COLORADOS NIKKEI PIONEERS: JAPANESE
AMERICANS IN TWENTIETH CENTURY COLORADO
Kara Mariko Miyagishima
B.A., University of Colorado, Boulder, 2000
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Arts
2007 by Kara Mariko Miyagishima
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Masters of History
Kara Mariko Miyagishima
has been approved
Rebecca A. Hunt
Miyagishima, Kara Mariko (M.A., History)
Colorados Nikkei Pioneers: Japanese Americans in Twentieth Century Colorado
Thesis directed by Professor Thomas J. Noel
According to the U.S. Census Bureau Summary File, in the year 2000
there were 11,571 people of Japanese ancestry living in Colorado, out of which
1,941 resided in the City and County of Denver. Although still a relatively small
portion of Colorados population (.3%), most people may not realize that the
history of Japanese Americans in Colorado reaches far beyond World War II as
Japanese immigrants were among Colorados first pioneers. The experience of
Japanese Americans in Colorado stretches back in time, to the states first major
industries of the mines, railroads, and agriculture.
Since their beginnings in Colorado, Japanese American communities
have become increasingly diverse by ethnicity, generation, and citizenship. The
Japanese American community today reflects a combination of mixed
ethnicities, fourth or fifth generation Coloradans, and newer groups of first
generation Japanese immigrants. The Japanese American community that first
lived, worked, and prayed together in the citys ethnic enclave, are now
scattered among Denvers metropolitan suburbs. Over time, Japanese Americans
have transitioned from employees as unskilled laborers within industry-based
fields, to professional positions, ranging from journalism and politics to
medicine and business. Japanese Americans have become a more integrated part
of the nation, both socially and politically. In Colorado, Japanese American
communities have weathered more than a century of discrimination and
hardships, remain a lasting part of the states history, and have left an indelible
legacy for succeeding generations.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Thomas J. Noel
Every year, Denvers old Skid Row transforms into a magical place that takes
one back in time. Decorated with brightly colored lanterns, generations of
Nikkei, young and old, dressed in their best yukata (summer kimono), dance to
old Japanese melodies that float through the summer night. This celebration, the
sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) combined with the obon (festival of the
dead), pays tribute to Japans native cherry blossoms and honors the deceased.
Each dance symbolizes a unique connection to the past and to our ancestors. I
humbly dedicate this manuscript to the Issei (first generation Japanese in the
U.S.) for making the journey here, and to the Nisei (second generation) and
Sansei (third generation) for passing down their stories, culture and traditions. I
am forever indebted and grateful for these invaluable gifts that I will always
This manuscript provides only a glimpse of a much more complex and beautiful
history of Nikkei in Colorado. The process of learning more about the history of
Japanese Americans in Colorado connected me to many fascinating individuals
who were so kind to share their memories with me, and to whom I am most
I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to my advisors Thomas J. Noel,
Rebecca A. Hunt and James Whiteside, and to my family for their
encouragement, support and inspiration.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. JAPANS FIRST IMMIGRANTS TO HAWAII AND THE
Transformation in Japan: From Isolationism to
Japans First Immigrants Abroad....................17
The First Japanese Immigrants to Hawaii............21
Reasons for Immigration............................24
Japanese Immigration to the Continental U.S........28
Anti-Japanese Sentiment on the West Coast..........31
3. JAPANESE IMMIGRANTS AND INDUSTRIALIZATION IN
THE WEST AND COLORADO....................................35
Japanese Immigrants and Mining in the West and
Issei Laborers in Colorados Agricultural Industry.44
Railroads, Dams and Ditches: Japanese Immigrants in the
Industrial West and Colorado.......................51
Local Sentiment Towards Japanese Immigrants in
4. FROM PICTURE BRIDES TO PIONEERS: ISSEI WOMEN IN
5. JAPANESE AMERICAN SETTLEMENT: ENTREPRENEURSHIP
AND COMMUNITY FORMATION.................................71
Colorados Japanese American Agricultural Communities...71
Denvers Urban Japanese American Community........81
Japanese American Collectivism and Community
Japanese American Community Solidarity and Success.93
Denvers First Japanese American Religious Institutions....96
Japanese Methodist Church......................97
Tri-State Buddhist Temple......................100
6. COLORADO AND WORLD WAR II...............................108
Anti-Japanese Sentiment in Colorado...............122
Internment of Japanese Americans in Colorado......127
The Loyalty Questionnaire.........................142
Japanese Americans in the Military During
Amache Makes Headlines............................153
Nisei Students in Colorado........................157
Postwar Anti-Japanese Sentiment in Colorado..175
Denvers Postwar Japanese American Community.179
Japanese Coloradans in the 1950s and 1960s...187
8. THE CHANGING FACE OF COLORADOS JAPANESE
The Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA)....199
9. RECOGNITION AND
Colorados Japanese American Veterans........208
Redress and Reparations......................214
Preserving an American Story: Amache.........217
10. EPILOGUE: JAPANESE AMERICAN HISTORY IN
Matties House of Mirrors: 1942 Market Street and
Sakura Square: Landmark of Denvers Japanese
Persistence of Japanese American Community and
Culture in Colorado..........................233
A. JAPANESE AMERICAN BUSINESSES IN DENVER............238
As a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a college course
exposed me to the complex paths Japanese immigrants took to the U.S. and
throughout the West; the struggles, achievements and persistence of such a
relatively small, yet unique, ethnic community. This history led me to delve into my
family history, which sparked my interest to learn more about the history of
Japanese Americans in Colorado.
My first glimpse into my familys past revealed many fascinating stories and
memories, which for the most part, remained undocumented. My great-grandfather
emigrated from Shizuoka, Japan to San Francisco in 1904 (aboard the steamship
Sierra) when he was only fourteen-years-old. Toshiro Gontaro Miyagishima worked
his way across the intermountain West as a schoolboytoo young to work on the
railroad. He then made his way to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Among his endeavors, he
worked as a staff member of the Western Nebraska Republican newspaper,
established his own store, the Mount Fuji Company, selling Japanese food products
and dry goods, and was an agent for the State Farm Insurance Company. These
stories motivated me to ask more questionsWhy would such a young man venture
so far away without his family; There are Japanese in Nebraska? I admired the
courage of someone embarking on such a journey into unknown territory. I also
learned about my great-grandmother, Juki Kinoshita, who emigrated to Hawaii in
1896 as a teenager. Here she met her husband Tomizo, a foreman at a pineapple
farm, before moving to the U.S. mainland in 1906, the same year as the Great San
Francisco earthquake. They first settled in the Sacramento area and opened a
laundry business, followed by a noodle shop. Later they leased farmland and raised
table and wine grapes. Off-season, they picked peaches and hops. These stories
became relevant to Colorado history as my grandparents moved to the centennial
state during and after World War II. My grandfather, Alfred Shunji Miyagishima,
joined the resettlement community in Denver after being interned in the World War
II Gila River Internment Camp in Arizona and serving in the U.S. Army (1945-
1946). After the war, he resettled in Denver and worked in some of the postwar
MAfei-owned and operated businesses including the Denargo Produce Market, the
Granada Fish Market, and operated the Cathay Post restaurant. He later began a
career with the State of Colorado. My grandmother, Nancy Yumiko Miyagishima,
came to Colorado during the voluntary evacuation period, while her sister and
stepfather were interned in the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas. She worked
as a soda jerk for the A7.se/-operated T.K. Pharmacy and graduated from Manual
High School. She then trained to become a certified dental assistant, which she did
for thirty-five years.
My grandparents have shared many memories and experiences in their lives,
creating a window to the past which, little by little, revealed not only their history,
but that of their parents and grandparents. I remember my grandparents receiving
their letters of redress and reparation checks, and taking photographs to remember
this occasion. Despite the sadness and sharp memories, I remember watching my
grandmothers smile as she spoke about her life on a farm in Fort Lupton and the
tragic separation from her sister and family during World War II. She recorded these
memories in a simple patch of cloth that was later added to a quilt revealing a larger
history of Japanese American womens history in Colorado. Two years ago, my
grandfather invited me to accompany him and my grandmother to the reunion of
those interned at Gila River. I mistakenly thought we were going to the visit the site,
but realized on the way that the reunion was held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada.
No one wants to go there [Gila] now, my grandfather remarked, Besides, its too
hot! Actually, I found out later that my grandfather had profound thoughts of how
his parents felt during the period of incarceration, not knowing what was to happen
to their family. He was shaken very much during his visit to the former Gila camp
site during two previous reunions. These memories, built upon visits to elder
relatives in Brighton or Denver, or to the Denver Buddhist Temple for memorial
services for the deceased, to the annual summer Sakura Matsuri, or to the local
Japanese grocery store, Pacific Mercantile, took on a deeper meaning as I became
curious about the past and wanted to learn about the steps that my ancestors took to
get to where I am now.
The history of Japanese Americans in Colorado is immensely rich and vital
to our understanding of our community and society. This history connects to the
present, as my grandmother awaits the possibility of reuniting with her sister in
Japan; and as my grandparents teach my son about Japanese American culture and
values and about their own lives. In Denvers downtown area, Sakura Square (the
heart of Denvers old Japantown) is still bustling with activity each Sunday as
Buddhist services commence, children attend their weekly lessons of Japanese
language, judo, minyo dancing, or taiko drumming, and as others stock up on the
weeks grocery supplies, drop by for a bite to eat at the local Japanese restaurants,
gather for a community meeting or visit their friends and relatives residing at Tamai
Tower. By preserving and sharing the legacy of Japanese American history in
Colorado, important stories in American history will continue to provide inspiration
and hope for future generations.
Japanese Americans have played an important and unique role in shaping the
history of Colorado. Japanese immigrants first arrived in the U.S. in the 1890s and
worked on the nations railroads, mines and agricultural fields, and established
families and communities across the West. As new immigrants, Issei (first
generation Japanese immigrants in the U.S.) faced many obstacles and hardships
beginning their lives in a foreign land, but quickly established a foothold in the U.S.
by creating a strong foundation within the Japanese ethnic community based on
Japanese cultural values and collectivism. Securely rooted within this community,
Japanese Americans adapted and changed to maneuver through the racism and
discrimination and other challenges they confronted in their paths: anti-Japanese
sentiment and legislation, relocation and internment during World War II, urban
redevelopment during the 1960s, and corporate glass ceilings. In the face of such
adversity, different generations of Japanese Americans relied on each other to
organize as a community and work around these barriers to achieve, economically
and socially. Even though Japanese Americans have always comprised a small
percentage of Colorados (and the nations) population, they have made history in
Colorado from the pioneer days of the West to today, and become influential in
many arenas including politics, the arts, medicine, the media, and in then-
Japanese American historiography has grown immensely over the past ten
years and today encompasses a range of topics including immigration, agriculture,
economic development, internment, resettlement, ethnicity, women, and the
diaspora of Japanese immigrants across the globe. These recent contributions are
changing the historiography of Japanese American history, which in the past, has
been challenging despite the numerous monographs written on the subject. Scholar
Brian Niiya writes:
All things considered, there is an enormous amount of literature on
the Japanese American experience. Unfortunately, much of it is dated
or problematic in some way. Often, the most widely available works
are the ones which are most problematic, while some of the best
work remains relatively inaccessible, whether buried in obscure
academic journals or consisting of unpublished master's theses or
doctoral dissertations. For one who is trying to find good
introductory works on Japanese Americans or who is trying to build
a library of such titles, difficulties abound.1 2
Scholar Sucheng Chan categorizes Asian American historiography into four
different time periods. The first period of writings within Asian American history
(1870s-1920s), are characterized by partisanship, as authors wrote assimilationist
accounts of both Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the U.S. during a time of
extreme anti-Asian sentiment. Japanese American historiography begins with
Yamato Ichihashis Japanese in the United States, first published in 1932. Ichihashi
documents the history of the first Japanese immigrants to the U.S. in great detail,
covering Japanese immigration to the U.S., both Issei and Nisei (children of
Japanese ancestry bom in the U.S.) experiences and problems, and anti-Japanese
1 100 Titles: A Basic Library on Japanese Americans, in Encyclopedia of Japanese American
History: An A-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present, ed. Brian Niiya (Los Angeles: The Japanese
American National Museum, 1993), 364-370.
2 Sucheng Chan, Asian American Historiography, The Pacific Historical Review 65, No. 3 (August
1996): 363, 363-399.
sentiment. Ichihashi wrote Japanese in the United States to combat American
ignorance. A professor of Japanese history and government at Californias Stanford
University, Ichihashi was surprised at how little people knew about this history,
even though Japanese lived amongst them in the same community. His own students
were surprised that he could not become an American citizen.3
Based on Sucheng Chans model of Asian American historiography, from
the 1920s to the 1960s, social scientists wrote the majority of Asian American
history, focusing on assimilation, the social organization of community and the
incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.4 The largest
concentration of Japanese American history focuses on the internment of Japanese
Americans during World War II, and typically discuss the following four phases:
pre-war anti-Japanese sentiment leading to evacuation, internment, resettlement, and
redress and reparations. There are generally two periods of writing on the
internment experience. First of all, social scientists with the War Relocation
Authority, the Bureau of Sociological Research, and the Japanese American
Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) observed Japanese American internees
in the camps during the war. These studies resulted in several publications,
including: The Salvage, by Dorothy Swaine Thomas, who led the JERS project from
3 Yamato Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States (New York: Amo Press, 1969), 3.
4 Chan, Asian American Historiography, 366.
the University of California at Berkeley, The Spoilage by Dorothy Swaine Thomas
and Richard S. Nishimoto (1964) and The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the
Japanese-Americans During World War 7/(1969) by Audrie Girdner and Anne
Loftis, which Sucheng Chan categorizes as apologist accounts of the internment.5
Studies conducted during or immediately after the war include: Carey McWilliams
Prejudice: Japanese-Americans: Symbol of Racial Intolerance (1944) and Morton
Grodzins Americans Betrayed: Politics and the Japanese Evacuation (1949), which
are both critical of the governments role in the incarceration of Japanese Americans
during World War II.6 In addition to several reports written by the War Relocation
Authority and the Department of the Interior, government publications include:
Impounded People: Japanese-Americans in the Relocation Centers written by
Edward Spicer, under the authorship of the War Relocation Authority, and
Uprooted Americans: The Japanese Americans and the War Relocation Authority
During World War 7/(1971), by Dillon S. Myer, former director of the War
Relocation Authority. The majority of these books are written from an etic
(outsiders) perspective, usually by white social scientists, and contain an
5 Chan, Asian American Historiography, 368.
6 Chan, Asian American Historiography, 368.
underlying current of apologist sentiment in terms of the U.S. guilt for imprisoning
its own citizens.7 8
The second phase of research and writing from an emic (insiders)
perspective did not happen until much later, beginning in the 1960s through the
early 1980s. Stemming from the Asian American Movement of the 1970s and the
expansion of Ethnic Studies programs in American institutions of higher education
nationwide, Asian American studies and Japanese American history blossomed.9
These movements led and encouraged students and scholars to explore Japanese
American history, while internees themselves began to write their own histories.
