A Short Chronology of Japanese American History


Adapted from Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present

Edited by Brian Niiya (New York: Facts-on-File, 1993).

May 17, 1868 The Scioto set sail out of Yokohama for Hawaii, carrying 153 Japanese migrants bound for employment on the sugar plantations. These adventurers constituted the first mass emigration of Japanese overseas. They became known as the Gannenmono.

Feb. 8, 1885 The City of Tokio arrived in Honolulu carrying the first 944 official migrants from Japan to Hawaii.

Oct. 29, 1889 Katsu Goto was lynched. A prominent merchant and interpreter, Goto was killed by those who didn't like the advocacy work he performed on behalf of Japanese plantation workers.

May 1892 Led by the Morning Call, the San Francisco Examiner, and the San Francisco Bulletin, the first anti-Japanese movement began. It culminated in the San Francisco Board of Education resolution of June 10, 1893 relegating Japanese students to the segregated Chinese school. After intervention by the Japanese consul, the resolution was soon rescinded, ending this early chapter of anti-Japanese agitation.

Apr. 30, 1900 The Organic Act was signed by President McKinley. This act incorporated Hawaii as a Territory of the United States. As a territory, contract labor was no longer legal in Hawaii once the act went into effect on June 14. As a result, over 20 major strikes take place within a month. Over 8,000 laborers participated in these strikes which called for, among other things, higher wages, reduced work hours, and the hiring of Japanese overseers.

May 14, 1905 The Asiatic Exclusion League was formed in San Francisco, marking the official beginning of the anti-Japanese movement. Among those attending the first meeting were labor leaders (and European immigrants) Patrick Henry McCarthy and Olaf Tveitmoe of the Building Trades Council of San Francisco and Andrew Furuseth and Walter McCarthy of the Sailor's Union. Tveitmoe was named the first president of the organization.

Feb. 18, 1907 Congress approved amending existing immigration legislation which allowed President Roosevelt to issue an executive order stopping the migration of Japanese laborers from Hawaii and Mexico on Mar. 14, 1907. In concert with the Gentlemen's Agreement, this action ended labor immigration to the U.S. and put labor contractors out of business.

Feb. 4, 1908 At the behest of new San Francisco consul general Chozo Koike, the Japanese Association of America was organized as the new central body of local groups. It replaced the disbanded United Japanese Deliberative Council of America, which had been plagued by financial and other problems.

May 9, 1909 Japanese workers at Aiea Plantation walked out beginning the 1909 Plantation Strike. By June, 7,000 workers and their families were on strike on Oahu and remained out until August.

19 May 1913 Governor Hiram Johnson signed the 1913 Alien Land Law, to become effective on August 10.

Jan. 19, 1920 3,000 members of the Filipino Labor Union walked off their jobs; Japanese workers soon joined them. By early February, 8,300 laborers were on strike, representing 77% of the work force.

Nov. 1920 The new 1920 Alien Land Law, a more stringent measure intended to close loopholes in the 1913 Alien Land Law, passed as a ballot initiative. It was to become effective on December 9.

Nov. 13, 1922 The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Ozawa case, definitively prohibiting Japanese from becoming naturalized citizens on the basis of race. This ban lasted until 1952. A similar case involving the denial of naturalization was also ruled upon.

May 26, 1924 Calvin Coolidge signed the 1924 immigration bill into law, effectively ending Japanese immigration to the U.S.

Feb. 21, 1927 The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the laws passed by the Hawaii Legislature to control the Japanese Language Schools--Act 152 (Apr. 1925), Act 171 (Apr. 27, 1923), and Act 30 (Nov. 24, 1920)--were all unconstitutional. In addition to removing the laws from the books, the Territorial government had to refund $20,000 in fees collected from the schools. Japanese school enrollment and popularity reached new highs in the early 1930s.

Jan. 1, 1928 James Yoshinori Sakamoto published the first issue of the Japanese American Courier. The weekly was the first mainland paper to be exclusively geared to the Nisei.

Nov. 19, 1929 After a quick trial and failed appeal, Nisei youth Myles Fukunaga was hanged in Hawaii for the murder of George Gill Jamieson.

