Akemi Kikumura Yano

Akemi Kikumura Yano is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California at Los Angeles, Asian American Studies Center.  She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA and is an award-winning author, curator, and playwright, best known for her book Through Harsh Winters:  The Life of an Immigrant Woman.

Updated February 2012

community en ja

Issei Pioneers - Hawaii and the Mainland 1885-1924 - Part 5

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THE GREAT JAPANESE STRIKE OF 1909

In 1900, Japanese laborers were involved in 20 of the 22 significant strikes recorded by the United States Labor Commissioner. Four years later, the workers demonstrated greater organization and solidarity when approximately 1,600 Japanese struck Oahu Sugar Company in Waipahu. However, the Great Japanese Strike of 1909 stood apart from the rest in the scope, duration, and organization. The strike lasted four months, involving five major plantations in Oahu, 7,000 workers, and the coordinated support of Japanese businessmen, professionals, and Japanese newspaper.

The strikers’ major demand was higher “wages equal …

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Issei Pioneers - Hawaii and the Mainland 1885-1924 - Part 4

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“OI OKINAWA”

On most plantations, different nationalities were housed in separate camps Although they adopted one another’s food, clothing, and speech, the various ethnic groups did not socialize with one another. Even within the same ethnic group, a separation of sorts existed based on regional and prefectural differences.

Among the Japanese the greatest distinction existed between the Naichi, people from the main islands of Japan, and the Uchinanchu, people of Okinawa. The Okinawans were treated as outcasts and foreigners by people of other prefectures. “Our Japanese didn’t sound like their Japanese, so they constantly …

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Issei Pioneers - Hawaii and the Mainland 1885-1924 - Part 3

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PLANTATION LIFE AND LABOR

As the last ethnic group to be recruited in the nineteenth century, the Japanese entered at the very bottom of the plantation system. In 1892, they constituted more than 65 percent of the workforce but received the lowest wages and were given the poorest housing. Skilled and supervisory positions were almost exclusively reserved for whites.1

“The gap between plantation managers and immigrant workers was wider than that existed between the lord and peasant during the feudal days in Japan,” reported Issei newspaper publisher Yasutaro Soga. “It was comparable to the relations …

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Issei Pioneers - Hawaii and the Mainland 1885-1924 - Part 2

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CONDITIONS IN JAPAN

While the migrants undoubtedly cursed the loneliness and hard word, payday reminded them why they left their homeland. “Four hundred yen in three years,” they assured themselves. To save the same amount in Japan, a day worker would have had to work for seven years and a silk mill worker ten years. In 1884, a Hiroshima farmer’s annual earnings was 14.48 yen and 9.98 yen in 1885, while a plantation worker earned the equivalent of 17.65 yen a month in Hawaii.1

In 1884, the Japan Weekly Mail reported that the distress among …

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Issei Pioneers - Hawaii and the Mainland 1885-1924 - Part 1

1. JOURNEY TO HAWAII

There was great excitement aboard the steamship City of Tokio as dawn broke on Sunday, February 8, 1885. Land had been sighted at last. Chika Saka and her husband Shohichi awakened their sons, Eizo and Yoshitaro. The family hurried on deck to watch the lush green mountains surrounding Honolulu harbor take form on the horizon as the ship approached its destination.

Almost two weeks had passed since the weary travelers had left Japan. In Yokohama, Shohichi Saka and his wife Chika had signed three-year contracts to work on the sugar plantations of Hawaii. Shohichi and other …

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