Historian Gordon H. Chang elaborates:
With few exceptions, Japanese Americans themselves did not speak,
let alone write, about their internment experiences in the three
decades after the war; it was not until the 1980s that several books
were published based on the memories of their lived experiences. It
seems that the cushion of 30 years provided the detachment
necessary for many to unburden themselves at last. At the same time,
the camps became the subject of research that explores particular
issues in intellectual, legal, political, or social history. Despite all this
new material, a specialist in Japanese American history and the
camps recently noted the surprising paucity of serious, systematic
7 Larry Danielson, The Folklorist, the Oral Historian, and Local History, The Oral History Review
8 (1980): 63, 62-72. Danielson defines etic and emic methodologies.
8 Chan, Asian American Historiography, 363.
9 Chan, Asian American Historiography, 369.
studies of the attitudes and experiences of the Japanese Americans
Books written by former internees during this time include: Farewell to Manzanar
(1974) by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston; The Kikuchi Diary, Chronicle From an
American Concentration Camp (1973) by Charles Kikuchi; Mine Okubos Citizen
13660 (1983); Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of Americas Concentration
Camps by Michi Nishiura Weglyn (1976); Nisei Daughter by Monica Sone
(1953/79); And Justice For All (1981), a collection of oral histories compiled by
John Tateishi; and A Buried Past (1974) by Yuji Ichioka. Ichioka believed that a
large part of Japanese American history was not written or documented, and worked
towards "....the debunking of old distortions and myths, the uncovering of hitherto
neglected or unknown facts, and the construction of a new interpretation of that
Sucheng Chan explains that is was not until the early 1980s that professional
historians began to write about Asian American history. Within Japanese American
history, these include Roger Daniels Concentration Camps, North America:
Japanese in the United States and Canada during World War 7/(1981); Justice at
10 Gordon H. Chang, Morning Glory, Evening Shadow: Yamato Ichihashi and His Internment
Writings, 1942-1945 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997), 4.
11 Yuji Ichioka: Renowned UCLA Historian, (1936-2002); available from http://www.sscnet.
ucla.edu/aasc/yi/; Internet; accessed 20 January 2006.
War (1983) by Peter Irons, and Art Hansens Japanese American World War II
Evacuation Oral History Project, all written from an etic (outsiders) perspective.
Japanese American historiography not pertaining to World War II, focuses
primarily on the Japanese American experience on the West Coast and Pacific
Northwest. While studies on Japanese American history in the intermountain West
are rare, there are even fewer resources on Japanese American history in Colorado.
Some of the sources that address the experience of Japanese Americans in the
intermountain West, also briefly touch on the experience of Japanese Americans in
Colorado. These include: Eric Walzs Japanese Immigration and Community
Building in the Interior West, 1882-1945 (1988 M.A. thesis, Arizona State
University); Masakazu Iwatas Planted in Good Soil: A History of the Issei in
United States Agriculture (1992); and Eric Walzs Japanese Settlement in the
Intermountain West, 1882-1946, a scholarly article featured in Guilt by
Association: Essays on Japanese Settlement, Internment and Relocation in the
Rocky Mountain West, edited by Mike Mackey (2001).
Until recently, a comprehensive monograph that focused specifically on the
Japanese American experience in Colorado, and that went beyond telling the story
of the internment experience in Colorados Granada Relocation Center (Amache),
did not exist. In 2005, author Bill Hosokawa presented a century of Japanese
American history in Colorado in Colorados Japanese Americans: from 1886 to the
Present. In 2003, Kenichiro Shimada analyzed the role of the Denver Buddhist
Temple and the United Simpson Methodist Church within the Japanese American
community, and also provided an insightful background on Japanese American
history in Colorado, in Role Transformation of the Japanese American Churches in
Colorado (M.A. thesis, University of Colorado).
Histories on Japanese Americans in Colorado include a limited number of
unpublished and published manuscripts and scholarly articles. These include: Yukio
Ikuchis Social Studies of the Japanese American Community in Denver, (1953
M.A. thesis, University of Denver); Fumio Ozawas Japanese in Colorado, 1900-
1910 (1954 M.A. thesis, University of Denver); Russell Endos Japanese of
Colorado: A Sociohistorical Portrait, published in the Journal of Social and
Behavioral Sciences in 1985; and Stephanie Changs Side by Side: Japanese
Americans in Colorado, 1941-1945 (1996 undergraduate honors thesis, University
of Denver). Other sources written on the Japanese Americans in Colorado, in the
Japanese language, include: Rokuhiko Suzukis IntaMaunten Doho Hattatsushi
(The Development of the Intermountain Japanese Colonies), published in 1909, and
Aoki Fukikos Denba no Aoi Yami: Nihonjin Gakusei wa Naze Osowareta ka
(1993).12 The remaining resources piece together Japanese American history in
12 Unfortunately, these works are inaccessible to me first-hand as they are written in the Japanese
language. Suzukis study was first published around 1909 in the Denver Shimpo newspaper, and later
reprinted in Japanese American: Whos Who (Denver, Colo.: The Colorado Times, 1959).
Colorado. These include primary resources and other books that address broader
histories, but include brief accounts of Japanese in Colorado such as Bill
Hosokawas and Robert Wilsons East to America (1980) and Toru Matsumotos
Beyond Prejudice: A Story of the Church and Japanese Americans (1978).
Research on Japanese American history is a growing field that continues to
expand each year, expressing new theories and capturing untold stories.
Undoubtedly this area of study will be enriched with new research by scholars and
others who continue to uncover other aspects of Japanese American history that
have not been explored; especially that of Japanese Americans in the West, and in
Colorado. As new projects begin, including the Japanese American National
Museums Enduring Communities: Japanese Americans in Arizona, Colorado,
New Mexico, Texas, and Utah," and other community and academic-based research,
more insight on the Japanese American experience in Colorado will provide a
greater understanding of this local, yet globally relevant, history.
Through this document, I hope to provide additional insight into Japanese
American history in Colorado, even though this is just a small piece of a much
richer and detailed history.
JAPANS FIRST IMMIGRANTS TO HAWAII
AND THE UNITED STATES
While adventurers in the eastern U.S. headed west into the unknown, lured
by visions of gold, prosperity and property, others on the opposite side of the globe
shared a similar desire for economic success and a better life. Stories of fortune
abroad inspired many Asians to embark on a new journey to various parts of the
world, especially as political, social, and economic transformations in their native
country made the future uncertain.
Although the typical image of western pioneers may be of men and women
of European descent, Asians also contributed to the growth and development of the
West. Asians joined other immigrants who labored in the mines, built the nations
railroads, and toiled in the fields growing crops vital to the nations economy and
survival. As historian Gail M. Nomura notes,
Asian Americans lived in the West. They shaped the western
landscape through cultivation and toil. They were not simply
excluded. They were not just passive victims to be conquered and
subjugated. They built and they molded and they struggled.13
13 Gail M. Nomura. Significant Lives: Asia and Asian Americans in the U.S. West, in A New
Significance: Re-Envisioning the History of the American West, ed. Clyde A. Milner, II (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1996), 149.
Japanese immigrants were among those who emigrated to the U.S. in hopes
of creating a better life for themselves and their families. Like most immigrant
groups, Japanese had several reasons for coming to the U.S.; reasons largely
motivated by the economic and political environment back home. A look at these
circumstances should help to further explain their reasons for emigrating and their
initial experiences in the North American West.
Transformation in Japan: From Isolationism
With the National Isolation Decree of 1636, feudal Japan severed ties with
the foreign world by self-imposed isolation, and in turn, instituted a closed-door
policy to foreigners in order to strengthen and preserve Japanese nationalism and
feudalism.14 With the exception of a limited number of Dutch and Chinese
merchants, foreign vessels were not allowed entry to Japanese ports. In order to
preserve the feudal system of the shogunate (military regime) and maintain Japan as
a nation, Japan had very strict rules regulating migration into their country.15
With the expansion of imperialism by western nations, Japan was no longer
able to ward off western demands to open their ports for trade. In 1853, U.S. Navy
Commodore Matthew Perry came to Edo (now Tokyo) Bay and presented Japanese
14 Shigeru Yoshida, Japans Decisive Century, 1867-1967 (New York: Frederick A. Praeger,
Publishers, 1967), 5.
15 Yoshida, Japan's Decisive Century, 5; Paul R. Spickard, Japanese Americans: The Formation and
Transformation of an Ethnic Group (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), 75.
government officials with U.S. demands to open Japan for navigation, trade and
diplomatic relations.16 17 18 Japan did not take these threats seriously, until Commodore
Perry returned the following year in 1854, this time backed by a strong U.S. naval
fleet. Japanese decision-makers recognized the possible consequences of
confronting the U.S. military and determined that consenting to their demands was
the only way to avoid violent domination by a western power. The Japanese had
seen this happen with the Opium War in China (1834-1843), which resulted in
unequal treaties between China and Britain that contributed to the fall of the
Chinese empire. On March 31,1854, Japan broke from its centuries-long isolation
and signed the Treaty of Amity and Peace with the U.S., opening her ports to a
limited amount of American trade.
Shortly after Commodore Perrys arrival, Japans Tokugawa shogunate
(which had been in power since 1600) began to falter both economically and
politically.19 In 1866, efforts to restore the imperial state led to the Meiji Restoration
16 Yoshida, Japans Decisive Century, 5; Sucheng Chan, Asian Americans: An Interpretive History
(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991), 9.
17 Yoshida, Japan's Decisive Century, 7.
18 Yoshida, Japans Decisive Century, 7; Brian Niiya, ed, Encyclopedia of Japanese American
History: An A-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present, with a foreword by Daniel K. Inouye (Los
Angeles: The Japanese American National Museum, 1993), 29. According to Yoshida, Japan and the
U.S. signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce four years later.
19 Yamato Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States (New York: Amo Press, 1969), 3; Chan, Asian
and, subsequent coup d'etat in 1868 to eliminate the shogunate.20 21 22 23 As the imperial
government replaced the former feudal government, Emperor Meiji rose to power
and oversaw Japans transition from an isolated country rooted in feudalism and
agriculture, to one emerging as a major military and world power. Under Meiji
rule at the turn of the century, Japans economy changed from one based primarily
on agriculture to industry. This dramatic economic change led to the rise in the
number of factory laborers, which increased from 500,000 to 1,500,000 over the
next ten years. Rural populations also declined as Japanese migrated to work in the
cities rapidly growing factories.
Japans First Immigrants Abroad
Amidst dramatic economic changes, Japans new leadership strove to create
a modem, unified, Western-style state and began looking towards the West for new
technological and institutional ideas to improve Japan. Scholars David J. OBrien
and Stephen S. Fugita explain:
As in an earlier period when they adopted significant elements of
Chinese culture, and during the post World War II period when they
20 Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese American History, 273.
21 Gary D. Allison, Japans Postwar History (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1997), 10.
22 John Modell, Tradition and Opportunity: The Japanese Immigrant in America, Pacific Historical
Review 40 (May 1971): 164.
23 Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese American History, 273; Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War
Bride: Three Generations of Japanese American Women in Domestic Service (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1986), 25.
adopted Western ideas of government and fashionsome forcibly
the nineteenth century Japanese were able to incorporate ideas and
practices from the outside without altering their basic forms of social
One of the principles embodied in the imperial governments Charter Oath of April
6,1868, encouraged Japanese citizens to obtain education abroad: Knowledge shall
be sought throughout the world, so that the foundation of the Empire may be
strengthened.25 Between 1868 and 1881, Japan sent more than 300 citizens to study
abroad.26 From 1871 to 1872, the government selected a group of 100 government
officials and students to tour the United States, Britain and Europe to examine
Western science, technology, government, law, education, and culture.27 This was a
significant change from Japans previous isolationist policies, which made it illegal
(from 1638 to 1864) for any ordinary Japanese citizen to go abroad.28 Nevertheless,
Japan was wary of sending her citizens abroad due to rumors and fears of the
mistreatment other immigrants suffered overseas (e.g., the slave and coolie trade).29
24 David J. OBrien and Stephen S. Fugita, The Japanese American Experience (Bloomington
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), 10.
25 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 3.
26 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 15.
27 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 9.
28 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 1.
29 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 3-5.
However, under the new imperial government, emigration provisions only allowed a
restricted number of certain classes of Japanese to study in Western countries.
Japanese citizens left their homeland with the understanding that they would return
to Japan upon completion of their education.30 31
As Japan rose from Third World status to a world power, the Japanese
government continued to send its best and brightest representatives abroad. From
1882 to 1896, approximately 2,478 students traveled independently to study
abroad.32 Even though all citizens of Japan, male and female, were literate as
dictated by compulsory law, the Japanese government further encouraged its
citizenry to obtain a western education, and even sponsored a contingent of elite
scholars to attend western universities abroad.33 Wealthy families also sent their
sons abroad to improve their academic and moral education. The wealthy and those
sponsored by the government, attended institutions of higher learning in the eastern
U.S.34 Japanese immigrants who wanted to study in the U.S., but who had to finance
their own education, traveled to the West Coast, and studied in places such as San
30 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 3.
31 Allison, Japan's Postwar History, 3.
32 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 15.
33 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 15. By the turn of the century, sixty percent of Japanese citizens
had completed middle school, while twenty-one percent had completed high school, regardless of
economic class differences.
34 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 109.
Francisco. These schoolboys, usually found employment with white families who
provided room and board in exchange for their services. Japanese schoolboys
worked as domestic servants during the day and attended classes at night.35
In a rapidly changing Japan, industrialization and modernization created
economic and social changes that severely affected the poor and laboring classes.
These changes along with the 1880s depression, impacted many small farmers who
could not pay taxes on their farms. Due to such overwhelming hardships, the
Japanese government decided to allow Japanese laborers to go abroad in search of
35 Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, The Japanese American Family Album (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1996), 46.
36 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 25.
The First Japanese Immigrants to Hawaii
In 1884, Japan began to allow the general emigration of Japanese laborers to
foreign countries. However, this was not the first time that Japanese laborers had
left Japan. In 1868, Eugene Van Reed, an American businessman, recruited
approximately 148 Japanese laborers to work on Hawaiis sugar plantations. This
was problematic as he did so without proper authorization from the Japanese
government. After receiving news of ill-treatment of these laborers in Hawaii, the
Meiji government brought them back to Japan and prohibited the emigration of its
citizenry for almost two decades.37 39
Nevertheless, as Hawaiis need for labor grew, the Hawaii Bureau of
Immigration and Hawaiis plantation owners continued to pursue Japan as a
potential supply of labor. In 1884, after several negotiations, Japan and Hawaii
signed the Immigration Convention. This permitted the first group of Issei contract
laborers to emigrate to the Territory of Hawaii to work on the islands vast sugar
plantations.40 Japan proceeded cautiously and required provisions in their
37 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 5 & 25.
j8 Eiichiro Azuma, Brief Historical Overview of Japanese Emigration, 1868-1998, in International
Nikkei Research Project, First-Year Report, April 1, 1998 to March 31, 1999 by the Japanese
American National Museum (Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, 1999), 10.
