Hawaiʻi: 150 Years of Japanese Migration and Histories of Dream Islands
Period Tuesday, October 29 –Thursday, December 26, 2019
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries A&B, National Museum of Japanese History

Adults: ¥1000 (¥800)
college students:¥500 (¥400)
* Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more.
* Admission to permanent exhibitions included.
* Free admission for High school age and below.

Hours 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. (entrance closed at 4:00 p.m.)
* Open hours and days are subject to change.
Closed Mondays (When Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is closed the following Tuesday.), New Year's holiday(December 27 through January 4)


At first, those individuals who traveled from Japan to Hawaiʻi as contract workers did not necessarily have
intentions of settling down there. There were many who also traveled back and forth, and many who returned to Japan after their dekasegi—their “migrant work”— was over. The Nikkei society took shape in Hawaiʻi in this fluidity as well as its contact with other ethnic groups.

This exhibition traces back the history of migration from Japan to Hawaiʻi. It also takes in the history of
interactions and Hawaiian history in the modern and contemporary periods including the wartime. Hawaiʻi is wellknown as a resort area. We would be happy if we can all gain a deeper understanding of Hawaiʻi by looking at it from a different perspective. Furthermore, through thinking about the issues that are universal for humanity—migration and war, we would also be delighted if this exhibition will lead us toward thinking more deeply about our past, present, and future.


From Ancient Polynesian Migrations to the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi

About 1,000 years ago, Polynesians voyaged to the Hawaiian Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As archeological studies have made clear, they were the first immigrants to Hawaiʻi. Many hundreds of years later, in 1778, the British explorer James Cook became the first Westerner to reach Hawaiʻi. Soon after, ships from Europe and the United States began to arrive in the islands in greater and greater numbers.

In 1795, Kamehameha I (Kamehameha the Great) established the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, and in 1810 unified all of the islands under his reign. The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in its early years resolutely maintained its independent sovereignty while slowly allowing the intrusions of foreign countries.

Here, we begin by going back to see how Hawaiʻi as a state and society first came into being.


The Gannenmono Era

In 1868, the first year of Emperor Meiji’s reign, the first group of migrant workers from Japan traveled to Hawaiʻi. They became known as the gannenmono, literally meaning “firstyear-people”. This was also the first time that a group of workers from Japan emigrated to another country.

In the mid-19th century, disease brought by westerners to Hawaiʻi had caused a drastic reduction in the population. This resulted in a severe shortage in labor for the sugar industry, which had become the mainstay of the Hawaiian economy. Thus, workers from Japan were recruited to toil in the cane fields.

About 150 people (historical accounts range from 148 to 153) traveled to Hawaiʻi at that time. The timing of the departure coincided with a civil war in Japan, and it’s likely that because of the confusion, the workers may not have fully understood the employ yment offer.

The List of Gannenmono Travelled by the Scioto and the List of Returnees
Hawaii State Archives

Provided by Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo


The Start of Kanyaku Imin

Originally, the main force of Asian laborers who worked on sugarcane plantations in Hawaiʻi were Chinese who were known as “coolies”. In the 1880s, with immigration from China being largely restricted, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi asked the Japanese government to send immigrants from its country who could provide a new workforce. Thus, the dispatch of the so-called kanyaku imin (government-contracted immigrant labor)—as the groups of laboring immigrants who went to Hawaiʻi with the sanction of both governments were known—began in 1885. The people who came to Hawaiʻi may have been bewildered by the unfamiliar environment, but they did their work as labor at the plantations. They may be spoken of as imin (immigrants), but given that they had three-year contracts they were dekasegi rōdōsha (migrant workers) rather than imin. Some chose to return to Japan after their contracts were over, while others remained to live in Hawaiʻi. Around 30,000 people made this journey before the demise of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Even after the Republic of Hawaiʻi was formed in 1894, the migration continued through mediation of private Japanese companies that dispatched such workers as shiyaku imin (privately contracted immigrant labor).