Sept. 12, 1931 Thalia Massie, a Caucasian woman, was alledgedly beaten and assaulted by a group of Hawaiian and Japanese men. The incident led to controversial court decisions and vigilante action.

June 1932 The Japanese Athletic Union (JAU) was formed to coordinate the burgeoning Nisei club athletic team scene.

Aug. 1, 1938 Striking Hilo dock workers faced an Inter-Island Steamship Company vessel run by armed strikebreakers. Picketers were attacked with tear gas, fire hoses, and finally, buck shot and bird shot. At least 50 strikers were wounded. Although the strike was broken, the "Hilo Massacre" helps build labor solidarity in Hawaii.

July 25, 1941 A Presidential Order froze Japanese assets in the United States and causes a run on Japanese banks.

Aug. 18, 1941 In a letter to President Roosevelt, Representative John Dingell of Michigan suggested incarcerating 10,000 Hawaiian Japanese Americans as hostages to ensure "good behavior" on the part of Japan.

Nov. 12, 1941 Fifteen Japanese American businessmen and community leaders in Los Angeles Little Tokyo were picked up in an F.B.I. raid. Records and membership lists for such organizations as the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and the Central Japanese Association were seized. The fifteen cooperated with authorites, while a spokesman for the Central Japanese Association stated: "We teach the fundamental principles of America and the high ideals of American democracy. We want to live here in peace and harmony. Our people are 100% loyal to America."

Dec. 7, 1941 Local authorities and the F.B.I. began to round up the Issei leadership of the Japanese American communities in Hawaii and on the mainland. By 6:30 a.m. the following morning 736 Issei were in custody; within 48 hours, the number was 1,291. Caught by surprise for the most part, these men were held under no formal charges and family members were forbidden from seeing them. Most spent the war years in enemy alien internment camps run by the Justice Department.

Feb. 19, 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed military authorities to exclude any group of people from any region without trial or hearings for reasons of "military necessity." E.O. 9066 provided the legal authority behind the mass removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.

Feb. 23, 1942 The military governor of Hawaii, Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, activated the Corps of Engineers Auxilary--i.e. the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV)--as part of the 34th Combat Engineers Regiment. Made up of 150 Nisei, many of whom had been dismissed from the territorial guard, the VVV did non-combat labor such as digging ditches or breaking rocks. The VVV lasted eleven months and many of its members subsequently joined the 100th Battalion.

Feb. 25, 1942 The Navy informs Japanese American residents of Terminal Island near Los Angeles Harbor that they must leave in 48 hours. They were the first group to be removed en masse and suffer especially heavy losses as a result.

Mar. 2, 1942 John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command, issued public proclamation no. 1 which created military areas nos. 1 and 2. Military area no. 1 included the western portions of California, Oregon and Washington, and part of Arizona, while military area no. 2 included the rest of these states. The proclamation also indicated that people would be excluded from military area no. 1 and encouraged Japanese Americans to leave voluntarily. For various reasons, voluntary resettlement was doomed to failure and was effectively called off on March 27 after fewer than five thousand people (out of over 110,000) had left the area.

March 18, 1942 The War Relocation Authority is created.

Mar. 24, 1942 The first of 108 "Civilian Exclusion Orders" was issued, informing Japanese Americans of Bainbridge Island, Washington that they had to leave. For the rest of the spring, through the summer and into the fall, Japanese Americans up and down the West Coast were removed neighborhood by neighborhood through these "exclusion orders." Most Japanese Americans were taken to a local "assembly center," or temporary detention camp, upon arrival.

Mar. 28, 1942 Minoru Yasui walked into a Portland, Oregon police station at 11:20 pm to present himself for arrest to test the constitutionality of the curfew orders in court. His case, along with those of fellow dissenters Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

May 8, 1942 The first "volunteers" arrived at Poston, Arizona, one of ten "relocation centers" which housed Japanese Americans during the war years. Through the rest of the summer, Japanese Americans were transferred from the "assembly centers" to Manzanar and Tule Lake, California; Amache, Colorado; Minidoka, Idaho; Topaz, Utah; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas; and Gila River and Poston, Arizona.