39 Azuma, Brief Historical Overview, 6.
40 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 6 & 25. According to Ichihashi, this change is reflected in
the 1,959 passports issued in 1885 to contract laborers headed for Hawaii.
agreements with Hawaiis sugar plantation owners for their laborers. These included
free passage to and from Japan, guarantee of employment, a minimum wage of nine
dollars each month with food or fifteen dollars each month without food, and a
three-year limit on the contract.41
The number of contract laborers from Japan to Hawaii increased steadily as
Hawaiis need for labor continued to grow. Closely following legislative patterns in
the U.S., in 1887, Hawaii passed legislation excluding Chinese immigrants from
Hawaii, thereby depleting a huge source of labor upon which plantation owners
relied.42 Between 1886 and 1899, approximately 80,000 Japanese laborers entered
Hawaii. By 1900, these Japanese immigrants comprised 39.7 percent of the islands
Typically, emigration companies signed contracts with sugar plantation
owners in Hawaii, promising them laborers. One of fifty emigration companies in
Japan recruited Japanese immigrants to work in Hawaii, usually from specific
prefectures or towns. Emigration companies helped Japanese laborers arrange for
passports and transportation to Hawaii in exchange for a portion of the laborers
41 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 24.
42 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 19; Spickard, Japanese Americans, 21. During this time,
Hawaii was heavily influenced by the U.S. In 1882, the U.S. enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act,
prohibiting immigration from China into the U.S.
43 OBrien and Fugita, The Japanese American Experience, 17.
earnings for the life of the contract (usually a three-year period). The contract labor
system was similar to the indentured servitude system in the U.S.44 This system
changed in 1900 after the U.S. established Hawaii as a territory, incorporating U.S.
law into Hawaii. U.S. immigration laws outlawed the contract system and, therefore,
terminated all labor contracts in Hawaii.45 46
As opportunities to emigrate abroad increased, the Japanese government
tried to protect their citizenry abroad and regulate emigration by implementing the
Emigration Protection Act in 1896.4
brokers of contract laborers, but also required them to incorporate under the
authorization of Japans Minister of Home Affairs. The Japanese government also
implemented stricter requirements for those desiring to emigrate. The Japanese
government considered Japanese immigrants as cultural ambassadors or
emissaries of Japan, and closely supervised their citizenry abroad, as they wanted to
maintain a positive international image as Japan became more prominent in the
44 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 21-22.
45 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 27; Spickard, Japanese Americans, 22. The Organic Act
of 1900 incorporated U.S. law into Hawaii.
46 Azuma, Brief Historical Overview of Japanese Emigration, 1868-1998, 6.
47 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 26.
Reasons for Immigration
Although the Japanese government supported emigration, other factors
prompted Japanese citizens to leave their homes and travel abroad. According to
immigration scholar Uma A. Segal, the most important dynamics involved in
immigration are a combination of both push factors (reasons in the home country
for the emigrant to leave) and pull factors (reasons in the country of destination
that attract the emigrant and contribute to their reasons to leave their home
country).48 For example, push factors could include lack of opportunity,
persecution (e.g., political, legal, or religious), or natural disasters in their home
country. On the other hand, pull factors could include increased opportunity,
freedom or safety, family reunification in the country of destination, or the simple
desire for adventure.49
In Japan, immigrants chose to leave their homes for many reasons. With
increased competition to survive in Japans quickly evolving industrial economy,
combined with poverty, political destabilization, and war with China and Russia,
economic opportunities abroad seemed even more appealing to the common laborer
who struggled to survive and to those wanting to avoid conscription into Japans
48 Uma A. Segal, A Framework for Immigration: Asians in the United States (New York: Colombia
University Press, 2002), 4.
49 Segal, A Framework for Immigration, 5.
military.50 As Japans population grew, the Japanese government also became more
interested in and supportive of their citizens emigrating abroad. In 1893, Japanese
government officials, politicians, and intellectuals founded the Colonization Society
to encourage development of Japanese colonies abroad in North America, Latin
America, and Southeast Asia. The colonization society aspired to expand the
Japanese market by exporting goods and Japans surplus population.51 52 By 1900,
other similar organizations also recruited Japanese citizens to emigrate abroad and
disseminated documents such as guide books and other documents to promote
emigration and provide basic information on these international destinations.
In addition to the push and pull factors, were the personal circumstances of
the immigrant themselves. For example, the immigrants social and political status,
education, vocation, and class in their home country were equally important
contributing factors alongside the economic, political, social and cultural or
religious conditions in the emigrants home country. Other factors guiding the
decision to emigrate included the individuals ambition, determination, and ability
50 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 87; Fugita and OBrien, The Japanese American
Experience, 10-11. According to Fugita and OBrien, Japanese farmers were impacted most by the
changing economy, including a new taxation of land (where previously crops were taxed); Japan
enacted the conscription law in 1873 prompting many young men to immigrate and stay out of the
country until they were thirty-two-years of age, thereby avoiding conscription. Others who were the
eldest sons in their families, left overseas, designating a younger son as head of household,
exempting them both from conscription.
51 Azuma, Brief Historical Overview, 6.
52 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 18.
to adapt in order to make such a huge transition and follow their dreams.53 Asian
American historian, Ronald Takaki notes,
What was.. .striking about most of the migrants was how they were
stirred by a common discontent, and how they came searching for a
new start... .Poverty hurt, but hunger and want were not what
essentially defined the migrants.. ..The migrants were unique in a
felicitous way: they were the dreamers.. .and their dreams inspired
them to take risks.54
One of the primary reasons Japanese immigrants chose the U.S. was the
reports of fellow countrymen in Japan who had journeyed to the U.S. and found
success. The image of the U.S. as a country of great wealth and endless
opportunities also attracted Japanese to leave their homeland. For example, the U.S.
offered significantly higher wages, which could be between five and twenty-five
times higher than the wages earned in Japan.55 Another constant pull factor
included the lure of emigration companies, and others seeking cheap labor, to come
to the U.S.56 Japanese immigrants also came to the U.S. because they had the
financial means to emigrate, and usually had a personal connection to someone
53 Segal, A Framework for Immigration, 7-8.
54 Ronald T. Takaki, A History of Asian Americans: Strangers from a Different Shore, new and rev.
ed. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998), 66.
55 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 12.
56 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 23; The Denver Times, 16 May 1900.
already residing in the country.57 58 The majority of Japanese immigrants were
dekasegi-rtin or dekasegi rodo, laborers who planned on returning home with their
earnings after working a few years abroad. Japanese immigrants in Hawaii and the
U.S. came primarily from prefectures in southwest Japan, which included
Hiroshima, Wakayama, Yamaguchi, and Okayama (on Honshu Island) and
Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Saga, and Kagoshima (on Kyushu Island).59 Labor
recruiters, such as American Robert Irwin, recruited Japanese in these regions,
which were populated with high levels of experienced agricultural labor. Irwin
worked for Hawaiis Board of Immigration and the Kingdom of Hawaii. Irwin
established relationships with the Japanese foreign minister, Kaoru Inoue, and
Takashi Masuda, president of an import/export company, which contributed to his
success in recruiting Japanese laborers from Japan to Hawaii.60 Eighty percent of
those recruited were farmers, while merchants and students composed twenty
percent. The majority of the Japanese laborers immigrated to Hawaii, while many of
57 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 12; OBrien and Fugita, The Japanese American Experience, 15.
58 Azuma, Brief Historical Overview, 6; Spickard, Japanese Americans, 20. Spickard defines
dekasegi, as going out to work, in comparison to teiju, to emigrate permanently.
59 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 13; Chan, Asian Americans, 11.
60 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 13.
the Japanese students and merchants first stopped in Hawaii, but then made their
way to the continental U.S.61
Japanese Immigration to the Continental U.S.
Large-scale Japanese immigration to the U.S. mainland took place from
1890 to 1924, with the largest numbers arriving between 1901 and 1908.62 From the
1880s to 1908,150,000 Japanese immigrated to the U.S. mainland.63 Individual
labor contractors or contracting agencies greeted new Japanese immigrants arriving
in Seattle, the main port of entry for all Japanese immigrants coming to the U.S.64
For many Japanese immigrants who spoke a limited amount of English, if any, and
did not have family members to introduce them to life in the U.S., the labor
contractor was a helpful first contact. Labor contractors provided new immigrants
with job opportunities and an immediate connection to other immigrants from their
homeland. According to scholar Brian Niiya, the labor contracting system (or boss
system) was very popular among Issei in the U.S. from 1891 to 1907. Issei labor
61 OBrien and Fugita, The Japanese American Experience, 16.
62 Endo, Japanese of Colorado: A Sociohistorical Portrait, Journal of Social and Behavioral
Sciences 31 (Fall 1995): 100, 100-110.
63 Joe R. Feagin and Clairece Booher Feagin, Racial and Ethnic Relations (New Jersey: Prentice
Hall, 1996), 380. See Feagin & Feagin for a more in-depth study of the Japanese American
experience in the U.S., including information on migration, stereotypes, politics, economics,
education, religion and assimilation. Written as a textbook, it also includes an historical overview of
several other ethnic groups in the U.S.
64 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 24.
contractors acted as middlemen, who often provided employment and room and
board for laborers in exchange for a cut of their pay.65 This system differed from the
contract labor system prohibited in Hawaii and the U.S., which made all contracts
illegal that were made before an immigrant entered the U.S. Once immigrants came
into the U.S., however, they were free to enter into contracts with labor
Between 1898 and 1908, the Oriental Trading Company, one of three major
labor contractors in the Pacific Northwest, provided 15,000 Japanese laborers with
jobs, primarily in the agriculture, mining, railroad, lumber and fishing industries in
the western U.S.67 68 Independent entrepreneurs, such as Shinzaburo Ban who came to
Portland, Oregon in 1891, worked as labor contractors, distributing railroad hands to
Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska and Colorado.
Railroad and other industry-based companies usually hired laborers through
65 Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese American History, 257.
66 Bill Hosokawa and Robert A. Wilson, East to America: A History of the Japanese in the U.S.
(New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1980), 58.
67 Hosokawa and Wilson, East to America, 72; Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese American History,
329. According to Niiya, at its peak, the Oriental Trading Company was perhaps the largest labor
contractor in the United States, employing between 2,500 and 3,000 laborers. This company
regularly contracted for the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific.
68 Gunther Peck, Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American
West, 1880-1930 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 56. Many labor contractors were
entrepreneurs like Shinzaburo Ban. Ban also invested in department stores in Wyoming, Oregon and
Colorado, supplying them with produce from his own sugar beet and dairy farms.
employment agencies, but also turned to individual Japanese contractors or
contracting agencies in the U.S. who supplied them with cheap labor. Labor
contracting companies and individual entrepreneurs obtained this source of labor
from new Japanese immigrants on the West Coast or directly from Japan. In the
arrangement between the labor contractor and the laborer, the contractor typically
took a portion of the laborers daily wage in exchange for employment, room and
board, and other services. For example, a labor contractor would take ten cents out
of each railroad workers $1.10 daily wage, or a similar percentage from miners and
lumber workers, who earned higher wages. The labor contractor would also charge
the laborer additional fees for minimal health care, sending money to Japan, and
letter writing services.69 Although labor contractors helped newer immigrants enter
the workforce, Japanese immigrants quickly established themselves and moved out
on their own.
69 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 24.
Anti-Japanese Sentiment on the West Coast
Japanese immigrants arrived on the West Coast amid a hostile atmosphere of
anti-Chinese sentiment. Initially, Chinese immigrants came to the U.S. to provide
labor for struggling industrial development, but were soon viewed as scapegoats for
the growing economic and labor crisis on the West Coast. Politicians, unions and
the media promoted anti-Chinese sentiment based on beliefs of Chinese inferiority
to the Anglo-Saxon race and Chinese immigrants as a serious threat to labor
competition.70 71 72 73 This opposition led to legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act
of 1882, which prohibited additional immigration of Chinese laborers into the U.S.,
and also prevented Chinese already in the U.S. from obtaining naturalization.
Despite Japans efforts to emphasize the differences between Japanese immigrants
and the Chinese immigrants in the U.S. who preceded them, lingering anti-Chinese
racist and stereotypical ideologies were instantly transferred to Japanese
immigrants. Racist concepts of U.S. nativism tainted mainstream American societal
views of new Asian immigrants, and made little or no distinction between Chinese
and Japanese immigrants. Initially used as a source of cheap labor for positions
70 Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese Americans, 115.
71 Feagin and Feagin, Racial and Ethnic Relations, 380 & 421.
72 Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese Americans, 137. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first
congressional law to restrict immigration on the basis of race.
73 Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese Americans, 137; Spickard, Japanese Americans, 27.
viewed as undesirable or inferior by other immigrants, Japanese immigrants became
abhorred, as the Chinese were, especially when they became economically
competitive with white immigrants. European immigrants working in the mines
called the Asians, scum of the worst sort.74
Common laborers perceived Japanese immigrants as a threat, because they
intensified the competition, while the public feared these immigrants who had ties to
an Asian country that was rising in world status and power. In 1905, Japan defeated
Russia and became the first Asian nation to defeat a western power, an
unprecedented event in modem times.75 These and other factors led to increased
anti-Japanese sentiment, inspiring labor groups in California to organize anti-
Japanese protests. By 1905 San Francisco labor groups worked to prohibit further
Japanese immigration and formed the Asiatic Exclusion League.76 77 The Leagues
mission promoted: The preservation of the Caucasian race upon American soil, and
particularly upon the West shore... .to prevent or minimize the immigration of
Asiatics to America. Local media supported the Asiatic Exclusion Leagues
14 William Hosokawa, Nisei: The Quiet Americans, The Story of a People (New York: William,
Morrow and Company, 1969), 75.
75 Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, & Richard W. Lord, Confinement and
Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites (Tucson, Ariz.:
Western Archeological and Conservation Center: 1999), 26; Spickard, Japanese Americans, 28.
76 Hoobler, Japanese American Family Album, 122.
77 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 28.
sentiment. The San Francisco Chronicle's headlines warned: Japanese a Menace to
American Women; The Yellow Peril-How Japanese Crowd Out the White Race;
and Crimes and Poverty Go Hand in Hand with Asiatic Labor. The Asiatic
Exclusion League also worked with congressional representatives to introduce
legislation banning Japanese from the U.S. Despite public fears of a Yellow
Invasion, out of the twenty-seven million immigrants who came to the U.S.
between 1881 and 1930, Japanese immigrants comprised less than one percent of
this group.78 79
U.S. legislation created additional obstacles for Japanese immigrants. On
March 14,1907, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation
prohibiting Japanese migration to the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, or Hawaii.80 Later
that year, President Roosevelt established the Gentlemans Agreement with Japan,
severely restricting immigration of Japanese laborers into the U.S. This agreement
limited the issuance of passports, only to such of its subjects as are non-laborers or
are laborers who in coming to the continent, seek to resume a formerly acquired
domicile, to join a parent, wife, or child rending there or to assume active control of
78 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 28.