Otsuki Konosuke and Robert Irwin's Agreement

Japanese Overseas Migration Museum


Japan and the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in Diplomatic Relations

Hawaiʻi and Japan as island nations in the 19th century Pacific witnessed enormous changes from their contact with Western countries. Both made a life-or-death effort to start down the path toward becoming constitutional states. The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi—which had already been building relations with those Western powers for a half century before Japan—now sought to conclude a treaty with Japan. The Kingdom did enter into treaty negotiations with the Edo Bakufu (i.e., the Tokugawa shogunate), but no treaty was concluded. After the Meiji government took charge in 1868, the arrival of the so-called gannenmono ("people of the first year") in Hawaiʻi provided the opportunity for explorations and negotiations on the matter to begin anew. In 1871, the two governments concluded the Japan-Hawaiʻi Treaty of Amity and Commerce, thus establishing formal diplomatic relations between the two nations. In 1885, the kanyaku imin, the groups of immigrants officially sanctioned by the Japanese government, began making their way to Hawaiʻi. In 1894, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi became the Republic of Hawaiʻi, and then in 1898 Hawaiʻi was annexed by the United States of America. After this, relations between Japan and Hawaiʻi would go on to be greatly prescribed by those between Japan and the United States.

Commission of Full Powers Regarding the Exchange of the Instruments of Ratification of the Treaty Between the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and Japan and the Exchange Certificate

Hawaii State Archives/Provided by Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo

Letter to the Minister of Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Robert Walker Irwin from Japanese Foreign Minister, Okuma Shigenobu

Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan


The United States Annexation and the Age of Free Immigration

Hawaiʻi was annexed by the United States in 1898. In 1900, the United States law was put into effect over Hawaiʻi. The influence of the United States over Hawaiʻi had already been strong; with annexation, the nation of Hawaiʻi in both name and substance disappeared.

The environment encompassing Japanese immigrants changed enormously. Contracted immigrant labors such as the kanyaku imin and the shiyaku imin became illegal under the United States law, and the age of free immigration in which people immigrated of their own volition began.

Around the same time, there was an increase not only in the numbers of Japanese immigrants to Hawaiʻi but also in the numbers of the Japanese descendants. As a consequence, Nikkei community was taking shape in Hawaiʻi. Likewise, their numbers were also rising on the United States mainland, a development that formed the background to an anti-Japanese movement in the United States. The United States would cast a shadow on their efforts in Hawaiʻi in the 20th century.

Sovereign Letter for Recognizing the Republic of Hawaiʻi

Hawaii State Archives/Provided by Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo


The World of the Coffee Farming

In Japan, Kona, a place name of the Hawaiʻi Island is well-known both as a place where coffee is produced, and as a tourist destination. Somewhat far away from the hotels and related business line streets, Kona coffee plantations run up the slopes of mountains. Coffee production in Kona began in earnest at the start of the 20th century. Many of those directly involved in the production were Japanese immigrants.

The biggest difference between coffee farming and other plantations such as sugar cane and the like is that coffee farming is owned in many cases by a family. Whereas Japanese and their descendants were sometimes laborers at the coffee farms, they rather owned the coffee farming businesses.

Coffee farming has been handed over to the other ethnic groups in the history. Nevertheless, many Japanese Americans are still involved in this industry today.

Coffee Farm in Kona

Kawamura Kiyoshi

Roasting Machine( with Shaft Kiln, Manual)

UCC Hawaii


The Japanese American Quarters

Beginning in 1890, with the completion of labor their contracts at sugar cane plantations, a number of Japanese chose to permanently live in Hawai‘i and moved to Honolulu and other urban areas. Of particular interest, a Japanese district took shape in the ‘A‘ala neighborhood to the west of Honolulu's downtown area. Japanese residential neighborhoods also formed around various tenements (or kyanpu, as they were known in Japanese) that were created in neighborhoods to the east of downtown Honolulu, such as Kaka‘ako, McCully, and Mōʻiliʻili.

