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Japanese Immigration to the United States


August 30, 2011 by Valerie Elkins

Why did a Japanese person leave Japan for the US? Usually the Japanese male was a younger son and not the family heir. Immigrants from Japan began coming to the US in the 1880s. There was a demand for workers for mining, railroad and farm labor, but many found jobs as cooks, waiters, hotel staff and other type jobs in cities. The young Japanese males came to the Western United States not only seeking a job, but opportunity. While Japanese generally moved to the west coast, some did find job opportunities in the Midwest as well. It is a myth that these were the very poor. To immigrate cost money and many were well educated.

Due to the US public’s fear of loss of jobs and the increasing numbers of Japanese immigrants, state laws were passed to prohibit the Japanese immigrants from purchasing land. The 1908 Gentlemen’s Agreement prohibited the migration of male laborers to the US, but allowed wives and children of those immigrants already here to immigrate.


Loopholes in the Agreement prompted unmarried Japanese in the US to seek mail order brides from Japan and thousands of these brides arrived between 1908 and 1924. The National Origins Act effectively closed all immigration from Japan to the United States.

When searching for your ancestors a good place to start is to search  passenger lists. Sometimes the male immigrant would return to Japan and marry a “hometown” girl arranged by his and her families and then he would return with her to America. Sometimes they were married by proxy and she went alone or she came unmarried to America and then was married on her arrival. It is important to search for both her married name and under her maiden name. Many times you can find the couple years later, returning to Japan with their children for a family visit. The visit may have been brought about by the death of a parent. All of things things can give you clues in your research.


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