79 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 20. Only 275,308 Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. between
1881 and 1930. These statistics are important to keep in mind in the analysis of Japanese American
history, especially in relation to anti-Japanese sentiment, incarceration, and the success of this ethnic
80 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 30; Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 7.
an already possessed interest in a fanning enterprise in this country.81 This
legislation significantly limited subsequent Japanese immigration to the U.S.
Despite such a hostile social and political environment, the majority of
Japanese immigrants remained on the West Coast to work. Others sought improved
labor and living conditions, in pursuit of their American dream, and journeyed to
communities in the intermountain West.
81 Model), Tradition and Opportunity, 165.
JAPANESE IMMIGRANTS AND INDUSTRIALIZATION
IN THE INTERMOUNTAIN WEST
With a growing Japanese American population on the Pacific Coast, it may
seem surprising that Japanese immigrant communities were also found tucked into
cities and towns of the intermountain West, such as Rock Springs, Wyoming and
Denver, Colorado. Japanese immigrants, recruited by labor contractors, motivated
by adventure, or convinced by friends or relatives who had found success, ventured
to the intermountain West. Anti-Asian sentiment brewing on the West Coast and
increased labor competition may have also prompted Japanese immigrants to move
further inland to the intermountain western states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho,
Montana, New Mexico, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.82
During the frontier period (1882-1910), three different groups of Japanese
male immigrants journeyed from the West Coast and Pacific Northwest to the
82 Eric Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-1946, in Guilt by Association:
Essays on Japanese Settlement, Internment, and Relocation in the Rocky Mountain West, ed., Mike
Mackey (Powell, Wyo.: Western History Publications, 2001), 1. Walz defines the intermountain
West as: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
According to Walzs study, 13,000 Nikkei lived in the intermountain West before World War II.
interior Rocky Mountain states.83 According to scholar Eric Walz, the first group
included a small number of semi-professionals, quasi-businessmen and adventurers.
The second group of Japanese immigrants included railroad hands, houseboys,
domestic servants, cooks and housekeepers who worked for private homeowners,
hotels or boarding houses, and who had initially come to the U.S. to obtain a
western education. The third group consisted of gang laborers who were primarily
recruited by labor contractors to work on the railroads or as sugar beet farmers.84
The majority of Japanese immigrants were bachelors and therefore, very mobile as
they were not tied down with many family responsibilities. For those Japanese
immigrants who were married, their wives and children remained in Japan.85 86
Japanese immigrants came to Colorado because of that regions need for
labor. In Colorado, anti-Chinese sentiment across the state culminated in Denvers
anti-Chinese riot of 1882. This and other similar incidents significantly decreased
the Chinese population who, along with other immigrants, usually filled part of the
niche for cheap labor. Simultaneously, Colorados railroad, mining, and
83 Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-1946, 1; Hosokawa and Wilson,
East to America, 94.
84 Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-1946, 2.
85 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 25.
86 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 101; Eric Walz, Japanese Immigration and Community Building
in the Interior West, 1882-1945 (Ph.D. diss., Arizona State University, 1998), 52. According to
Endo, Chinese laborers gradually left Colorado, which created a need for unskilled labor. According
agricultural industries were also developing. In Colorado, the panic of 1893 and
the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act that followed led to an economic
crisis increasing the need for unskilled cheap labor, attracting even more Japanese
immigrants to the state. Labor contractors also recruited Japanese immigrants to
Colorado to work in the mines, as section hands on the railroads, and in the
construction of dams, reservoirs, and other reclamation work.87 88 89 90 Japanese
immigrants, always searching for higher wages and better jobs, believed they would
find these opportunities in Colorado.
Although the majority of Japanese immigrants who first came to Colorado
were unskilled laborers, the first recorded Japanese immigrant in Colorado was of
noble birth in Japan. In 1872, Tadaatsu Matsudaira came to the U.S. at the age of
seventeen with his younger brother, Tadanari Sonsoba. Matsudaira graduated from
Rutgers University in New Jersey with a degree in civil engineering and found work
to Walz, Mexican, and southern and eastern European immigrants also filled positions within the
railroad, mining and agriculture industries in the West.
87 Yukio Ikuchi, Social Studies of the Japanese American Community in Denver, (M.A. Thesis,
University of Denver, 1953), 13.
88 U.S. Immigration Commission (1907-1910), Immigrants in Industries (In twenty-five parts). Part
25: (v. 23-25) Japanese and Other Immigrant Races in the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain States,
Vol. I, Japanese and East Indians; Vol. 2, Agriculture, Vol. 3, Diversified Industries (Washington,
D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1911; reprint, New York: Amo Press, Inc., 1970), 309. The report
identified seven Japanese labor contractors based in Denver who recruited Japanese laborers to the
89 Ikuchi, Social Studies, 13.
90 Ikuchi, Social Studies, ii.
as a city engineer in Bedford, Pennsylvania. His brother, Sonsoba, also completed
his education, but returned to Japan. Matsudaira supposedly fell from grace with his
family and relinquished his noble title because of his decision to remain in the U.S.
In 1879, Matsudaira journeyed to Wyoming where he found employment as a civil
engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad. Shortly after, he moved to Golden,
Colorado to study at the Colorado School of Mines. In 1886, he became an assistant
to Colorados chief inspector of mines, John McNeil. Matsudaira died at the age of
thirty-three on January 24, 1888 of tuberculosis, and was buried at Riverside
Cemetery in Denver.91 92
In 1890, the U.S. Census reported only ten Japanese residing in Colorado, of
whom nine lived in Denver. Not until the early 1900s did a significant number of
Japanese immigrants make their way to Colorado. By 1910, Colorados Japanese
91The First Japanese in Colorado, The Denver Post, 2 July 1967, 4; Natalie Soto, Descendants
Honor Japanese Pioneer: Tombstone Revives Memory of Resident, Rocky Mountain News, 7
August 1988, 30; Matajiro Watada, A History of Fifty Years of the Tri-State Buddhist Church, 1916-
1966 (Denver, Colo.: Tri-State Buddhist Church, 1968), 58; Dcuchi, Social Studies, 8. Based on
The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News articles, in 1952, the Oriental Culture Society of Denver
sponsored the building of a large grave marker honoring Matsudaira in the Oriental section of the
cemetery, although not in the original location of his burial. Matsudaira was later commemorated by
family and friends on August 6, 1988, as they paid a tribute to Colorados first Japanese pioneer.
According to Watada, the majority of Issei were buried at Riverside. On September 15, 1915,
Buddhist ministers performed graveside services for eight Japanese immigrants at Denver Fairmount
and ninety at Riverside. According to Ikuchi, there is no reliable written account of Matsudaira.
Ikuchi interviewed Issei residents of Denver, who revealed, that at that time, Matsudaira was not
well-known in the community until inquiries made by his son prompted the Japanese community in
1914 to research the history of Japanese in Colorado.
92 Fumio Ozawa, Japanese in Colorado, 1900-1910 (M.A. Thesis, University of Denver, 1954), 56.
Statistics for the Japanese population are difficult to track due to both the inaccuracy in recorded
figures and the transient nature of this group of immigrants employed in seasonal work.
population rose to 2,300, giving Colorado the fifth largest Japanese population in
the U.S., following Hawaii (79,675), California (41,356), Washington (12,929), and
Oregon (3,418).93 The largest concentration of Japanese immigrants remained in
Hawaii and on the Pacific Coast. In Colorado, Japanese immigrants settled
throughout the state, but primarily in Denver, Pueblo, Greeley, Sterling, and Rocky
Ford, and smaller communities in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys.94
It is important to note the possible inaccuracy of the 1910 U.S. Census
statistics, as Japanese immigrants lived in dynamic communities, making it difficult
to accurately record their demographics. For example, in comparison to 2,300
Japanese immigrants documented by the 1910 U.S. Census, a 1909 Reports of the
Immigration Commission estimated Colorados Japanese immigrant population to
be 6,000. While there may have been a dramatic decline in the population level of
Japanese immigrants over a one-year period, it is also possible that a large number
of Japanese immigrants worked as agricultural laborers, moving across the state in
93 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 162; Thomas J. Noel and Duane A. Smith, Colorado: The Highest
State (Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1995), 243. According to Spickard, approximately
72,000 Japanese immigrants lived in the U.S. mainland in 1910. Noel and Smith document
Colorados population in 1900 at 539,700, increasing to 799,024 by 1910.
94 R.W. Roskelley, The Japanese Minority in Colorado Following Evacuation, Agriculture in
Transition from War to Peace, Papers and Proceeding of the 17th Annual Conference of the Western
Farm Economics Association, Los Gatos, Calif: June 27-29, 1944, Western Agricultural Economics
Association (Menasha, Wise.: George Banta Publishing Co., 1944), 259,259-265. Shortly after 1900,
Japanese immigrants settled in the Arkansas River Valley, Denver, and north of Denver in Weld
time with the harvest. Therefore, as the Immigration Commission suggested, agents
of the U.S. Census may not have accounted for many of these immigrants.95
The story of Tadaatsu Matsudaira was rare, as the majority of the first
Japanese immigrants who came to Colorado were unskilled laborers who worked in
mining, seasonal farm labor, and railroad construction and maintenance.96 In 1900,
Japanese immigrants began to work in the states coal mines and the iron and steel
plants in Pueblo. Japanese laborers then transitioned to working in the sugarbeet
fields. When the beet fields were not in season, Japanese immigrants found work in
the construction and railroad industries. By 1909, out of the 6,000 Japanese
immigrants identified in the Reports of the Immigration Commission, 400 were
employed in coal mining, 128 in iron and steel manufacturing, and 4,500 in
agricultural, construction and railroad work.97
Japanese Immigrants and Mining in the
West and Colorado
Japanese immigrants worked as miners, often in low paying and dangerous
work. As early as 1890, companies such as the Union Pacific Coal Company
95 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 307; Ikuchi, Social Studies, 29. The
Immigration Commission report uses statistics compiled from the U.S. Census, 1870-1940.
According to Ikuchi, the Japanese immigrant population in the U.S. also fluctuated because many
Issei only stayed for approximately two years or so before moving to another location.
96 Ikuchi, Social Studies, ii.
97 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 307.
recruited Japanese laborers, along with European immigrant laborers, to work in the
coal mines of southwestern Wyoming, in towns such as Rock Springs. In 1912,
200 Japanese immigrants worked in Utah Copper Companys mines and smelters.
According to historian Gunther Peck, in the huge Bingham Canyon open pit mine in
Utah, The worst jobs were held by the Japanese who earned $1.50 a day for
[rappelling] off ledges in the open pit [of the Utah Copper Company] to set
In Colorado, Japanese laborers worked primarily in coal mines near
Florence, Trinidad and Walsenburg, located in the southern part of the state.
Labor unions such as the Western Federation of Miners campaigned to prohibit
Japanese laborers from working in metal mining throughout Colorado.98 99 100 101 The Metal
Miners Union and the United Mine Workers also excluded Japanese laborers from
employment in the northern coalfields, but lacked power to prevent their
98 A. Dudley Gardner, The Japanese in Southwest Wyoming, Wyoming History (Rock Springs:
Western Wyoming College, copyright pending,); available from http://www.wwcc.wy.edu/ wyo_
hist/Japanese.l.htm; Internet; accessed 11 November 2006; Hoobler, Japanese American Family
99 Peck, Reinventing Free Labor, 167.
100 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 101. H. Lee Scamehom, Mill and Mine: The CF&l in the
Twentieth Century (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 91. According to Scamehom, a
small number of Japanese laborers worked in Walsenburg, Colorado for the Colorado, Fuel and Iron
101 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 101.
employment in southern Colorado.102 103 Despite these measures, by the early 1900s
there were almost 1,000 Japanese working in Colorados mines.
Mining companies recruited Japanese laborers, as they did Mexican laborers,
to work in Colorados mines as strikebreakers. According to historian Morris C.
Cohen, Japanese laborers were also involved in a major strike in western coal
mining history when they were brought to southern Colorado coalfields as
strikebreakers between 1903 and 1904.104 In an earlier incident, in the southern coal
fields of Florence, Colorado, trouble brewed between the Victor Fuel Company
(which operated the Chandler mine) and its Italian laborers over land rights and
other labor issues. The company claimed that some of the miners were squatting
on land on which they had built their homes. The laborers claimed that the company
sold the land to them.105 After the company fired several of the miners and would
not reinstate them, 175 employees threatened to go on strike.106 On February 10,
1902, the company hired thirty-two Japanese immigrants from Fresno, California,
and Rock Springs, Wyoming, and planned to bring in an additional seventy-five
102 Morris C. Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, The San Luis Valley Historian
25:3 (1993): 7; Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 101.
103 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 101.
104 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 7; Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 101.
105 Japanese Coal Miners Imported to Chandler, Denver Republican, 10 February 1902.
106 Importation of Japanese Causes Strike at Chandler, Denver Republican, 11 February 1902.
Japanese laborers.107 The company claimed they brought in the Japanese laborers
because they needed more employees to load ore cars.108 109 However, the Italian
laborers believed the company hired the Japanese laborers in an effort to undermine
the Italian miners stance and weaken the strike, in order to replace them.
Inevitably, this created a division and ill-feeling between the Japanese and Italian
laborers. Two days later, the mine closed and all of the Italian and Japanese laborers
had to look for work elsewhere.110
As early as 1904, Japanese immigrants worked in Pueblos steel mills.111 112 At
this time, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I), the Wests largest producer
and distributor of iron and steel products for agriculture, transportation, mining and
other industries, contracted sixteen Japanese immigrants from the Oriental
Construction Company m Denver. Several months later, 160 Japanese immigrants
107 Japanese Coal Miners, Denver Republican, 10 February 1902; Importation of Japanese,
Denver Republican, 11 February 1902.
108 Japanese Cause a Walkout of White Miners at Chandler, The Denver Times, 12 February 1902,
11, c.3. The company claimed that the mines capacity was 1,000 tons per day, but with a limited
number of miners, laborers only took 400-500 tons out of the mine each day.
109 Importation of Japanese, Denver Republican, 11 February 1902.
110 Japs Have Gone, But Chandler Mine is Idle, The Denver Times, 14 February 1902.
111 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 6; Watada, M. Tri-State Buddhist Church,
112 Scamehom, Mill and Mine, 1; Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 7.
came to the Steel City from Ogden, Utah.113 By 1907, at least 500 Japanese
immigrants worked for the CF&I, earning as much as $2.50 a day for a ten to twelve
hour day (wages varied from $1.90 for loading rail cars to $2.50 for firing blast
furnaces).114 According to historian H. Lee Scamehom, By 1910, with
approximately 15,000 men and women in its labor force, the company employed
about one-tenth of the states workforce.115 At this time, eastern and southern
European immigrants comprised the majority of the laborers in the mines and
steelworks.116 Japanese laborers eventually left the mills for higher wages in the
sugar beet fields of northern and southern Colorado.117
Issei Laborers in Colorados Agricultural Industry
According to historian Rebecca A. Hunt, immigrants sometimes
supplemented one main occupation as laborers in the smelters or packing house
with secondary work including migrant labor in the sugar beetfields. In all cases,
the immigrant emphasized survival and gaining a stable level in society. As
common laborers, Japanese immigrants also changed from working in one industry
113 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 7.
