History

As Chinese workers were forced out, labor needs in California’s agriculture and farming areas started to be filled by newly arrived immigrants from Japan. Post 1900, immigration from Japan to Hawaii and the West Coast of America was fueled by people seeking economic security and many Japanese, particularly those from rural farming and fishing villages, took advantage of Japan’s loosening emigration laws to seek employment overseas. Communities were born all over rural California as people from the same prefecture in Japan often settled near each other, many making the transition over time from agricultural laborers to tenant farmers and even business owners.

Overland to California: Commemorating the Transcontinental Railroad, ,

Spotlight on Japanese American History

Brocade of Sacramento Valley, 1911; Vault 13061; California Historical Society. Translated Title: Japanese in California: A pictorial history. By Nichei Bei Times, 1911; California Historical Society

This special edition booklet , created in 1911 by the Nichei-Bei Shimbun (Japanese American Times), provides a pictorial history of Japanese American families in rural California. It both documents and celebrates the Japanese community in the Sacramento Valley region and the important contributions they made to California’s agricultural economy early in the early twentieth century.

Watch shop owned by Mr. Aokihaka, Sacramento County, Calif.; Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061; California Historical Society

In 1869, when the transcontinental railroad laid its last piece of track, Chinese workers, the labor force behind the building of the railroad, were left to seek employment elsewhere. At the same time, in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, Northern California’s farming and agriculture industry was fast-expanding to meet the needs of a growing State. It was in these areas that many displaced Chinese workers migrated. Despite the clear need for labor in the orchards, fields, and vineyards of these regions anti-Chinese sentiment, formalized in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, was rampant – forcing many to move to urban areas where Chinatowns offered some form of protection against racial violence.

Kaishundo Drug Store, Sacramento, Calif.; Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061

As Chinese workers were forced out, labor needs in these agriculture and farming areas started to be filled by newly arrived immigrants from Japan. Post 1900, immigration from Japan to Hawaii and the West Coast of America was fueled by people seeking economic security and many Japanese, particularly those from rural farming and fishing villages, took advantage of Japan’s loosening emigration laws to seek employment overseas. Communities were born all over rural California as people from the same prefecture in Japan often settled near each other, many making the transition over time from agricultural laborers to tenant farmers and even business owners.

Mikado Fish Market with owner Mr. Fujita, Sacramento, Cal., Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061

Valerie Matsumoto in her book, Farming the home place: a Japanese American community in California, 1919-1982, estimates that between 1891 and 1900, 27,440 Japanese came to the West Coast from Hawaii and Japan to work in agriculture, canneries, logging, mining, and other industries, and that within a relatively brief period agriculture became the leading enterprise of the Japanese. In some areas of central California all-Japanese communities developed, including Florin in Sacramento County (known in Japanese as Taishoku) and the Yamato Colony at Livingston in Merced County.

[K. Igarashi & Co. Brocade of Sacramento Valley], Brocade of Sacremento Valley, Nichi Bei Times, 1911. Vault 13061

By 1913, two years after Nichei-Bei Times published this pictorial of the Japanese American community in Sacramento Valley, as many as 6,000 Japanese had become tenant farmers. Despite this clear need for labor, increasing xenophobia paved the way for discriminatory laws targeting Japanese farmers. The Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning agricultural land or possessing long-term leases over it.” In 1920, California made this law even stricter with amendments that prohibited even short-term leases of lands to non-US citizens.
These communities, continually under threat, were ultimately decimated in 1942 when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcibly removing all Japanese residents and American citizens of Japanese ancestry and incarcerating them for the duration of WWII.

For many, after 1945, there was no home, no work, and no community to return to.

Nichei-Bei Shimbun [Japanese American news] 

Established in San Francisco in 1899, the Nichibei Shimbun was one of the most prominent ethnic newspapers in the continental United States. Reflective of its founder Kyutaro Abiko’s vision, the newspaper called for assimilation and permanent settlement among Issei (“first generation”) as well as biculturalism and American patriotism among Nissei (“second generation”).

Throughout the prewar years, the Nichibei Shimbun remained one of the most important Japanese vernaculars in California, if not in the entire western United States. During the 1920s, its daily circulation peaked at over 25,000, which included the San Francisco and Los Angeles editions.

Sources

Waves of Immigration, by Emily Anderson, Densho Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Immigration/

Terminology, Densho Encyclopedia, https://densho.org/terminology/

National Park Service, A History of Japanese Americans in California: Patterns of Settlement and Occupational Characteristics, National Park Service,
https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/5views/5views4b.htm

The California Alien Land Law and the Fourteenth Amendment, Edwin E. Ferguson, Vol. 35, Issue 1, March 1947, https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=3652&context=californialawreview

Matsumoto, V. J. (1993). Farming the home place: A Japanese American community in California, 1919-1982. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

Written by Frances Kaplan, Research Librarian at California Historical Society