Japanese American History 

Being one of the first Asian Americans in the United States, Japanese Americans have a rich history of prejudice and perseverance.


Below holds a variety of important historical events grouped into 3 different phases of Japanese American history - immigration, incarceration, and assimilation. All of these events contributed to the current climate of Japanese Americans. 


Click on links and photos to take a closer look. Note that this is an ongoing project that is constantly being updated.



Strong, Joseph Dwight. Japanese Laborers on Spreckelsville Plantation, Maui. 1885. Oil on Canvas Painting. Taito Co., Ltd., Japan.


First Japanese laborers, the gamen - mono, arrive to Hawaii to work on sugar plantations.

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June 27, 1894

Japanese immigrants arrive on the mainland U.S. for work primarily as agricultural laborers.

A U.S. district court rules that Japanese immigrants cannot become citizens because they are not “a free white person” as the Naturalization Act of 1790 requires.

May 7, 1900

The first large-scale anti-Japanese protest in California is held, organized by various labor groups.

February 23, 1905
"Japs Bringing Frightful Disease. Danger Now is in the School. Unwise Law Gives Diseased Asiatic Place as Pupil. Many Come in on Each Ship."

“The Japanese Invasion: The Problem of the Hour,” reads the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, helping to escalate racism towards the Japanese in the Bay Area.

May 14, 1905

The Asiatic Exclusion League is formed in San Francisco. In attendance are labor leaders and European immigrants, marking the first organized effort of the anti-Japanese movement.

October 11, 1906

The San Francisco Board of Education passes a resolution to segregate children of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ancestry from the majority population.


Japan and the U.S. agree (Gentlemen’s Agreement) to halt the migration of Japanese laborers in the United States. Japanese women are allowed to immigrate if they are wives of U.S. residents.


California passes the Alien Land Law, forbidding “all aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning land. This later grew to include a prohibition on leasing land as well, and 12 other states adopted similar laws.

Nasoji Kume cutting spinach for the cannery.

Japanese American farmers produce $67 million dollars worth of crops, more than ten percent of California’s total crop value. There are 111,000 Japanese Americans in the U.S., 82,000 are immigrants and 29,000 were

born in the U.S.

July 19, 1921

White vigilantes deport 58 Japanese laborers from Turlock, California, driving them out by truck at gunpoint. Other incidents occur across California and in Oregon and Arizona.

November 13, 1922

The United States Supreme Court rules on the Ozawa case, reaffirming the ban on Japanese immigrants from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. This ban would last until 1952.


Congress passes the Immigration Act of 1924 effectively ending all Japanese immigration to the U.S.



Strong, Joseph Dwight. Japanese Laborers on Spreckelsville Plantation, Maui. 1885. Oil on Canvas Painting. Taito Co., Ltd., Japan.

November 1941

A U.S. Intelligence report known as the “Munson Report” commissioned by President Roosevelt concludes that the great majority of Japanese Americans are loyal to the U.S. and do not pose a threat to national security in the event of war with Japan.

December 7, 1941

- A Telegram to President Roosevelt from the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)

“In this solemn hour we pledge our fullest cooperation to you, Mr. President, and to our country. There cannot be any question. There must be no doubt. We, in our hearts, are Americans -- loyal to America. We must prove that to all of you.”

Japan bombs U.S. ships and planes at the Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii. Over 3,500 servicemen are wounded or killed. Martial law is declared in Hawaii.



The FBI begins arresting Japanese immigrants identified as community leaders: priests, Japanese language teachers, newspaper publishers, and heads of organizations. Within 48 hours, 1,291 are arrested. Most of these men would be incarcerated for the duration of the war, separated from their families.

December 8, 1941

A declaration of war against Japan is brought by the President and passed by Congress.

December – January 1941

The FBI searches thousands of Japanese American homes on the West Coast for contraband. Short wave radios, cameras, heirloom swords, and explosives used for clearing stumps in agriculture are among the items confiscated.

December 15, 1941

Without any evidence of sabotage, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox announces to the press, “I think the most effective Fifth Column work of the entire war was done in Hawaii…”

February 19, 1942

President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 authorizing military authorities to exclude civilians from any area without trial or hearing. The order did not specify Japanese Americans–but they were the only group to be imprisoned as a result of it.

March 1942

General DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Command issued Public Proclamation No. 1 and begins the process of removing all persons of Japanese ancestry—U.S. citizens and aliens alike—living in the western halves of Washington State, California, Oregon, and parts of Arizona. A curfew goes into effect in these areas–all those of Japanese ancestry must remain at home from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The Wartime Civil Control Administration opens 15 “Assembly Centers” to detain approximately 92,000 men, women, and children until the permanent incarceration camps are completed.

March 28, 1942

Minoru Yasui walks into a Portland police station to surrender himself for arrest in order to test the curfew regulations in court.