1,4 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 101.
115 Scamehom, Mill and Mine, 3.
116 Scamehom, Mill and Mine, 3.
117 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 7.
to the next throughout the year.118 After working in the coal mines and smelters of
Colorado and other western states, Japanese laborers looked for additional
opportunities to supplement or increase their income.119 120 121 The growth of Colorados
agricultural industry opened yet another labor niche, which Japanese laborers
quickly filled along with other immigrant groups. By 1880, Colorados economy
transitioned from one based heavily on mining to one that relied more on
agriculture, which made up thirteen percent of the states employment. Ten years
later, this increased to twenty-one percent, and by 1920, to twenty-seven percent.
In 1903, Japanese agricultural laborers first came to Colorado, spreading out
across various northern and southern Colorado communities. In northern
Colorado, Japanese laborers settled along the Union Pacific Railroad Companys
right of way, in Brighton, Fort Lupton, Platteville, lone, Henderson, Gilcrest, La
Salle, Windsor, Greeley, Lucerne, Kersey, Eaton, Ault, Julesburg, Sedgwick, Ovid,
Fort Morgan, Brush, Hillrose, Merino, Atwood and Sterling. In southern Colorado,
Japanese immigrant communities formed in Rocky Ford, Swink, Las Animas,
118 Masakazu Iwata, Planted in Good Soil: A History of the Issei in United States Agriculture (New
York: P.Lang, 1992), 116-117.
119 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 73; Rebecca Ann Hunt, Urban
Pioneers: Continuity and Change in the Ethnic Communities in Two Denver, Colorado
Neighborhoods: 1875-1998, (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Colorado, 1999), 150.
120 Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and Thomas J. Noel, Colorado: A History of the Centennial
State (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2005), 53.
121 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 73.
Lamar, Wiley, Granada and Holly (all along the Santa Fe Railroad line) and
Ordway. In western Colorado, Japanese laborers established homes near the Denver
and Rio Grande Railroad right of way in districts such as Delta, La Plata, Mesa, and
Montrose.122 123 By the summer of 1909, the U.S. Immigration Commission estimated
that 3,000 Japanese laborers worked in some area of farming in Colorado, out of a
total estimate of 39,000 Japanese laborers involved in farming in the western U.S.
This increase in the Japanese agricultural workforce was due in large part to the
sugar beet industry.
Across the West, business entrepreneurs established the sugar beet industry
in places like Lehi, Utah, and Grand Island, Nebraska. Colorado farmers
experimented with sugar beets in the late 1860s; however, the states first permanent
sugar beet factory wasnt built until 1899 in Grand Junction. In Colorado, German
immigrant and entrepreneur Charles Boettcher, along with investors John F.
Campion and Eben Smith, all prosperous from mining in Leadville, predicted that a
large part of Colorados agricultural success lay in this new discovery of white
gold. Together they established the Great Western Sugar Beet Company in 1900
122 Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 643.
123 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries.
and built the first sugar beet factory in Loveland, Colorado.124 125 126 Over the next few
years, sugar beet factories sprang up across the state, but Great Western purchased
many of these companies, consolidating them under their GW logo by 1905. As
this industry quickly grew, the Great Western Sugar Company sought alternate
means of transporting sugar beets to the processing plants to replace horse-drawn
wagons, and began construction of the Great Western Railway in 1902. The
railway, which reached Longmont by 1906, made accessible 5,000 acres of fertile
bottomland, (and totaled eighty-four miles of main track with twenty-seven miles of
sidetrack), hauling 5,000-20,000 carloads of freight per year.127 In Colorado, by
1909,108,000 acres of beets were harvested annually, which rose to 166,000 acres
in 1919. By 1935, the Great Western Sugar Company was the nations largest
producer of sugar beets.
Pioneer Japanese immigrants contributed to the growth of the Wests sugar
industry. Sugar beet work attracted Japanese laborers working in the mines or
smelters, as it was more lucrative even though more labor intensive. Other Japanese
immigrants sought work in the sugar beet fields as seasonal labor in order to
124 Abbott, et. al., Colorado: A History of the Centennial State, 173.
125 Kenneth Jessen, Built to Haul Sugar Beets: The Great Western Railway (Loveland, Colo.: JV
Publications, 1984), 5.
126 Jessen, Built to Haul Sugar Beets, 6.
127 Jessen, Built to Haul Sugar Beets, 7.
supplement their regular income. The average pay was twenty dollars per acre for
thinning, hoeing, and topping. Japanese employed in the boss system usually
received two dollars less per acre. Based on a representative group of 370 Japanese
beet workers in northern Colorado, the daily wage received ranged from three
dollars to $3.50 for thinning in the 1909 season, which was significantly more than
they could earn in California. Labor contractors also recruited Japanese laborers
to work in Colorados sugar beet fields. In 1903, labor contractor Harry Naoichi
Hokazono recruited 200 Japanese laborers to work in Greeley and for the Great
Western Sugar Company.128 129
In 1903, sugar beet companies also brought Japanese laborers into Colorado.
On March 26,1903, The Denver Times headlines read, Colorado Beet Sugar
Workers Will Oppose Importation of Japanese.130 Controversy brewed over a
contract made by sugar beet companies for 200 Japanese laborers to work on
Colorado farms, including those in Eaton and Fort Collins. This decision angered
non-Japanese laborers, who feared competition, and the possibility of decreased
wages, or even loss of jobs. Racism also played a part in the feud, but the sugar
128 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 72 & 116.
129 Takes Contract for Japanese Labor, The Denver Times, 13 March 1903, 5; Iwata, Planted in
Good Soil, 641; Stephen J. Leonard and Thomas J. Noel, Denver: Mining Camp to Metropolis
(Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1990), 346.
130 Colorado Beet Sugar Workers Will Oppose Importation of Japanese, The Denver Times, 26
companies claimed that they did not know the laborers were Japanese. The Beet-
Sugar Workers union led the protest and opposed foreign laborers unless they were
paid union scale wages. In 1900, there were similar instances of conflict in Colorado
as local farmers accused Mexican laborers of displacing them in places like Rocky
Ford. Local farmers claimed they could not profit competing with companies or
farmers who, by hiring a cheap labor force, gained a higher production rate at a
Despite these protests, sugar beet companies continued to recruit Japanese
and other immigrant laborers to work in Colorados sugar beet fields. In April of
1903, The Denver Times headlines read Little Yellow Men in Northern Beet
Fields, and Sugar Beet Workers Come in Trainloads, as Japanese laborers
migrated from Spokane, Washington and Rock Springs, Wyoming to work in the
sugar beet harvest in Greeley, Fort Collins, and other northern Colorado towns.132 133
Although mining companies and unions in northern Colorado excluded Japanese
laborers, employers in the sugar beet industry welcomed them. However, steady
opposition by white laborers and farmers kept the number of Japanese agricultural
laborers in western Colorado at a minimum. These factors concentrated Japanese
131 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 73.
132 The Denver Times 22 April 1903, 5; The Denver Times 25 April 1903,4.
133 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 74; Ikuchi, Social Studies, 25.
laborers in northern Colorado, primarily in Adams, Weld, Morgan, Logan, and
Sedgwick counties, with smaller numbers in southern and western Colorado.134
In Colorado, Utah and Idaho, Japanese farm laborers primarily grew sugar
beets, usually rotating with only one other crop such as potatoes. In 1909,158
Japanese, out of a total of 5,298 laborers, grew sugar beets under contract with the
sugar beet companies.135 136 137 By 1909, the Immigration Commission documented 2,627
Japanese laborers employed in the handwork of the sugar beet industry, in addition
to 6,560 German Russian laborers, 2,632 Mexican laborers, and 3,000
miscellaneous white persons. The commission also noted, The importance of the
Japanese, however, is greater than their numbers indicate, as they do more work per
individual than the laborers of any other race. Japanese immigrants did have
experience in intensive cultivation in their native country, which may have
contributed to their success in sugar beet cultivation in the U.S. Also, both
German-Russian and Japanese laborers harvested more sugar beets as they worked
in groups, the first as a family unit, while the latter was composed of bachelors.
134 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 102; U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries,
114. According to the Immigration Commission report, 2,160 Japanese laborers worked in the sugar
beet fields of northern Colorado, with 442 in southern Colorado, and twenty-five in western
135 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 78; Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 633.
According to Iwata. sugar beet companies leased land to Japanese farmers.
136 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 72.
137 Ikuchi, Social Studies, 17-18.
During the off-season, Japanese laborers looked for work elsewhere and
migrated to locations where they found work on the railroad, and in other
maintenance and construction projects.
Railroads, Dams and Ditches: Japanese Immigrants
in the Industrial West and Colorado
Japanese labor contractors recruited the majority of Japanese laborers to
work on the railroad system in the western U.S. By 1892,400 Issei worked on the
Union Pacific line between Huntington, Oregon and Granger, Wyoming.138 139 In 1898,
the Northern Pacific employed 380 Japanese laborers on the stretch between
Tacoma, Washington and Billings, Montana, and paid them ninety-five cents to one
dollar a day.140 In 1899, the Atlantic, Pacific and Santa Fe Railroad employed 1,500
Japanese laborers from California to work on sections for $1.10 a day.141 In 1900,
The Denver Times reported a large number of Japanese laborers working as section
hands on the line between Rawlins, Wyoming and Ogden, Utah. The Union Pacific
employed the largest number of Japanese and paid them $1.15 a day (after the
padrone or labor contractor took ten cents) compared to white laborers who were
138 Hunt, Urban Pioneers, 162. The Japanese immigrant labor experience paralleled another
immigrant group in Colorado. According to Hunt, Polish Americans also worked as miners, railroad
laborers in steel mills, smelters, and as seasonal laborers in the sugarbeet fields.
139 Linda Tamura, The Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon's Hood
River Valley (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 64.
140 Hosokawa, Nisei, 68.
141 Japanese to Work on a New Railroad, The Denver Times, 16 December 1899, 1, c. 8.
paid $1.50 and up for the same work.142 Japanese laborers also worked on the
Southern Pacific Railway, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway; Astoria &
Colombia River Railway, and the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company.143
Most Japanese laborers worked as section hands or in labor gangs, usually under the
supervision of a Japanese overseer, repairing track, replacing ties and stamping
ballast. They also serviced locomotives in the roundhouse.144
By 1906, approximately one-third (or 13,000) of Issei in the U.S. worked for
the railroad.145 In some places they worked eleven to fourteen hours per day for
approximately thirty-five dollars per month, or for one dollar a day, as section
hands.146 Japanese laborers received the lowest wages paid with the exception of
Chinese laborers.147 Oftentimes, exploited by labor contractors who promised higher
wages and better living conditions, Japanese laborers signed contracts, but found
these promises not kept by their employers. With their limited English skills and
142 Wyoming News column within The Denver Times, 5 May 1900; Also in Anti-Japanese
Sentiment Brews as Union Pacific Brings in More Japanese Laborers and Oregon Short Line
Railroads, 77te Denver Times, 14 May 1900, 3, c.5. According to The Denver Times article (5 May
1900), the Union Pacific recruited thirty-five Japanese laborers to work in the companys line east of
Rawlings, and continued to bring in Japanese laborers to Wyoming to work as section hands.
143 Peck, Reinventing Free Labor, 55; Hoobler, Japanese American Family Album, 47.
144 Hoobler, Japanese American Family Album, 47.
145 Tamura, The Hood River Issei, 65.
146 Tamura, The Hood River Issei, 65.
147 Tamura, The Hood River Issei, 65.
unfamiliarity with the West, Japanese immigrants, along with other new
immigrants, were easy prey for entrepreneurs. Overall, Japanese immigrants lived in
deplorable conditions. Some laborers lived four men to a shack, while others slept in
shacks or abandoned boxcars near the tracks, sometimes fitting as many as ten men
to a boxcar.148 Rough living conditions combined with backbreaking labor caused
many Japanese laborers to suffer from malnutrition and night blindness.149
Nevertheless, Issei laborers carried on, despite poor working and living conditions
and limited resources. One Issei laborer, Inota Tawa, worked in an Idaho mountain
camp as a section laborer in 1893. Tawa and his compatriots made the best with
what little they had:
The only pleasure was pay day once a month. Receiving our checks,
we went off into town, bought bourbon at $1 or $2 a bottle, canned
salmon and -secretlyrice. We cooked the rice, put vinegar over the
salmon and piled that on top of the rice. We called it sushi and
enjoyed it gleefully. Getting drunk on the cheap whiskey, we sang
the songs of our homeland and talked about the memories of
Japanese immigrants first arrived in Colorado to work on the railroad around
1904. As many of the main railroad lines were completed, Japanese laborers found
148 David Takami, Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle (Seattle: University
of Washington Press, 1992), 17.
149 Takami, Divided Destiny, 17.
150 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 24.
employment as maintenance workers and constructing branch lines.151 152 In Colorado,
Japanese railroad laborers typically earned ten to twelve cents per hour in 1900,
which increased to thirteen to fifteen cents per hour by 1907. One Japanese
immigrant, Kumajiro Nitta, came directly to Colorado after his arrival to the West
Coast in 1907 from Wakayama province in Japan. He quickly found a job with the
Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG). In 1908, Nitta and sixty Japanese laborers moved
to Alamosa to work on the D&RGs La Veta-Alamosa line, a project that lasted
until December 1910. The foreman of his work gang, Mr. Tanigawa, was the only
one in the group who could speak English. Upon completion of the line, Nitta
moved to the Arkansas Valley, while the rest of the gang remained to work on the
Monte Vista project.153 In 1919, Nitta traveled back to Alamosa to meet his wife
who was arriving from Japan. On this trip, Nitta met several Japanese laborers who
worked as coach cleaners and lived in bunk cars on side tracks in Alamosas rail
151 Gndo, Japanese of Colorado, 101.
152 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 6.
153 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 10.
154 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 10.
In 1909, the Japanese Association of Colorado estimated that there were 400
Japanese employed by the railroad.155 Recruited by labor contractors, including
Shinzaburo Ban, who established an office in Denver in 1906, and Harry Naoichi
Hokasono, Japanese laborers initially worked on the Moffat railroad line from
Denver over the Continental Divide to Steamboat Springs and Craig.156 They also
worked on a variety of railroad lines including the Denver & Rio Grande; the Union
Pacific; the Colorado & Southern; the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, and the
Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.157 158
Harry Naoichi Hokosano arrived in the U.S. in 1893 at the age of twenty,
and by 1898, he opened a restaurant in Denver. In 1903, Hokosano became a labor
contractor, supplying Japanese laborers in various industries. Hokasono provided
jobs for hundreds of Japanese immigrants in the railroad, highway, powerline, and
irrigation and dam construction fields.159 He established an office in Denver at
155 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 6.
