In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan, unlike China, responded to the challenges of the West by joining its ranks. When Emperor Mutsuhito, who reigned from 1868 to 1912, came to the throne, he inaugurated the Meiji era of political reform and technological modernization. The feudal system was eliminated and peasants were given land to farm. Also during Mutsuhito’s reign, Japan defeated China (1894-1895) and Russia (1904-1905) in two wars and became the major regional power of East Asia, moving rapidly toward colonialism and global domination. This historical context has led some historians to speculate that the emigration of the Japanese was part of Japan’s imperialist project, but a more likely interpretation is simply that Japanese peasants were so heavily taxed that many soon found life in Japan impossible. In either case, many Japanese made the Pacific crossing to the United States (see Milton Murayama’s Five Years on a Rock, 1994). Haru Matsukata Reischauer’s family saga, Samurai and Silk: A Japanese and American Heritage (1986), offers a century-long overview of the relationship between the United States and Japan.
The Japanese were first brought to Hawaii in 1869, but apart from these few immigrants and the several hundred students studying at American universities during the 1870’s, the Japanese did not leave for Hawaii and the United States mainland in large numbers until the exclusion of the Chinese in...
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