Ichi, Ni, San, Shi, Go, Roku, Shichi, Hachi, Kyu, Jyu
That’s counting in Japanese, from 1 to 10.
A shortage of laborers to work in the growing (in size and number) sugar plantations became a challenge. The only answer was imported labor.
Starting in the 1850s, when the Hawaiian Legislature passed “An Act for the Governance of Masters and Servants,” a section of which provided the legal basis for contract-labor system, labor shortages were eased by bringing in contract workers from Asia, Europe and North America.
The first to arrive were the Chinese (1852.) The sugar industry grew, so did the Chinese population in Hawaiʻi. Concerned that the Chinese were taking too strong a representation in the labor market, the government passed laws reducing Chinese immigration. Further government regulations, introduced 1886-1892, virtually ended Chinese contract labor immigration.
In 1868, an American businessman, Eugene M Van Reed, sent a group of approximately 150-Japanese to Hawaiʻi to work on sugar plantations and another 40 to Guam. This unauthorized recruitment and shipment of laborers, known as the gannenmono (“first year men”,) marked the beginning of Japanese labor migration overseas. (JANM)
However, for the next two decades the Meiji government prohibited the departure of “immigrants” due to the slave-like treatment that the first Japanese migrants received in Hawaiʻi and Guam. (JANM)
In March 1881, King Kalākaua visited Japan during which he discussed with Emperor Meiji Hawaiʻi’s desire to encourage Japanese nationals to settle in Hawaiʻi.
Kalākaua’s meeting with Emperor Meiji improved the relationship of the Hawaiian Kingdom with the Japanese government and an economic depression in Japan served as motivation for agricultural workers to move from their homeland. (Nordyke/Matsumoto)
The first 943-government-sponsored, Kanyaku Imin, Japanese immigrants to Hawaiʻi arrived in Honolulu aboard the Pacific Mail Steamship Company City of Tokio on February 8, 1885. Subsequent government approval was given for a second set of 930-immigrants who arrived in Hawaii on June 17, 1885.
With the Japanese government satisfied with treatment of the immigrants, a formal immigration treaty was concluded between Hawaiʻi and Japan on January 28, 1886. The treaty stipulated that the Hawaiʻi government would be held responsible for employers’ treatment of Japanese immigrants.
OK, why the initially counting lesson?
As suggested by the title, the respective generations of Japanese in the Islands and elsewhere are identified by the simple numbering pattern. Literally speaking, the Japanese terms Issei, Nisei, Sansei, etc mean first, second and third generation.
The Issei (first generation) were born in Japan and emigrated here from 1885 to 1924 (when Congress stopped all legal migration.) (The Immigration Act of 1924 (aka Johnson-Reed Act) limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia. (State Department))
Like the other ethnic immigrant groups, the Issei worked on sugar and pineapple plantations. The term Issei came into common use and represented the idea of a new beginning and belonging.
The children of the Issei were the Nisei, the second generation in Hawaiʻi and the first generation of Japanese descent to be born and receive their entire education in America, learning Western values and holding US citizenship.
However, to some degree, preservation of their mother language and culture was reinforced by attending Japanese language schools and by being members of the audience at Japanese cultural plays.
The Nisei hold a significant legacy in Hawaiʻi – this is the generation through the World War II years that included internment for some and service in the US military for many.
In all, between 1,200 and 1,400-local Japanese were interned in Hawaiʻi, along with about 1,000-family members. The number of Japanese in Hawai‘i who were detained was small relative to the total Japanese population here, less than 1%.
By contrast, Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorized the mass exclusion and detention of all Japanese Americans living in the West Coast states, resulting in the eventual incarceration of 120,000-people.
The Nisei made up the storied 442nd Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion (which later became the 1st Battalion of the 442nd,) composed entirely of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
Having been born in the Islands, all of the men were citizens of the US; however, very few had ever been to Japan and most of them could not speak Japanese. The “Go For Broke” soldiers of the 442nd are the most decorated infantry regiment in the US Army.
Another term used to describe some of the generations that followed the Issei were the Kibei (return to America) – those who were American born, but who were educated in Japan and returned home to America.
Subsequent generations follow the simple counting patter; the Sansei were children born to the Nisei (the third generation;) Yonsei, the fourth generation – born to at least one Sansei parent and Gosei, the fifth generation – the generation of people born to at least one Yonsei parent, etc.
The Japanese did not just emigrate to Hawaiʻi and the US. Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan (they first started emigrating there in 1908 to work on the coffee plantations.) There were between 1.5-million people of Japanese descent in Brazil; 1.3-million in all of the US, with a little over 185,000 in Hawaiʻi.