The kinds of businesses that the Japanese started were, at first, limited to establishments like barber shops, pool halls,and grocery stores. However, their businesses grew and with their children, they were able to diversify their businesses. By the 1930s one could see not only Japanese restaurants and bakeries but also shops specializing in shoes, jewelry, and furniture as well.

Fukuju Shokudo(Diner)

Provided by Hawaii Times Photo Archives Foundation

Mōʻiliʻili Market

Provided by Hawaii Times Photo Archives Foundation


Japanese Language School Education

At first most children of the Japanese immigrants did not go to school in Hawaiʻi. In the 1890s, Japanese language schools were established to encourage the school education. By the time they went to the United States public schools, they went to Japanese language schools after the public schools to study Japanese language and culture. At the schools, the instructors from Japan taught the same sort of courses as those taught in Japanese elementary schools in the subjects of calligraphy, composition, and morals and ethics. The textbooks used initially were those approved for public school use in Japan, but eventually the Hawaii Kyoikukai (Japanese Educational Association of Hawaii) along with the Education Department of the local Jōdoshinshū Hongwanjiha would compile their own textbooks.

Waiakea Japanese Elementary School

Japanese Overseas Migration Museum


The Formation and Transformation of Immigrant Society of Hawaiʻi

Hawaiʻi became a multiethnic society as a result of the influx of people around the world from the late 18th century onwards. Due to the annexation by the United States, Hawaiʻi had come under the influence of the United Statesʼ immigration policy with the result that in the mid-1920s migration to Hawaiʻi from East Asia had come to a halt.

However, this development did not put a halt to the connections between East Asia and Hawaiʻi. Since the immigrants and their descendants continued to maintain ties with their mother countries, expansion of Japan as an empire in East Asia would keep giving an effect on their surroundings in Hawaiʻi. They built relationships with others, even as those relations were prescribed by such changes in the global situation as well as the social conditions unique to Hawaiʻi—a place where people of various backgrounds all gathered together to live.

Chinese Immigrants
Hawaii State Archives

Immigration Act of 1924
National Museum of Japanese History


The Pacific War and Hawaiʻi

The attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (local time in Hawaiʻi), Japan and the United States fall into a state of war. The expansion of the Japanese Empire’s sphere of influence that had begun at the end of the 19th century had an effect on relations among ethnic groups in Hawaiʻi as well as the military significance of the Hawaiian Islands for the United States. The Pearl Harbor attack caused the issue among ethnic groups in Hawaiʻi to crystalize.

Hawaiʻi was placed under martial law immediately after the attack, and various restrictions resulting from military rule were extended over people’s daily lives. Amid these changes to the political and social environment, people would wonder what their respective positions were or how they could change them. Even as some Japanese and their descendants were taken into custody and detained, they were also called upon to live through this time of war as Americans. They felt confusion, resolve, and resignation under the ambiguity of being both mobilized and excluded, and made their ways even as they questioned their identity and culture.

We Who Fight

Hawaiian and Pacific Collections)The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library


Post-World War II Hawai‘i: The Democratic Party Transition, Statehood, and the Cold War

With the end of the Pacific War, Hawai‘i once again experienced great changes. The greatest of these was the shift in the central political force on the islands from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. This has been called the Democratic Revolution. It was connected to social changes affecting Hawai‘i as a whole, backgrounded by such developments as the decline in the power of the financial cliques known as the "Big Five" who had operated the plantations, and by the revitalization of the labor movement that had been kept in check during the war.

What's more, in 1959 Hawai‘i went from being a territory to achieving statehood. Amid the debate over the pros and cons of achieving statehood, various issues that were predicated by the reality of the Cold War emerged. People also came to acknowledge the contributions that people of Japanese ancestry residing in Hawai‘i had made toward the war effort and that improved their social status. These issues are important ones think about postwar Hawai‘i.

Fear   Kyofu(Fear)   Fear

Hawaiian and Pacific Collections)The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library