Hawaii Nikkei Legacy Exhibit

Initial Contract Worker Immigration

The first small group of Japanese came to Hawaii in 1868. They were primarily city-bred people from Yokohama City, unaccustomed to eld labor under a tropical sun. Many did not fare well and the venture was unsuccessful.

Beginning in 1885, with both the Kingdom of Hawaii and Meiji government approvals, the sugar plantation owners recruited workers primarily from rural areas such as Fukushima, Niigata, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Okinawa, resulting in the large migration of Japanese to work on the plantations.

These workers, mostly single farmers from poor families, came to Hawaii with expectations of a wonderful new life, hoping to make money and return to Japan as wealthy men.

But plantation life was difficult and the pay was low. Workers were under contract to the plantation owners and could not save as much money as they had thought.

Japanese contract workers disembarking off shuttle boats in Honolulu Harbor (1893).

Contract workers in Honolulu prepare for voyage to Hawaii Island (ca. 1899).

Japanese workers, Kilauea Sugar Plantation, Kauai (ca. 1912).

Sugar plantation in Aiea, Oahu. Pearl Harbor in background (ca. 1912).

Nisei Veterans Legacy