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, labor shortages were eased by bringing in contract workers from Asia, Europe and North America. By 1884, Hawai‘i Island counted more than thirty plantations, many of them in the Hilo area. Immigrants were arriving by the thousands, mostly from Asia. They fulfilled labor contracts and afterward stayed on.
There used to be a Japanese plantation workers camp associated with Wainaku Mill known as Nikai Camp – for most, it was referred to as the Japanese Village. It became an attraction. “A mile and a half from Hilo, above the Wainaku mill, there is to be found, in a green, fern-clad valley with a sparkling stream and a dashing waterfall, a complete Japanese village, with thatched roofs and bamboo walls for its houses.” However, tragedy struck the village … “During Monday afternoon, the 15th (January 15, 1895,) the Japanese camp at Wainaku was completely destroyed by fire.”