Maru: Immigration Stories Part 1

By Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

The international Japanese diaspora is part of a global network of communities more commonly known as the Nikkei community. The international Japanese diaspora is a combination of many things that create a sense of belonging. Join us on a journey to explore the early formation of Nikkei communities in the Americas.

Group of Plantation Workers (Late 19th century)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Early Nikkei Communities Across the Americas

Japan transitioned from military to Imperial rule in 1868. The new Meiji government’s drive for industrialization forced hundreds of thousands of farmers out of work. Emigration was seen as a quick solution and thus over the next decades Japanese emigrants would migrate to the Americas. Usually hailing from the poorest provinces, migrant workers faced similar poor living conditions, severe workload, and regular abuse across the Americas. Within decades, Japanese immigrants across the Americas progressed from working in labour intensive jobs to eventually owning small businesses. This is testament to their commitment to settle in their new country. Image: Courtesy of the UH Social Service Institute / Oral History Project

Passport Document of Sanzo Masui Passport Document of Sanzo MasuiJapanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Sanzo Masui, an issei (first generation Nikkei), emigrated from Hiroshima, Japan to Hawaii for work in the Wainaku Plantation in 1907. The attached passport document describes his temporary departure to Japan in 1924 to bring his two children to Japan.

Image: Tamotsu Masui Collection, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii

Plantation Workers During the 1920 Strike (1920)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Immigrant workers on plantations faced poor living conditions, severe workload, regular abuse, and very low wages. This photograph shows a group of women from the Waipahu Plantation on their way to downtown Honolulu to participate in the 1920 Oahu Sugar Strike.

Image: Dorothy C. Arakawa Collection, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii

Japanese immigrant residence (1900/1915)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Folk songs known as Holehole bushi illuminate the anxiety felt by the Japanese immigrant workers:

“The luna found me lying in the field with a high fever and he beat me up [as a slacker].”

Image: (89715909), Library of Congress

Manzo Nagano and Family (1910) by Charlie WongJapanese Canadian Cultural Centre

In Canada, Manzo Nagano arrived on the west coast of Canada in 1877. Though others had come before him, Nagano was the first Japanese immigrant to officially register his arrival. Nagano worked various jobs from salmon fishing to railway construction, work that was typical for early Japanese Canadians. This photograph shows Manzo Nagano and his family at their home in Victoria, BC.

Yanagi Gori (Basket Luggage) Yanagi Gori (Basket Luggage)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Yanagi Gori (Basket Luggage) was popularly used for travels.

Japanese American issei working in a butcher shop, Seattle, Washington (1910)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Most early issei immigrants were men who, although not from privileged backgrounds, were usually literate. Still, as migrant workers, they were confined to manual labour such as mining, logging, and agriculture.

Image: Courtesy of the Ouchi Family Collection (ddr-densho-182-167), Densho

Outdoor Portrait of Five Men from a Logging Camp Felling a Tree (1920)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Image: Canadian Centennial Project fonds (2010., Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre

Canadian Pacific Railway Workmen's Timesheet (1906)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Gathering at the Livingston Community Hall (1930)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Another group coming to the United States was promising Japanese students funded by the Meiji government, known as dekasegi-shosei. These highly educated young people would become the first advocates for basic rights for the Asian community in the US.

This photograph shows the residents of the Yamato Colony in Livingston, California, founded by Kyutaro Abiko, who came to the US as a dekasegi-shosei. He emerged as a leader in the Japanese American community while studying at the University of California and went on to become an outspoken supporter for Japanese American permanent settlement.

Image: Merced County Historical Society Archives

Promotional Poster Recruiting Japanese Workers to South America (ca. 1907)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

"Let’s go to South America with your whole family."

In 1923, the Great Kanto earthquake devastated the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan centre leaving millions of people homeless. This influenced national emigration policy to South America which was still suffering from a void in low-cost labour following the termination of the African slave trade.

Image: Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil

"Forbidden entry to Australia, objects of discrimination in the United States, persecuted in Canada and now limited in Hawaii and the islands of the Pacific, our workers will find in the State of Sao Paulo a rare happiness, a true paradise.”— (Sugimura Fukashi, ca. 1905)

Image: Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil

Kasato Maru Docked at the Port of SantosJapanese Canadian Cultural Centre

In April 1908, 781 Japanese boarded Kasato Maru for the port of Santos in Brazil where they faced a different reality to what the promotional posters in Japan painted. They were housed in poor conditions, faced abuse, and battled with diseases that killed many of them. Still, over the next five years, more than 15,000 Japanese would continue to arrive in Sao Paulo.

