On May 3, 1899, Ben F Dillingham, Lorrin A Thurston, Alfred W Carter, Samuel M Damon and William H Shipman formed the Olaʻa Sugar Company and started what they believed would become Hawaii’s largest and most prosperous sugar plantation.
By that time (and in the years following,) numerous foreign immigrants came to the Islands to work on the sugar plantations, including Olaʻa.
There were three big waves of workforce immigration: Chinese 1852; Japanese 1885; and Filipinos 1905. Several smaller, but substantial, migrations also occurred: Portuguese 1877; Norwegians 1880; Germans 1881; Puerto Ricans 1900; Koreans 1902 and Spanish 1907.
With the respective language barriers created by the influx of foreigners, plantations assigned interpreters to open lines of communication with the workers.
One of those at Olaʻa was Juzaburo Sakamaki.
In 1869, Sakamaki was the youngest child born in Hirosaki-Shi, Aomori-Ken, Japan to Hisao Sakamaki and Fumi Takasaki. His father died when he was 4; to make ends meet, his mother had to run a private boardinghouse.
Inspired by a letter from a friend, at 15, without telling his mother, he stowed away on a ship bound for California to start a new life. After arriving in the US, Sakamaki went East to Pennsylvania, where he spent nine years studying and working.
Receiving word that his mother was ill, he decided to return home. By the time he reached Hawaiʻi, he learned that she was already dead, so he canceled his plans to go on to Japan.
At about this time, Olaʻa Sugar Company was established, and he was hired as the company’s only regular interpreter.
As interpreter, Sakamaki was the only pipeline between the company and the Japanese immigrants who made up the majority of the labor force at Olaʻa Plantation.
As assistant postmaster of the Olaʻa post office, Sakamaki was also involved in all the daily activities of the Japanese there. As the agent of the Consulate General of Japan in Honolulu he was also in charge of administering the immigrants’ family register items.
In this capacity, he not only dealt with registrations of births, deaths, marriages, adoptions and other family matters, he handled remittances that workers sent home.
Growing immigrant population, including those from Japan, started to concern some, in the Islands, as well as on the continent.
In part, this was referred to as the “Japanese Problem” (their numbers were growing, racial conflicts were developing and the military feared Japanese expansion.)
Likewise, there was discontent among the sugar workers. This came to a head in 1920.
Demanding increases in pay, in 1920, Japanese and Filipino sugar workers on Oʻahu struck the plantations – approximately 6,000-workers, over three quarters of the labor force, walked off the job (only Oʻahu workers walked off, they relied on the neighbor islands for support.)
Though the strike was on Oʻahu, its impact was felt at Olaʻa.
A small item in the June 4, 1920 Honolulu Star Bulletin noted, “The home of a Japanese eight miles from Olaa was blown up with giant powder last night.” The newspaper did not give the name of the victim, but it reported that the man was in a back bedroom at the time and was not killed, even though the front of the house was destroyed. (UC Press)
It turns out the attack was on Sakamaki’s home.
“It was about eleven o’clock pm that night of the third of June … I was awokened by sound and, of course, didn’t realize that it was an explosion; first thought it was water-tank fell or something; anyway, I was awokened by the sound, and my wife was in another room and she called me …”
“‘What was that sound? What was that noise?’ Then a little later my boy said he smelled powder; then I realized it was an explosion.”
The dynamite had been set under the floor between the parlor and the dining room on the mauka side; the side of the house had been blown off.
Sakamaki had sided with management during the labor disputes of 1920. The Territory of Hawai’i charged leaders of the Federation of Japanese Labor with conspiracy to assassinate Sakamaki in order to intimidate opponents of the strike and alleged, further, that the strike was part of a concerted effort to take over the Islands by Japan.
The trial for conspiracy in the first degree began on Wednesday, February 1, 1922, in the First Circuit Court in Honolulu. Of the twenty-one defendants charged in the indictment, fifteen appeared in court every day. Their names were called each morning at the start of each court session in this order: Goto, Miyazawa, Tsutsumi, Kawamata, Furusho, Hoshino, Takizawa, Baba, Tomota, Ishida, Koyama, Kondo, Sazo, Sato Fujitani and Murakami. (UC Press)
The indictment read: “On 27th of May 1920, (the accused) did maliciously or fraudulently combine, or mutually undertake or consort together to commit a felony, to wit, to unlawfully use and cause to be exploded dynamite or other explosive chemicals of substance for the purpose of inflicting bodily injury upon one J. Sakamaki.”
It took the jury less than five hours to reach a verdict on the fifteen defendants.
Judge Banks then sentenced all the defendants to “be imprisoned in Oʻahu prison at hard labor for the term of not less than four years nor more than ten years.” (UC Press)
By the early 1920s many Americans had begun to look at Japan and the Japanese with deep suspicion. Some suggest it was the catalyst for legislation restricting immigration into the US.
The subsequent Johnson Reed Immigration Quota Act ((Immigration Act of 1924) limiting the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890 (down from the 3% cap set by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921)) passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming majorities: in the House 308 to 58 and in the Senate 69 to 9.
(As an aside, Sakamaki Hall at the University of Hawaiʻi – Mānoa is named for Juzaburo’s son, Shunzo Sakamaki, a prominent administrator and Asian history professor at the University of Hawaii, from 1936 until his retirement in 1970.)
(A controversial aspect of Shunzo Sakamaki’s career concerns his work with the FBI beginning in 1940 aimed at identifying Japanese Americans in Hawaiʻi who should be considered dangerous in the event of war with Japan. While he believed that the vast majority of Japanese Americans in Hawaiʻi were loyal to the United States, he was on record as believing that Shinto priests in Hawaii should be interned.) (UH-Mānoa) (Lots of information here from a book by Masayo Umezawa Duus.)