I made some time during my work trip to San Jose, California to leave the convention center and do a little exploring. The trip from downtown to Japan Town only cost about $15 dollars in a Lyft and took only about 10 minutes. I’ve been told that San Jose is only one of a handful of Japan Towns left on the west coast and it was worth the visit.
My first stop was the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. The unassuming building with its distinct eastern-inspired room and circular windows houses exhibits explaining the early immigration of Japanese to the west coast, the lives of the people, the creation of Japan Towns, and the internment of the Japanese Americans during the second world war. I was greeted by a Doosan after paying for my admission (under $10); he asked if I wanted a guided tour. I said sure. My guide then took me on a journey through the history of the Japanese in the Americas.
I learned a few things about Japanese immigrants such as Brazil actually has the largest Japanese-speaking population outside of Japan and that Mexico had a large immigrant Japanese population along the Sea of Cortez.
The men, of course, came over first and worked as laborers and farmhands. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 stopped immigration from China, so American labor recruiters began targeting Japanese workers. This triggered a rapid increase in the country’s Japanese population, which in turn spurred the movement to decrease their number and restrict their economic and political power.
The men would then find a bride through a matchmaker back in Japan. They increased their chances of finding a match through a bit of false advertising; they’d rent some clothes and have a picture taken in front of a nice car or house and send it home saying they were very successful in the new world. The women, referred to as picture brides, would then journey with a large group of other brides to the new world. The ruse sometimes ended with the women dumping them at the docks and striking out on their own or heading back to Japan as jilted brides.
The pairings that went well ended with the couple getting married in a mass ceremony at the immigration halls before they entered the country.
The influx quickly resulted in push-back from nativist groups in California beginning a period of systematic discrimination against the Japanese. The laws like the California Aline Land Law of 1913 that was specifically created to prevent land ownership among Japanese citizens from residing in the state has been compared to the Jim Crow laws of the southern states to restrict the rights of blacks.
However, in State of California v. Jukichi Harada (1918), Judge Hugh H. Craig sided with the defendant and ruled that American children – who happened to be born to Japanese parents – had the right to own land.
The Japanese and those of Japanese ancestry born in the United States succeed in creating thriving communities and accumulating wealth. They had their own hospitals, hotels, neighborhoods, and even a baseball league along the west coast. It was a thriving community until the second world war, a history we will get into in our next post as we talk about the shameful internment of U.S. Citizens during the 1940s.