156 Hosokawa and Wilson, East to America, 94; Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 10; Peck, Reinventing
Free Labor, 56; Tamura, The Hood River Issei, 64. According to Hosokawa and Wilson, in 1904
there were approximately 100 Japanese hired to help build the Moffat road, while others worked on
the Rio Grande line. According to Tamura, Ban came to Portland, Oregon in 1891 and distributed
railroad hands in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado.
Ban was a former diplomatic official in Tokyo and secretary at the Japanese consulate in Hawaii.
157 Ikuchi, Social Studies, 17.
158 Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese Americans, 196.
159 Hosokawa and Wilson, East to America, 94.
Eighteenth and Larimer streets, and served both the Colorado and Wyoming
regions.160 Hokasono participated actively in Colorados Japanese immigrant
community. He served as president of the Japanese Business Mens Association,
helped start the Denver Buddhist Temple in 1916, and founded the states first
Japanese newspaper, the Denver Shimpo in 1908.161 162 Although Hokasono was very
successful, he died nearly destitute in 1920.
Besides the railroads, Japanese laborers also worked in different construction
projects across the state such as digging the Moffat Tunnel under Corona Pass.
Japanese immigrants helped build Barker Dam near Nederland in addition to
highways and power lines across the state.163 They also worked on irrigation
projects in Greeley, Longmont, and Fort Collins.164 According to author Bill
160 Ikuchi, Social Studies, 19.
161 Watada, M., Tri-State Buddhist Church, 58; Niiya, Encyclopedia of Japanese Americans, 196.
162 Hosokawa and Wilson, East to America, 94. In 1976, Hokazono was commemorated in stained-
glass at Colorados state capitol building in Denver.
163 Jean Torkelson, Japanese Flourish in Land of Opportunity: Settlers in Colorado Carve Legacy as
Miners, Rail Workers, Fanners, Rocky Mountain News, 1 June 1997, 53A. The Barker Dam was
completed by the hand labor of 600 Japanese laborers under the direction of contractor Naoichi
Hokasono. Six of the laborers were killed when they did not heed warnings of danger given in
English. These men are buried in the Boulder Cemetery.
164 Ikuchi, Social Studies, 18.
Hosokawa, It was a vast and hostile country, but the Issei were equal to the
Local Sentiment Towards Japanese
Immigrants in Colorado
Prejudice, exclusion and violence towards Japanese immigrants on the West
Coast concurrently resonated in Colorado and other intermountain states. In 1902,
Colorados media warned that there would be problems for white Americans in the
future in finding jobs. This fear was further perpetuated when the Union Pacific
hired Japanese laborers to work on the railways between Rawlins, Wyoming and
Ogden, Utah and later on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railways. A Wyoming
News section in The Denver Times expressed concerns over the continued
importation of Japanese laborers to work on the Union Pacific and Oregon Short
Line. Other laborers feared these little yellow men as competition for their jobs
because they provided a favorable source of cheap labor.166 Colorados residents
and laborers organized to exclude Japanese laborers from the state. In 1908, the
Colorado State Federation of Labor organized the Japanese and Korean Exclusion
League, which advocated the exclusion of Japanese laborers.167 Organizations such
165 Hosokawa, Nisei, 69. See Nisei for a more in-depth study of Japanese in the U.S. and their
internment during World War II.
166 Wyoming News, The Denver Times, 14 May 1900, 3, c.5.
167 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 103.
as the Denver Trades and Labor Assembly also advocated the exclusion of Issei
Although anti-Japanese hostility prevailed throughout Colorado, some
companies tolerated, and even befriended, Japanese laborers who earned respect
through their hard work and their ability to establish relationships with other
immigrant laborers. Scholar Harry Alvin Millis states:
The Japanese [railroad workers] found favor with the roadmasters
and foreman because of their efficiency, and their good behavior in
camps. On the whole they proved to be better workmen than any
other of the immigrant races, the Mexican excepted, and the absence
of brawls in camp set them in strong contrast to certain other
competing races. So.. .the rate of wages of Japanese advanced more
rapidly than that of other races.169
Millis observation attributes the success of Japanese immigrants partially to
stereotypes of this ethnic group as docile and servile based on their good behavior
demonstrated in the labor camps. However, Japanese immigrants worked efficiently
and competitively because Japanese culture emphasized values of hard work,
responsibility, solidarity and obligation.170 These cultural roots, rather than
accommodating anti-Asian sentiment, carried with them to the U.S., and perhaps,
168 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 103.
169 Harry Alvin Millis, The Japanese Problem in the United States: An Investigation for the
Commission on Relations with Japanese appointed by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ
in America (New York: MacMillan, 1915).
170 Harry H. L. Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture (Englewood Cliffs, New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969), 61.
knowing they were under the watchful eye of the Japanese government, led to then-
advancement and success within the labor force.
While the media and groups advocating the exclusion of Japanese
immigrants in the U.S. exaggerated the menace of Japanese immigrants to American
labor, in reality this threat was probably very minimal. Early Japanese American
communities were comprised primarily of bachelors who did not intend to settle in
the U.S., and for those who intended to stay, industrial work was only a temporary
form of employment until they could advance to the next level. Scholar John
Modells analysis of Japanese immigration to the U.S. reveals that these dynamics
changed, however, as emigration patterns from Japan to the U.S. changed. Modell
explains the differences based on the period that immigrants came to the U.S.,
before or after the Gentlemans Agreement. As the Japanese immigrant transitioned
from dekasegi (temporary settlers or sojourners) to imin (permanent settlers),
Modell elaborates, Japanese contemplating an American adventure began to look
toward group (and especially family) resources, rather than to individual effort to
develop the rich possibilities of America. A Japanese-American community, as
distinct from a group of Japanese residents in America, was thus nurtured.171 A
171 Modell, Tradition and Opportunity, 165-167. Modell elaborates that Japanese immigrants that
emigrated to the U.S. before the Gentlemans Agreement usually came from larger families that
would send one representative. In comparison, Japanese immigrants that emigrated after the
agreement, came from smaller families who usually sent several family members to the U.S. Modell
writes, Between 1920 and 1924, fully 45% of the Issei males arriving in America had siblings
already in the country.
significant part of this transformation was also influenced by the presence of
Japanese women immigrants to the continental U.S. in large numbers for the first
time. These changing dynamics marked the beginning of a more permanent and
FROM PICTURE BRIDES TO PIONEERS: ISSEI
WOMEN IN COLORADO
Prior to 1908, very few Japanese immigrant women came to the U.S. The
majority of Japanese male immigrants were sojourners, who only planned on
working abroad for a brief time before returning home to Japan. In 1900, the U.S.
Census counted twenty-five Japanese immigrant men for every one Japanese
woman.172 173 While most scholars assume that the only Japanese women in the U.S.
during the frontier period were prostitutes, historian Paul R. Spickard argues that
this is too simplistic of an account of Japanese American womens history.
Nevertheless, frontier life for Japanese immigrants did include prostitution and other
vices. While some Japanese women found prostitution as their only option for
survival in the West, others were kidnapped and brought to the U.S. to work as
prostitutes.174 Japanese pimps made connections with labor contractors or hotel
172 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 30.
173 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 26 & 27.
174 Mei Nakano, Japanese American Women: Three Generations, 1890-1990 (Berkeley, Calif.: Mina
Press Publishing & Natl. Japanese American Historical Society, 1990), 23; Ichioka, Ameyuki-san:
Japanese Prostitutes in Nineteenth-Century America, Amerasia 4, no.l (1977): 1, 1-21. According
to Ichioka, although oral history sources confirm the presence of Japanese prostitutes in Colorado as
early as the 1860s, the bakufu did not lift prohibition on immigration until 1866. The only exceptions
were made for students and merchants. Laborers were not allowed to leave until 1869. Nakano states
that by 1900, at least half of the few single Japanese women in the U.S. came from Japanese families
owners to market the womens services, primarily to Japanese men, but also to those
of other nationalities.
In Denver, Colorado, one prostitute, Kiku Oyama, was found murdered in
her Market Street residence on November 12,1894.175 176 Imi Oyama, Kikus friend
and employee, found her lying on her bed, gasping her last breath.177 Oyama lived
and worked at 1957 Market Street and was fairly successful, an Asian rarity at that
time.178 She was the third prostitute to be killed in a series of murders within ten
weeks of each other on the 1900 block of Market Street.179 All victims were
strangled to death with a towel. Denver police, the coroner, district attorney, and
(usually poor farmers) who came to the U.S. to work as domestics, but were kidnapped or tricked and
sold into prostitution.
175 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 26 & 27. Spickard explains that recent research shows Japanese
women in Hawaii came as independent migrants.
176 A Stranglers Work: He Murders His Third Victim Early This Morning, Kiku Oyamas Sad
Fate, The Evening Post, 13 November 1894,1; A Woman Strangled: Another Case Which Will
Puzzle the Police, Denver Republican, 13 November 1894,1; A Third Victim: Bloody Work of
Jack the Strangler, The Denver Times 13 November 1894, 1; Choked to Death: A Japanese Woman
Foully Murdered, Rocky Mountain News, 13 November 1894, 1; A Reign of Terror: The
Stranglers Work Appalls Market Street, Denver Republican, 14 November 1894, 1.
I77A Stranglers Work: He Murders His Third Victim Early This Morning, Kiku Oyamas Sad
Fate, The Evening Post, 13 November 1894, 1; Imi Oyama found Kiku Oyama lying on her bed,
struggling to breathe. When he realized the severity of her health, he ran out into the street to call for
help from friends who lived next door.
178 A Reign of Terror, Denver Republican, 1. Another Japanese woman identified as Hana Ito lived
across the street at 1956 Market Street, but newspaper accounts do not describe her as one of Market
Streets ladies of the night.
179 A Third Victim: Bloody Work of Jack the Strangler, The Denver Times 13 November 1894, 1;
Oyama was the third victim to be murdered on Stranglers Row, following Lena Tapper and Marie
Contassot who lived in the same row of houses on Market Street.
city physician all conducted a thorough investigation of the crime scene. The local
media widely covered Oyamas murder, undoubtedly a sensational story at the time,
with front-page headlines that provided graphic details of the murder scene.
According to Denver newspapers, Oyama was twenty-four-years-old and
had come to Colorado from Chicago in November 1893. The Evening Post reported
that Kiku emigrated from Japan to Chicago, .with the racial representatives of her
native land to the Columbian Exposition, where she had met Imi Oyama. From
there, the two headed out West.180 181 On Market Street, a friend of Kikus commented
that she was the brightest Japanese on the row. She also told authorities that
Kiku tried to send fifty dollars to her mother in Japan every two months, and that
she had recently beamed about receiving a bouquet of chrysanthemums, a flower
that reminded her of Japan. They were from a secret admirer. Based on these
remarks, it appears that Oyama was an independent entrepreneur, self-sufficient and
reliant, making enough money to send home to Japan.
Nevertheless, Oyamas life ended prematurely in Denvers red light district.
Although the police arrested several men on suspicion of the Stranglers Row
murders, no one was ever convicted of Oyamas murder. She was buried at
180 A Stranglers Work: He Murders His Third Victim Early This Morning, Kiku Oyamas Sad
Fate, The Evening Post, 13 November 1894, 1.
181 A Reign of Terror, Denver Republican, 1.
Riverside Cemetery where the majority of Colorados early Japanese were buried in
an ethnic-segregated section of the cemetery.182 183
Despite the presence of prostitution among the Japanese American
immigrant community in the U.S., Japan did not want their citizens abroad
tarnishing the nations image and replicating the importation and use of prostitutes,
which was common among Chinese bachelor societies. Japan also grew concerned
for its citizens in the U.S. and their ability to marry and establish families. The
Japanese immigrant community in the U.S. was primarily a bachelor society and
anti-miscegenation laws in various U.S. states prohibited marriages between white
citizens and people of color. Although Colorado had no formal laws barring
marriages between Asians and Caucasians, mixed couples were rare. 184 U.S.
restrictions on female immigration also hindered the growth of Japanese American
families in these primarily bachelor communities. Historian Mei Nakano explains,
182 A Reign of Terror, Denver Republican, 1; The Police at Sea: Little Hope of Unraveling the
Mystery of Stranglers Row, The Evening Post, 15 November 1894,1. Police found Richard
Demady in the room next to Lena Tapper who was also murdered, with blood soaked clothing. Police
arrested Demady, however, the courts dismissed him as a suspect because of circumstantial evidence,
and he was discharged. Interestingly, Oyama was Demadys former tenant.
183 Rocky Mountain News, 14 November 1894.
184 Russell Endo and Dale Hirokawa, Japanese American Intermarriage, Free Inquiry in Creative
Sociology, 11:2 (November 1983): 159-161. Whereas California prohibited marriages between
whites and Asians, Colorado did not, but anti-Japanese sentiment was present and interracial
marriages were looked down upon, if not socially forbidden. In 1864, Colorado passed legislation
prohibiting marriage between whites and blacks. This was upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1942,
and was not repealed until 1957.
A Japanese woman could only emigrate to the United States provided that: she
already had a spouse living here; an immigrant returned to Japan to marry her; or,
she had married an immigrant by proxy.185 186 187
As the Japanese government negotiated immigration policies with the U.S.,
they also encouraged their bachelor immigrants abroad to establish families. In
Japan, go-betweens (baishakuniri) arranged marriages between Japanese men in the
U.S. and women in Japan. While some men returned to Japan to marry their
bride, others corresponded with their future prospect, exchanging letters and
photographs and marrying them by proxy. It was not uncommon for a Japanese man
to exaggerate his youth and attractiveness along with his success to his picture
bride, in order to ensure that his future mate would make the long journey to the
U.S. Therefore, the majority of Japanese immigrant women did not come to the
U.S. as independent immigrants, but instead came as a member of a family group;
as wives, brides, or daughters.188 From 1909 to 1923, Japanese immigrant women
comprised two-fifths of the total Japanese immigrant population to the U.S.189
185 Nakano, Japanese American Women, 21.
186 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 43.
187 Nakano, Japanese American Women, 21.
188 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 27.
189 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 22.
