Robert Walker Irwin (1844–1925)

Robert Walker Irwin, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, was appointed by King David Kalakaua as Hawaiian Minister to Japan to negotiate the Kanyaku Imin Immigration Program with Japan. He was also the first American to legally wed a Japanese woman. The union produced the world's earliest biracial American-Japanese children.

Written exclusively for Discover Nikkei, this five-part article series traces the eventful lives of Irwin and the world's first American-Japanese family during critical periods of Japan-America relations.

migration en

Part 2: Father of Kanyaku Imin Emigration to Hawaiʻi

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Successfully negotiated by Irwin and his close friend Inouye Kaoru, Japan's Foreign Minister, Kanyaku Imin was a government-contract immigration program that started the mass immigration of Japanese to Hawaiʻi from 1885.

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Kanyaku Imin Immigration

Irwin’s place in Hawaiian history started in 1880 when his friend Harlan P. Lillibridge resigned as the Kingdom of Hawai‘i’s Consul General in Japan and recommended Irwin to take his place. As Hawai‘i’s interim Consul General in Japan, Irwin’s job was not that busy until he started preparing for Hawaiian King David Kalakaua’s tour of ...

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migration en

Part 1: Hawaiian Minister to Japan

*Japanese names in this article follow the Japanese convention of the family name coming before the given name.

Irwin arrives in Yokohama in 1866 during a most tumultuous time in Japan’s history. He soon meets the two most important Japanese people in his personal and business life. One was his wife Iki whom he finally legally married after taking over 10 years to overcome family opposition and legal hurdles. Irwin and Iki became the world’s first American and Japanese nationals to marry.

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In June 1860 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 16-year-old Robert Walker Irwin was among the curious onlookers gawking ...

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