Credit: Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil

Passanger List of Kasato Maru Passanger List of Kasato Maru (1908-04-30) by Secretaria da Agricultura, Directoria de Terras, Colonizacao e ImmigracaoJapanese Canadian Cultural Centre

This document recorded the first 781 Japanese immigrants who emigrated to Brazil on the Kasato Maru voyage.

Images: Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo, Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil

Workers contracted to clear the forest to establish Colonia Hirano (1915)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Umpei Hirano was one of five interpreters accompanying the Japanese immigrants on the 1908 Kasato Maru journey to Brazil. In less than a decade, he purchased a plot of land, which will be known as Hirano Colony. This photographs shows Japanese Brazilian and local Brazilians contracted to clear the forest to establish Colonia Hirano.

Image: Associação Cultural Agrícola e Esportiva Hirano de Cafelândia

Cotton PlantationsJapanese Canadian Cultural Centre

At the end of the 19th century, Japanese workers became the second group of immigrants after Chinese labourers to fill a labour void in Peru. The experience of the issei on Peruvian sugar plantations was one of the worst in the history of Japanese migration.

News of terrible working conditions and violence faced by the first group of contract workers did not reach the provinces of Japan before more Japanese workers departed for Peru. Despite the difficult start, by the 1920s, various associations and news outlets for the Japanese community were established in Peru and Japanese schools operated in both Japanese and Spanish.

Image: Archivo del Museo de la Inmigración Japonesa al Perú “Carlos Chiyoteru Hiraoka” – APJ

Japanese Women Association (1935)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

In the early years of Japanese emigration to Peru, Japanese women were working as labourers in the fields alongside their husbands. Over the next decades, Nikkei women were instrumental in creating and growing new small businesses.This photograph taken in 1935 shows members of the Japanese Women Association in the Quinta Heeren House located in Barrios Altos neighbourhood.

Image: Archivo del Museo de la Inmigración Japonesa al Perú “Carlos Chiyoteru Hiraoka” – APJ

Lima Nikko Japanese School, Peru (1920/1930)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Within decades, the Japanese community across the Americas transformed from temporary workers to permanent residents. The arrival of Japanese women helped stabilize social structures and the formation of families.

Image: Archivo del Museo de la Inmigración Japonesa al Perú “Carlos Chiyoteru Hiraoka” – APJ

Victoria Japanese School (ca. 1930s)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Ringing of a Brass School Bell from the 1930s

Through these hardships, the Japanese immigrants persevered and evidence of prosperity in the Japanese community included the establishment of Japanese language schools.

Powell Street, Vancouver (Before 1940)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

In Canada, by the 1930s, 8,000 Japanese Canadians were living in the Powell Street area, making it the largest Japanese Canadian settlement in Canada at the time.

Fuji Chop Suey on 314 Powell Street was a popular restaurant for the Japanese Canadian community and was frequently the venue for wedding parties.

Funeral for Mrs. Yoriki Wasaki in the Powell Street Neighbourhood (1930)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Kawamoto Grocery Store (1900/1920)Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Another signifier of the flourishing Nikkei community was the establishment of small businesses.

This photograph shows one of the oldest family businesses by Japanese immigrants in Peru. After years of work in plantations, the Kawamoto family saved enough funds to open a small grocery store in a plantation.

Image: Archivo del Museo de la Inmigración Japonesa al Perú “Carlos Chiyoteru Hiraoka” – APJ

Credits: Story

Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre
Moriyama Nikkei Heritage Centre
Generously funded by Raymond and Sachi

This virtual exhibit is adapted from the full
exhibition in the Japanese Canadian Cultural
Initial concept by Gary Kawaguchi and James Heron.

Curatorial Team: Su Yen Chong, Theressa Takasaki, Sandy Chan, Yoko Tsumagari, Laura Viselli, Anh Le.

Photographs contributed by:
Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre
Archivo del Museo de la Inmigración Japonesa al Perú “Carlos Chiyoteru Hiraoka” – APJ
University of British Columbia Library
Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil
Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii
Museum of History & Industry, Seattle
Japanese American National Museum
Japanese Cultural Association of Manitoba
Library of Congress
Tashme Museum
Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society
Calgary Japanese Community Association
Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre of Montreal
Oizumi Tourism Association

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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