Between 1910 and 1920, approximately 33,000 Japanese women immigrated to the
Regardless of restrictions on Japanese immigration under the 1907
Gentlemans Agreement, parents, wives and children of Japanese residents already
established in the U.S. could still enter the country. Following 1908, yobiyose (one
that is called from America) children and wives made up the majority of migration
from Japan to the U.S. The yobiyose system flourished in the U.S., as Japanese
immigrants who had established themselves in the intermountain states called for
their relatives, spouses, offspring or friends to join them abroad. Many of the
yobiyose were children of pioneer Japanese immigrant men in the U.S. who had
remained with their mothers in Japan. Once established, Japanese immigrant fathers
reassured their wives and children of the economic opportunities and possibilities
for success in the U.S., and arranged for them to come to the U.S.191
Besides marriage, Japanese women had other motivations for immigrating to
the U.S. One Issei immigrant woman, who came to the U.S. in 1917 and made her
way to Colorado, explained some of the reasons Japanese women left their native
country, in The Colorado Times:
1. Hopes of becoming rich.
190 Nakano, Japanese American Women, 30.
191 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 34; Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-
2. Curiosity of this civilized country called America.
3. Fear of mother-in-law in Japan.
4. Sexual anxiety on those who have passed marriage-age.
5. Dreams of an idyllic, romantic life in the new land.
6. Lack of ability to support self.
7. Filial obedience: sacrificing self to obey parents wishes.192
Japanese women immigrants left behind all that was familiar, but also welcomed the
adventure, along with a new independence and freedom from their families.193
However, once in the U.S., life for many Issei women was not idyllic, but
filled with hardships and sacrifice. One Issei woman commented:
Life was intolerable. Everything was different. My husband was not
much help. Cooking, shopping, cleaning, washing dishes and
washing clothes, taking care of the babiesmany Issei women
remember getting up after childbirth to go to work in the fields
these are some of the things I remember. Hon-to ni ku-ro shi-ta [We
Despite such hardships and the obstacles of living within a male-dominated,
patriarchal family structure (where a large portion of household labor fell to the
responsibility of the woman), it was rare for Japanese married couples to divorce.
This is attributed to the Japanese cultural family values of gaman (perseverance)
and because of their commitment to raising their children together. Marriage
192 Nakano, Japanese American Women, 26.
193 Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture, 63.
194 Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture, 64.
between an Issei couple focused more on duty and obligation than love and
romance, more typical of American marriages.195
The presence of Japanese women in the U.S. significantly changed Japanese
immigrant community formation. Between 1911 and 1913, married Japanese
women admitted into the U.S. more than doubled the number of Japanese families.
This influx of Issei women to the U.S. initiated the settlement period (1924-1940)
and stabilized the Japanese population. By 1920, there were two Japanese men for
every one Japanese woman.196 This shift in demographics also affected the
economic success, culture, and community of Japanese in the U.S.
First of all, Issei women contributed significantly to the familys economy.
Issei husbands expected their wives to work for wages, in addition to performing
housework and childcare.197 198 Barred from better jobs, labor unions, and from owning
property in many communities, the Issei family was economically unstable, and
therefore, Issei women had to earn money to ensure the survival of the family.
Issei women worked in the fields, canneries, sawmills, laundries, food preparation,
sewing nurseries, and restaurants. They also worked from home or where their
195 Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture, 64.
196 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 31-32; Stephen S. Fugita and Marilyn Fernandez, Altered Lives,
Enduring Community: Japanese Americans Remember Their World War II Incarceration, 19.
197 Nakano, Japanese American Women, 43.
198 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 47.
children could accompany them in low-tech, labor intensive fields, where there was
less competition from white women.199 200 Issei women also worked in labor camps
operated by their husbands who were labor contractors. Here they cooked, cleaned,
and laundered for the work crews. In the city, Japanese women ran boardinghouses,
hotels and other businesses. Issei women also worked alongside their husbands in
Colorados agricultural fields. Matajiro Watada commented on Issei women in Fort
Lupton, Colorado: Yes, the women worked along with the men in the fields. My
own wife.. .could drive a team of four horses pulling farm equipment.201 202
The presence of Japanese immigrant women also ensured that certain
Japanese cultural ideals and values continued within the family and community. In
Japan, family life was characterized by solidarity, collectivism, filial piety (oya-
koko), obligation (giri), hard work, and responsibility. Japanese values emphasized
the importance of the family unit over the individual, and cohesion and harmony
above individual achievement. Japanese women played a key role in passing
down these Japanese cultural values, in addition to traditional customs.203 These
199 Nakano, Japanese American Women, 43.
200 Hunt, Urban Pioneers, 150. Similar to urban Issei women, Slavic women in the city also took in
boarders or worked in domestic services outside of their ethnic community.
201 Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 649.
202 Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture, 61.
203 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 38.
core values and practices also contributed greatly to the success of the Japanese
community in the coming years (1930-1940).
The union of Issei men and their Japanese brides also led to the creation of
the Nisei (second generation Japanese in the U.S.), American citizens by birth. This
factor increased opportunities for Issei to own land, as many states enforced anti-
alien land laws prohibiting Japanese immigrants from owning land. The status of
Nisei as American citizens would become even more relevant to the Japanese
American experience during World War II.204
As the Japanese American community transitioned from a primarily mobile
bachelor-oriented community, to a more stable, family-oriented ethnic community,
Japanese laborers began to pursue more secure livelihoods in agriculture and
business. 205 With the formation of families and communities, Japanese immigrants
solidified their place within American society as they committed to making a
permanent home in the U.S.
204 Glenn, Issei, Nisei, War Bride, 33; OBrien and Fugita, The Japanese American Experience, 15.
Glenn states that the majority of Issei were bom between 1870-1900, while the majority of Nisei
were bom between 1915 and 1940. In OBrien and Fugitas study, sociologist Darrel Montero
explains, ...the Japanese are the only ethnic group to emphasize geogenerational distinctions by a
separate nomenclature and a belief in the unique character structure of each generational group. This
distinction became significant as U.S. naturalization laws prohibited Japanese Issei immigrants from
becoming U.S. citizens.
205 Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States, 73.
JAPANESE AMERICAN SETTLEMENT: ENTREPRENEURSHIP
AND COMMUNITY FORMATION
Colorados Japanese American Agricultural
The frontier period came to an end as Japanese immigrants advanced from
wage-earning laborers to independent entrepreneurs, as fanners, merchants, and
businessmen. With more stable occupations, Japanese immigrants established
themselves in small towns or cities and began to create families and form
communities.206 207 In Colorados rural, agriculture-based communities, Issei laborers
worked very diligently in order to advance from sugar beet field workers to farm
owners and operators across the state. John T. Horie, member of the Vegetable
Producers Cooperative Association of Colorado, commented on Issei laborers in
Colorados sugar beet industry:
In order to begin independent operations as a farmer, the Issei had to
purchase horses and farm equipment. They, therefore, had to work as
agricultural laborers in order to earn the money to obtain these
necessities. They worked hard and long hours as beet field
handworkers. Many of them actually went out into the field at 3:00
oclock in the morning and thinned beets in the illumination of a
miners cap equipped with a light. After completing the thinning of
206 Fugita and Fernandez, Altering Lives, Enduring Community, 19.
207 Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-1946, 3 & 10.
one row, often a mile in length, they would reverse direction and
begin a new row without so much as stopping for a rest, let alone a
After their experiences working on farms in Japan, it is not surprising that
many Japanese immigrants took up farming as field workers in Colorado and other
western states.209 Historian Yuji Ichioka explains that Japanese who farmed in Japan
used this experience in their farming techniques in the U.S., which contributed to
their success. In Japan, farmers used a relatively small amount of land, but their
output in terms of crop production was much greater. According to Ichioka,
Japanese Issei immigrants went through four different stages of farming as they
progressed from simple wage earners to independent farm owners and operators:
contract farming (land owned and controlled by landlord), share-tenancy (partial
independence), cash leasing (less control by landlord) and then land ownership
(independent proprietorship).210 Although Ichiokas study focuses on the West
Coast, this pattern is applicable to other western states such as Colorado. In the
centennial state, the majority of Japanese laborers were contract workers, who
Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 173. Taken from Iwatas interview of John T. Horie, a
member of the Vegetable Producers Cooperative Association of Colorado.
209 Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 7; Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 635.
Iwata interviewed forty Issei farmers. Out of this group, seventy percent farmed back in Japan.
210 Yuji Ichioka, Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924 (New
York: The Free Press, 1988), 151; Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 225 & 364.
quickly progressed to share tenants.211 212 Also common in Colorado was the one-
fourth share lease, where tenants were responsible for both the teamwork and
handwork, while employers provided boarding and lodging in addition to their
The 1909 Immigration Commission report described Japanese laborers as
ambitious and capable, and not deterred by risk.213 In California, Issei laborers
advanced rapidly in the agriculture industry. In 1909, Issei farmers production
amounted to six million dollars, which grew to sixty-seven million dollars by
1919.214 215 Yet, as Japanese immigrants attempted to move up the social ladder,
nativist groups and farmers organized to hinder their efforts. Author Bill Hosokawa
The hostility against Japanese laborers was bad enough; it became
considerably more intense when the immigrants stepped out of the
role of the exploited and became competitors of the white man as
farm operators and businessmen. That was a dangerous position for
an Asian immigrant group to assume in the West of that time. Like
the Negroes of the South, the Japanese were accepted without rancor
only so long as they remained in their place.
211 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 102.
212 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 83.
213 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 83.
214 Hosokawa, Nisei, 61.
215 Hosokawa, Nisei, 61.
In California, state-legislated Alien Land Acts first implemented in 1913,
barred Issei from purchasing land.216 Every state in the intermountain West, with the
exception of Colorado, passed land laws (also known as yellow codes), restricting
or prohibiting Issei ownership of land.217 Issei found ways to work around
exclusionary measures that limited their mobility and power, and purchased land
using the names of their Nisei children who were U.S. citizens by birth, and
therefore, could legally purchase land.218 219 220 In Colorado, Japanese laborers found
greater opportunities in agriculture as they were not restricted, at least legally, from
leasing or owning their own land. Colorados sugar beet farmers and companies
leased land to Japanese and other immigrants to do seasonal work in order to keep
them in the community, thereby making it easier to secure their labor force, and also
providing additional incentives for Japanese laborers. Colorado employers also
leased a large amount of land to Japanese immigrants as they tended to pay higher
rates for leases and were willing to make improvements on the land.221 However,
216 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 12.
217 Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-1946, 8.
2,8 Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-1946, 10.
219 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 102.
220 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 80.
221 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 83; Walz, Japanese Settlement in the
Intermountain West, 8.
even when the opportunity arose, Japanese immigrants oftentimes had little capital
to purchase land in Colorado. In 1909, Colorados Japanese owned only 120 acres
of land, but leased 19,750 acres. As sojourners, many Japanese immigrants did
not intend to settle permanently in the U.S., and planned on returning home to Japan
after earning enough money.222 223 However, as Japanese immigrants transitioned into a
more permanent and settled community, they began to pursue land ownership more
The growing presence of Issei women in bachelor communities changed
family and community dynamics, and also enhanced the advancement of the
Japanese farm laborer. As economic units, Japanese immigrant wives and their
children also worked in the fields, contributing greatly to the success of the
landowner or farmer. Japanese women supported the family by taking care of the
children, the household, the laundry and meals. These additional responsibilities
222 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industry, 76.
223 Hoobler, Japanese American Family Album, 122. In 1913, Californias first Alien Land Act was
passed, making it illegal for Asian immigrants to own land. In 1920, the second Alien Land Act
barred Issei from leasing or sharecropping land.
224 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 83; Walz, Japanese Settlement in the
Intermountain West, 8.
225 Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-1946, 9; Iwata, Planted in Good
Soil, 637-638. Based on Iwatas survey, the majority of Japanese immigrant farm groups were
comprised of men. Out of the forty Issei interviewed, ten were married, and only five had spouses in
the U.S. In comparison, seventy-one percent of German Russian farmers were married and the
majority of their spouses made up part of the family household in Colorado. With few Japanese
women in the community, Japanese men in these labor groups took on traditionally female roles,
cooking and performing household chores.
intensified the womans daily workload, often requiring her to wake up an hour
earlier than the family and stay up later as well. My grandmother, Nancy Yumiko
Miyagishima, remembers her mother working in the agricultural fields of California.
Although her mother was severely ill with tuberculosis, she worked endless hours
with Nancys infant sister strapped to her back. This probably was not uncommon.
Japanese farmers found it necessary to work in order to live. Women, children
and grandparentsevery member of the family worked and contributed to the
advancement and success of the family, and larger community.
These countless hours of hard work and sacrifices by Issei men and women
led to their success in Colorados agricultural fields as independent farmers. Pioneer
Japanese immigrants worked across the states agricultural lands, in the Platte,
Arkansas, and San Luis valleys in places such as Rocky Ford, Fort Lupton, and
Brighton, growing alfalfa, onions, cantaloupes, com, sugar beets, beans, and
potatoes.226 227 228
In 1903, thirty-five Japanese immigrants settled in the small, rural
community of Rocky Ford, where they first became involved in agriculture as
226 Nakano, Japanese American Women, 44.
227 Nancy Yumiko Miyagishima, Interview by Kara Miyagishima, 11 June 2002, Aurora, Colo.
228 Ikuchi, Social Studies, 17.
independent fanners.229 230 231 According to Japanese American community leader
Matajiro Watada, About 1917, just as soon as word spread that this area was most
suitable for farming, the number of Japanese farmers suddenly increased. They
bought up or rented all available farmlands and houses and gave the Caucasian
farmers keen competition. This community continued to grow and in the 1920s,
twenty-five Japanese farm families lived in Rocky Ford and between fifty-five and
sixty resided throughout the Arkansas Valley. Issei pioneers engaged in large-
scale agriculture in the Arkansas Valley growing sugar beets, onions, tomatoes,
com, alfalfa, and cantaloupes, which would elevate Rocky Ford as The Sweet
Melon Capitol of the World.232
Japanese immigrants also settled in the Brighton area around 1905.233 While
labor contractor Harry Hokasono recruited Japanese laborers to the Brighton area,
businessman O.E. Frink, owner of several local creameries, provided Japanese
settlers in the area with seeds and machinery to begin farming.234 Some of the first
229 Watada M., Tri-State Buddhist Church, 235.
230 Watada, M., Tri-State Buddhist Church, 235.
231 Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 655.
232 Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 653.
233 Watada, M., Tri-State Buddhist Church, 235.
234 W. Carr Dorr, Looking Back: A Historical Account of the Development of Brighton and
Surrounding Community from 1859-1976 (Brighton, Colo.: Brighton Bicentennial-Bicentennial
Japanese residents and farmers of Brighton included Jim Muroya, Torataro Doi, and
Komasaku Fujita who came in the early 1900s to work in agriculture. In
Brighton, early Japanese farmers grew cabbage and tomatoes and then moved on to
sugar beets in the 1920s, where they worked as field hands, gradually earning
enough to purchase their own farms. In addition to field agriculture, Japanese
American families also owned three large greenhouses. These included: the
Kitayama Brothers, the Horiuchi Brothers and the Tagawa Brothers. All three
succeeded in this market; the Kitayamas were said to have the largest carnation
greenhouse in the nation.
In Weld County near the (South) Platte, Japanese immigrants settled in the
neighboring town of Fort Lupton. Some of the first crops cultivated by the Issei of
Fort Lupton included cabbage, cucumbers for pickling, grain and alfalfa.235 236 237 Most of
the Issei farmers in Fort Lupton emigrated from the prefectures (counties) of
235 W. Carr Dorr, Looking Back, 42.
236 W. Carr Dorr, Looking Back, 44.
237 Jeremy Watada, A Historical Account of the Japanese from Matajiro Watada, The Japanese
American Community of Fort Lupton, Colorado (unpublished manuscript, University of Colorado,
Boulder, Asian American Studies 4727,28 April 1993), 2.