Nov. 14, 1942 An attack on a perceived informant at Poston and the subsequent arrest of two popular inmates for the crime mushroomed into a massive strike. A similar uprising took place at Manzanar one month later.

Feb. 1, 1943 The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated all-Nisei unit, was activated. A call for volunteers yielded vastly different results in Hawaii than on the mainland: some ten thousand Hawaii Nisei volunteered within days, while only 1,256 mainland Nisei came forward from the camps.

Sept. 2, 1943 After nearly a year and a half of training, the 100th Infantry Battalion, an all-Nisei unit from Hawaii, finally landed in Oran, North Africa. They were joined by the 442nd in June 1944. Together, they went on to compile a sterling war record, suffering high casualty and low desertion rates, and winning numerous unit and individual citations.

Fall, 1943 Based on responses to the loyalty questions, the "loyal" and "disloyal" were segregated. The "disloyal" from the various camps were sent to Tule Lake, which became a "segregation center," while the "loyal" from Tule Lake were sent to other camps.

Jan. 26, 1944 The Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee (FPC), destined to become the only organized resistance to the military draft, was formed at a rally. Made up of "loyal" Nisei, the FPC members refused to report for draft physicals unless they and their families were granted their civil rights. Aug. 14, 1945 The surrender of Japan ends World War II.

Mar. 20, 1946 Tule Lake closed. In the month prior to the closing, some five thousand inmates had to be moved, many of whom were elderly, impoverished, or mentally ill and who had no place to go. Of the 554 persons left here at the beginning of the day, 450 were moved to Crystal City, 60 were released, and the rest were "relocated."

Jan. 19, 1948 The United States Supreme Court reverses the ruling of the California Supreme Court in the Oyama v. California case, ruling a key provision of the Alien Land Law unconstitutional. Nisei Fred Oyama had lost land he had purchased with funds provided by his father in an escheat action in 1944 which was upheld on appeal in 1946. Oyama had then filed suit claiming that as the son of an "alien ineligible to citizenship," he faced a greater burden of proof than other citizens in accepting a gift of money to buy land from his father. With this decision, the practice of Nisei buying land for their Issei parents is essentially ruled beyond the scope of the Alien Land Law.

July 2, 1948 President Truman signs the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act, a measure to compensate Japanese Americans for certain economic losses attributable to their forced evacuation. Although some $38 million was to be paid out through provisions of the act, it would be largely ineffective even on the limited scope in which it operated.

June 27, 1952 The Senate (57-26) follows the House (278-113) to successfully override President Truman's veto to vote the McCarran Bill into law. It will, among other things, grant Japan a token immigration quota and allow Issei naturalization. It will go into effect on December 24. Congress had initially passed it on June 11 and it had been vetoed on June 25.

Feb. 16, 1955 The openings ceremonies of Hawaii's 28th Legislature marks the first time in Hawaii's history that both Houses are controlled by the Democrats. Japanese Americans had played a key role in this turn of events.

Nov. 6, 1962 Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii becomes the first Japanese American to be elected to the United States Senate with a resounding victory of Republican challenger Ben Dillingham. Inouye had been the first Japanese American elected to the House of Representatives in 1959.

Oct. 3, 1965 President Johnson signs Public Law 89-236, amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act. This new immigration legislation for the first time considers Asians equal to Europeans in immigration matters. Great numbers of Asians will eventually enter the U.S. under the provisions of this legislation.

Dec. 27, 1969 The first annual Manzanar Pilgrimage take place. These trips back to Manzanar would inspire pilgrimages to other concentration camps in the years to come.

July 14, 1981 The CWRIC holds a public hearing in Washington D.C. as part of its investigation into the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Similar hearings would be held in many other cities throughout the rest of 1981. The emotional testimony by Japanese American witnesses about their wartime experiences would prove cathartic for the community and might be consided a turning point in the redress movement. In all, some 750 witnesses testify. The last hearing takes place at Harvard University on Dec. 9, 1981.

Aug. 10, 1988 HR 442 is signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. It provides for individual payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee and a $1.25 billion education fund among other provisions.