May 1942

The incarcerees begin transfer to permanent WRA incarceration facilities or “camps.” They total ten: Manzanar, Poston, Gila River, Topaz, Granada, Heart Mountain, Minidoka, Tule Lake, Jerome, and Rohwer.

May 16, 1942

University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi turns himself in to the authorities with a four-page statement explaining why he would not submit to the imprisonment on Constitutional grounds.

July 27, 1942

Two men are shot to death by a camp guard while allegedly trying to escape from the Lordsburg, New Mexico, internment camp. Both men had been too ill to walk from the train station to the camp gate prior to being shot.

March 1943

10,000 Japanese American men volunteer for the armed services from Hawaii. 1,200 volunteer out of the camps. These Nisei men formed the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team which later became the most decorated military battalions in history.

June 1943

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the curfew order in Hirabayashi v. U.S. and Yasui v. U.S.

September 1943

The infamous questions from the Loyalty Questionnaire 

Question 27: "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?"

Question 28: "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?"

From the results of the “loyalty questionnaire,” “loyal” incarcerees from Tule Lake begin to depart to other camps and “disloyal” incarcerees, or “No-No boys”, from other camps begin to arrive at Tule Lake.


With more than 18,000 JA incarcerees now labeled as "enemies", the U.S. military brought in 1,200 soldiers and 8 tanks to terrorize those held in Tule Lake. Riots, tortures, and solitary confinement ensued across the camp as newspaper headlines read, "Japs Riot; Army Moves In". 

January 1944

The War Department imposes the draft on Japanese American men, including those incarcerated in the camps. The vast majority comply, a few hundred resist and are brought up on federal charges. Most of the resistors are imprisoned in a federal penitentiary.

January 2, 1945

The War Department announces that the exclusion orders are rescinded after the Supreme Court rules in the Endo case that “loyal” citizens could not be lawfully detained. Japanese Americans cleared to leave the concentration camps are now free to return to the West Coast.

August 6, 1945

The U.S. drops the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrenders on August 14.

August 1945

Some 44,000 people still remain in the camps. Many have nowhere to go, having lost their homes and jobs. Many are afraid of anti-Japanese hostility and refuse to leave.

March 20, 1946

Tule Lake “Segregation Center” closes. This is the last War Relocation Authority facility to close.


Strong, Joseph Dwight. Japanese Laborers on Spreckelsville Plantation, Maui. 1885. Oil on Canvas Painting. Taito Co., Ltd., Japan.


President Truman signs the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act. Approximately $38 million was paid from this act, only a small fraction of the estimated loss in income and property.

June 1952

The Senate and House override President Truman’s veto and vote the McCarran-Walter Act into law. Among other effects, this bill grants Japan a token immigration quota and allows Japanese immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens.


Feminist groups, Asian Woman United and the Organization of Asian Women, are established


Japanese animator, Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy became a success overseas in the United States, marking one of the first instances of Japanese animation and cartoons breaking through American society.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws segregation. Discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, gender, or religion in voting, public areas, the workplace, and schools is illegal.


The Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965 begins mass immigration to the U.S. and gets rid of country based quotas. 


Amy Uyematsu, a Japanese American poet, publishes her essay “The Emergence of Yellow Power”. Influenced by the Black Power movement, Uyematsu asserts Asian American identity and a collective consciousness.


Ellison Onizuka is the first Asian American astronaut in space. Onizuka serves as a mission specialist and orbits 48 times around the Earth. 


Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus is the nation’s first legal and civil rights organization serving the low-income Asian Pacific American communities. 


An Asian American LGBT movement begins. 600+ Black, Lantix, Native American, Asian, and White people attend the First National Third World Gay and Lesbian conference in DC.

April 1979

The Gundam franchise was released, creating a new genre of anime called "real robots" which featured giant robots in a militaristic war setting.

June 1982

The killing of Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American, who was mistaken as a Japanese person in Detroit, Michigan. During the height of the Japanese auto industry boom, unemployment hit the Detroit auto industries and resulted in a spike in hate crimes against anything considered to be “Japanese”.


The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians issues its report, Personal Justice Denied, on February 24 and its Recommendations, on June 16. The Recommendations call for a presidential apology and a $20,000 payment to each of the approximately 60,000 surviving persons excluded from their places of residence pursuant to Executive Order 9066.

1983 – 1988

The wartime convictions of Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and Fred Korematsu (the three men who protested the curfew and/or incarceration orders) are vacated (“nullified”) on the basis of newly discovered evidence that the U.S. military lied to the Supreme Court in the original proceedings.


The Super Nintendo, a 16-bit home video game console is released in the United States.

June 1991

The first AnimeCon, now known as Anime Expo, was held in San Jose. Today, Anime Expo is the largest anime convention on the west coast bringing in 100,000+ attendees every year. 


Pokemon Red Version and Blue Version was released in the U.S. for Nintendo's Game Boy. This marked the beginning of what would become a multibillion-dollar franchise, jointly selling millions of copies worldwide.


The 2000 US Census allows the identification of multiple races.

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