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Japanese Americans - Perspectives on Trans-Pacific Relations, WWII Internment, Meaning of Loyalty, Motherhood & Childhood, and Labor at Seabrook

Background information on the incarceration of people of Japanese descent during the World War II.

Pacific Basin with Key Ports

Image from Pacific Worlds by Matt Matsuda 

Japan and United States: Early 20th Century

Japanese-American Relations at the Turn of the Century, 1900-1922. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the relationship between United States and Japan was hightened in political tension. Both nations had territorial and/or commercial interests in Asia, especially in China.

President Theodore Roosevelt mediated to end the Russo-Japanese War (entry from the Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Legislators called for a Japanese exclusion act to protect the United States from "the brown toilers of the Mikado's realm." See article "San Francisco Mayor Wants Exclusion Act to Bar the Japs" April 1, 1905. 

Between 1907 and 1908, the Japanese and American governments arrived at what became known as the Gentlemen's' Agreement. The series of agreements to ease tensions between the two nations included:

   United States:

  • To pressure San Francisco school board to withdraw measure to send Japanese and Chinese students to segregate schools.
  • Recognize open door policy in China and recognize Japanese control of Taiwan and Pescadores.
  • Grant admission to the wives, children and relatives of Japanese immigrants already settled in the United States. 


  • Restrict immigration of laborers to the United States.
  • Redirect immigrant to Manchuria and elsewhere. 

In 1913, the California legislature passed The Alien Land Law, which barred all aliens ineligible for citizenship, and therefore all Asian immigrants, from owning land in California, including land they purchased years before. 

The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act) limited the number of immigrants entering the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to 2% of the total number of people of each nationality represented in the 1890 national census. The immigrants from Asia were completely excluded. 

After the doors to the United States began to close, due to poor living conditions and lack of social mobility, many Japanese citizens remained allured to migrate overseas. They found a new destination in Brazil where they became laborers in coffee plantations. The site  Imigração Japonesa highlights the history of Japanese immigration in Brazil.  

       By 1930, half of the Japanese people in the United States were Nisei (second generation). 

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