Kumamoto, Okayama, Ehime, Saga, Fukuoka and Hiroshima. Because of the large
Japanese population in Fort Lupton, it was often referred to as Yamato Village.
Prior to 1920, Japanese immigrants first made their way to the San Luis
Valley, located in south central Colorado. According to the Thirteenth Population
Census, eleven Japanese immigrants resided in Conejos County in 1910.238 239 240 By
1920, the Census documented sixteen Japanese residing in Alamosa County.241
According to historian Morris C. Cohen, the Denver Rio Grande Railroad (DR&G)
was very active in the San Luis Valley between 1900 and 1910, which may have
attracted Japanese laborers to the area.242
It was not until 1925, that Japanese farmers settled permanently in the San
Luis Valley. Colorado realtors sought Japanese farmers from California to purchase
and develop land in the San Luis Valley. In 1924, representatives of these
companies traveled to California and met with the Japanese Association in Stockton,
238 Watada, A Historical Account of the Japanese, 1. Fort Lupton had one of largest Japanese
American communities besides Denver. Watadas study is based on his grandfather, Arthur Matajiro
Watada, one of Fort Luptons Issei pioneers.
239 The San Luis Valley was comprised of five counties at the time: Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Rio
Grande, and Saguache.
240 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 6.
241 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 8.
242 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 10.
California to discuss real estate opportunities in the San Luis Valley.243 These
companies paid for a representative of the Japanese Association to travel to the San
Luis Valley and investigate fanning opportunities firsthand. Subsequently, several
Japanese families moved to the San Luis Valley including the Yoshida, Hattori,
Mori, and Ogura families.244 Real estate companies also solicited Japanese farming
communities in different parts of Colorado, including Rocky Ford, Brighton-Fort
Lupton, and East Lake, to come to the San Luis Valley. Although it is difficult to
calculate the number of families that came to the valley following the Stockton
meetings, the U.S. Census recorded 233 Japanese living in the San Luis Valley by
1930.245 Japanese farmers grew potatoes, grain, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage,
spinach, carrots, sugar beets and hay. They also raised livestock including cattle,
sheep and pigs.246
Japanese American families successfully farmed in Colorados small towns
and agricultural communities, transitioning from farm laborers to farm owners and
operators. Simultaneously, a larger urban community and ethnic economy grew in
243 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 22.
244 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 22-23.
245 Cohen, Japanese Settlement in the San Luis Valley, 24; Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 655.
According to Iwata, during the Depression, fifteen percent of Japanese immigrants living in Rocky
Ford moved to the San Luis Valley.
246 Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 658.
Denver as Japanese immigrants left the mines and railroads to pursue opportunities
for self-employment in business in the heart of downtown Denver.
Denvers Urban Japanese American Community
During Colorados frontier period, Japanese immigrants were dispersed
throughout the state in mining, agriculture, and railroading. Beginning with the
settlement period, Denver became a central location where Japanese Issei gathered
as a community. In Denver, Japanese immigrants could find employment, Japanese
meals and camaraderie, a warm ofuro (Japanese bathhouse), and a place to stay.
Denvers Japanese community lived in ethnic enclaves due to anti-Japanese
sentiment in the outside community that prevented them from integrating further
into society.247 Japanese immigrants also lived together by choice, due to a shared
familiarity with each other based upon a common culture, language, and set of
ideals and values.248
In Denver, the Chinese community lived in Hop Alley (at least until the
1880s) between Blake and Market streets; Italians lived in the South Platte Bottoms
and North Denver; and Globeville was home to the citys Slavic, German-Russian,
and Polish communities.249 By 1920, eight-five percent of Denvers population was
247 Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture, 63.
248 Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture, 80.
249 Leonard and Noel, Denver: Mining Camp to Metropolis, 183-187; Hunt, Urban Pioneers, 148.
American-bom. Half of this group had one or more parents bom outside of the U.S.
The American-bom majority was from the East Coast and the Midwest, and was of
German, Irish, and English backgrounds.250 251 252 Although they did not live in ethnically
segregated enclaves, they did congregate together in community organizations
including saloons that were ethnic specific.
Japanese settlement in Colorado reflected that on the West Coast, where
Japanese immigrants gathered in ethnic enclaves in cities such as Los Angeles and
Seattle; segregated to certain areas of the city due to racist housing codes, economic
affordability, and ethnic community formation. Denvers first Japanese
community sprouted around Nineteenth and Larimer streets and grew into Japan-
town occupying Eighteenth through Twenty-first streets. This neighborhood was
frequently referred to as Skid Row, one of the economically poorest and most run-
down parts of the city. Denver, like most western cities, drew lines as to where
Japanese and other people of color could reside. Most real estate outside of lower
250 Leonard and Noel, Denver: Mining Camp to Metropolis, 180; Noel and Smith, Colorado: The
Highest State, 243. According to Noel and Smith, by 1920, Colorados population had grown to
251 Leonard and Noel, Denver: Mining Camp to Metropolis, 182.
252 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 42.
downtown had restrictions barring sale or lease to "people of color, but on
Denvers Skid Row, all colors were acceptable.
In 1900, there were only twenty Japanese immigrants living in Denver, out
of a total of forty-eight residing in Colorado.253 254 255 256 On July 15,1909, the records of the
Japanese Association of Colorado (established in 1907) estimated that 526 Japanese
immigrants lived in Denver. This was broken down into 489 males, twenty-four
married women, and thirteen children. By 1910, Denvers Japanese American
population increased to 585 residents. A majority of this population was
composed of transient laborers, making it difficult for employees with the U.S.
Census to accurately record statistics for newer immigrant communities such as the
Japanese. For example, Denvers Japanese immigrant population increased by as
many as 1,500 in mid-August, as agricultural workers came to the city and stayed
until the end of September, marking the beginning of the harvest. With the end of
the beet harvest in December, more than 1,500 Japanese immigrants settled in
Denver looking for winter employment or waiting until the spring when more
253 Noel, Denvers Larimer Street: Main Street, Skid Row, and Urban Renaissance, (Denver, Colo.:
A Publication of Historic Denver, Inc., 1981), 23-24.
254 Ikuchi, Social Studies, 14.
255 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 307. No single women are listed.
256 Ikuchi, Social Studies, 14.
agricultural work was available. However, the U.S. Census does not account for
these influxes in Colorados Japanese population.
Enhanced by the Wests growing economy, Japanese immigrants seized any
opportunity to advance from industrial laborers to self-employment.257 258 Beginning in
1910, through the 1920s, Issei experienced a change in employment from wage
work as laborers and servants to owning their own small-scale, private businesses
and farms.259 260 Japanese immigrants on the West Coast worked primarily in small
business, in part, because they could not find work in higher-paying industrial
positions, and because employers and unions organized to exclude them from these
fields. In 1909, the U.S. Immigration Commission reported that fifteen percent of
Japanese immigrants owned or worked for a small business. By 1929, in Seattle,
seventy-six percent of Japanese immigrants owned businesses.261 Before World War
257 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 307.
258 Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture, 19.
239 Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture, 19; Spickard, Japanese Americans,
260 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 43.
261 Spickard, Japanese Americans, 42: Bonacich and Modell, The Economic Basis of Ethnic
Solidarity, 47. Bonacich and Modell also report that fifteen percent of Japanese immigrants owned or
worked for a small business and that in 1909 the U.S. Immigration Commission reported 3,000-3,500
Japanese operating businesses in the western states.
II, more than forty percent of Japanese Americans and Issei would be working on
their own business or farm.
According to scholars Edna Bonacich and John Modell, Issei on the West
Coast spearheaded an ethnic economy through the establishment of Japanese-owned
businesses, which supported the ethnic community. Multiple ethnic-specific
businesses sprang up in a core area of the city, often called Little Tokyos or
nihonmachis (urban centers with large concentrations of Japanese, also called
Japantown or J-town). In both Los Angeles and Seattle nihonmachis, a network of
Japanese-operated businesses emerged ranging from hotels and boardinghouses to
grocery stores and restaurants. It was also common for Japanese immigrants to
operate pool halls, tailor shops, barbershops, and other service establishments.
Japanese immigrants succeeded in owning or running their own businesses
as they required little capital to begin and did not entail major investments.262 263 264 In
addition, Japanese immigrant entrepreneurs worked long hours, employed family
members, therefore not generating any labor costs, and used proceeds from their
enterprise to expand their business instead of spending and consuming goods (i.e.,
262 Edna Bonacich and John Modell, The Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity: Small Business in the
Japanese American Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 39; Spickard,
Japanese Americans, 38.
263 Bonacich and Modell, The Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity, 38-39.
264 Bonacich and Modell, The Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity, 45-46.
buying a new house).265 The families who owned these businesses typically lived
with their families and employees in the back of the business or in the rooms above,
as did many immigrant business people.266 267 Through these businesses, they also
provided jobs for other Japanese immigrants, creating a low unemployment rate
within the community, further ensuring the solidarity and success of the ethnic
enterprises and community.
Japanese American community formation and ethnic enterprises in Denver
also paralleled that of major West Coast cities. In 1903, Denvers Japanese
immigrants established two restaurants, one bamboo furniture manufacturing store,
and one boarding house. By July 1909, a study conducted by the U.S. Immigration
Commission documented a total of sixty-seven Japanese-owned or operated
businesses in Denver employing 133 people.268 Catering to the needs of the
Japanese immigrant community, these businesses provided basic services ranging
from boarding houses to dry goods stores that provided supplies to laborers in
265 Bonacich and Modell, The Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity, 47.
266 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 308; Bonacich and Modell, The
Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity, 47.
267 Bonacich and Modell, The Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity, 54.
268 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 308; Watada, J. A Historical Account
of the Japanese, 2. According to Watada, by 1906, Weld County Japanese businesses included a
food market, a pool hall, a barbershop, a fish store, a tofu manufacturer and a restaurant. Based on
the Immigration Commissions report, in 1909, there were also five Japanese-owned businesses in
Pueblo, two in Colorado Springs, two in Eaton and one each in Greeley and Fort Collins. Please refer
to appendices for a chart describing these business types in more detail.
different parts of the state. Denvers Japanese American community even published
their own community-based newspapers, including the Denver Shimpo (1908) and
The Colorado Times, also called the Kakushu Jiji (1918).269 270 271 272 Founded by F.I.
Kaihara, the Times was published three times a week. This bilingual newspaper,
whose readership spanned Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Wyoming,
updated the community on local news, including Colorados rural agricultural
communities, as well as what was happening abroad. Another Denver newspaper,
the Rocky Mountain Jiho, served as a vital link to the community, and is still
published today. The majority of Japanese owned or operated businesses were
concentrated in two or three blocks of the older part of the business district in
While the majority of these businesses primarily served an Issei clientele,
they also provided services for other immigrant customers, although usually of the
lower economic class. For example, Japanese farm and railroad laborers
patronized most of the Japanese-owned boarding and lodging houses, with the
259 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 104.
270 Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 639.
271 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 308; Bonacich and Modell, The
Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity, 47.
272 Bonacich and Modell, The Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity, 38-39 &43. According to
Bonacich and Modell, once Japanese businesses became more established, they geared their services
to the general market, filling a specialized niche in the general economy.
exception of some white clientele of the lower economic class who stayed at three
of these lodging houses.273 Some of the first Japanese-run restaurants established in
Denver originally catered to both Japanese and other immigrants, serving American
fare at an affordable rate. However, in 1901 several protests from white restaurant
owners, frustrated with the competition, threatened to boycott white suppliers and
dealers who also supplied the Japanese-run restaurants with goods. The Cooks and
Waiters Union worked together with white-owned restaurants, both well-organized
at the time, and demanded the Japanese restaurant owners change their menu to
strictly Japanese cuisine.274 275 Instead of risking their livelihoods, Japanese restaurant
owners consented, advertising Japanese dishes or noodles only. In another case,
unions organized a boycott against two Japanese-owned restaurants, one owned by
George S. OHara and the other by Harry Hirano, for hiring Japanese employees
who worked for less than the union scale of wages. A federal court declared the
boycott illegal as the businesses could not afford to pay more.276 Because of such
incidents, Japanese immigrants established organizations such as the Japanese
Business Mens Association, the Japanese Restaurant Keepers Association, and the
273 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 308.
274 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 309.
275 U.S. Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Industries, 309.
276 Boycott Will be Declared Illegal: Federal Court Will Decide Japanese Case Against the Unions,
The Denver Times, 11 December 1901, n.p.
Japanese Boarding and Lodging House Keepers Association to counteract similar
problems in the future.
Japanese American Collectivism and
In addition to Issei owned and operated businesses, Colorados Japanese
American communities also included numerous farmers cooperatives, prefectural
associations, and Japanese associations. These organizations helped new immigrants
adjust to life in the U.S. and contributed to community solidarity and
interdependence. One of the first organizations Japanese immigrants formed were
kenjinkai (prefectural societies), based on their home prefecture in Japan. In Denver,
kenjinkai included the Fukushima kenjinkai and the Fukuoka kenjinkai, which
provided Japanese immigrants with social, recreational, and welfare services.277 278 279
Issei also established Japanese associations, which united the Japanese
American community, as they were not based on prefectural background or other
distinction. Japanese Associations provided a range of services. For example, they
maintained records and collected demographic statistics of Japanese immigrants.
They forged political ties to the Japanese government and encouraged
277 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 102.
278 Bonacich and Modell, The Economic Basis of Ethnic Solidarity, 56.
279 Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 102.
assimilation. The Japanese Association of Colorado was established in Denver in
1907 in response to organizations such as the Japanese and Korean Exclusion
League, in order to protect the interests of Japanese in Colorado.280 281
Colorados Japanese immigrants also established Japanese associations in
rural farming communities. The Brighton Japanese Association, established in 1914,
provided assistance and protection to Issei farmers, and regulated competition
between Issei farmers, to prevent conflict within the community.282 283 The association
also provided other resources to the Issei community and in 1924 they purchased the
old Brighton Pavilion, which they later renamed the Japanese Hall Building. The
association used this facility as a community center, language school, for cultural
entertainment, and as a Buddhist Church.
Japanese associations also worked to bridge Japanese communities with
local communities across the state. In 1906, the Japanese American community in
Fort Lupton established a Japanese association, which included membership from
Brighton, Fort Lupton, and Platteville.284 Headed by president and labor contractor,
280 Walz, Japanese Settlement in the Intermountain West, 1882-1946, 11.
281 U.S. Immigration Commission. Immigrants in Industries, 310.
282 Dorr, Looking Back, 42; Endo, Japanese of Colorado, 102; Walz, Japanese Settlement in the
Intermountain West, 10.
283 Dorr, Looking Back, 42.
284 Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, 645.