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Issei Pioneers - Hawaii and the Mainland 1885-1924 - Part 23

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One of the most respected Issei leaders on the Mainland was Kyutaro Abiko who believed that a solution to the anti-Japanese movement was permanent settlement.  As published of the Nichibei Shimbun, which had the largest circulation in the continental U.S., he influenced many with his ideas about race relations in America. Blaming the sojourning mentality for the many shortcomings in the immigrant society, he exhorted his countrymen to sink roots in America and make a commitment to the soil.  An early advocate of the picture bride marriage, he urged Issei men to call for their wives.  He knew that the start of family life would encourage permanent settlement and eliminate gambling and other undesirable elements of the transient lifestyle.1

Portrait of Kyutaro Abiko (Gift of Yasuo William Abiko Family, Japanese American National Museum [92.127.7])

In order to encourage permanent settlement, Kyutaro Abiko bought a total of 3,173 acres near Livingston in the San Joaquin Valley, which he subdivided into 40-acre parcels and sold to his countrymen in 1906.  The settlement was called the Yamato Colony.2

In 1918, the Yamato Colony expanded east to the neighboring district of Cressey.  The following year, Abiko established the Cortez Colony, located north-west of Merced River and five miles north of Turlock.  Abiko’s dream of helping the Japanese become permanent settlers had taken root.  The early settlers of Cressey, Yamato and Cortez Colonies had demonstrated “a spirit of independence and self-reliance” that Abiko had advocated as a necessary building-block for a solid foundation in America.


Two of the most outstanding leaders who helped to shape the course of history in Hawaii were Kinzaburo Makino and Reverend Takie Okumura.  In the turbulent 1920s and 1930s, these two men advocated sometimes conflicting viewpoints on how the Issei should adapt to circumstances in their new environment.

Takie Okumura, the eldest son in a samurai family, was a Christian minister whose influence reached far beyond the religious sphere. Arriving in Hawaii in 1894, he soon made up his mind to make Hawaii his permanent home and spread the gospel first among the Issei and later to their Nisei children.  His efforts led to the founding of the Makiki Christing Church in 1904.  Okumura believed that the anti-Japanese sentiment of the haoles was created by the behavior of the Japanese themselves.  He gave the highest priority to adopting American ways and avoiding unpopular actions such as strikes and plantation desertion.  During the 1909 Japanese Strike, he urged the rebellious plantation workers to return to work.  While addressing Japanese plantation workers during the 1920s, he told them “above everything else remember that YOU ARE GUESTS OF THIS LAND.”3  He advocated accommodation and cooperation to his fellow Issei.

On the other hand, Kinzaburo Makino, the son of an English businessman and a Japanese mother, believed that if one expected to be treated like an American, one had to act like one.  Raised in Japan where he took his mother’s maiden name, Makino’s fluency in both Japanese and English was an invaluable asset to the Issei community.

As one of the main leaders of the Japanese Strike in 1909, Makino advocated the need for united action to end wage discrimination.  During the 1920 strike, his criticism of the leadership if the Japanese Federation of Labor and their mishandling of funds brought his newspaper the Hawaii Hochi, to the brink of bankruptcy.

In the great debate on the language school issue, Okumura and Makino clashed again.  After World War I, “One language Under One Flag” became the rallying cry as all foreign language schools had come under attack, particularly those in the German and Japanese communities.  In 1918, twenty-one state legislatures had introduced bills to control foreign language schools.  In Hawaii, the Territorial State Legislature had passed the Clark Bill which imposed restrictive measures on the Japanese language schools, eliminating some classes and assessing a fee of $1.00 a year per student.  Japanese leaders in Hawaii were divided on how to respond to the restrictions.

“It is foolhardy to resort blindly to litigation,” warned Okumura, who felt that the legal suit “would injure the feeling between Americans and Japanese in Hawaii.”  But Makino, outraged by the new restrictions, urged Issei to seek recourse through the American courts, arguing that the United States Constitution protected the right of ethnic minorities to maintain foreign language schools.  Makino stood firm to his beliefs, taking the battle all the way to the Supreme Court.  The bitter six year fight ended in a favorable decision on February 21, 1927.

When Makino received a radiogram announcing the victory he bounded up the stairs to the press room, waving the radiogram in his hand and shouting, “We won, we won.”  At an assembly on the school campus of the Hawaii Chuo Gakuin, Makino told a crown of over 5,000:  “Individuals and organizations alike must never forget to stand up for their rights and freedom.”4  The Supreme Court had unanimously decided that “The teaching of foreign language to children is the right and privilege of parents.  To control such through laws is violative of the Constitution in that restricts such rights and privileges....”

Kinzaburo Makino on a trip to see his mother in Japan. (left to right): Moriye Okamura, Kinzaburo Makino, Michiye Makino, Kikuye Okamura, 1911. (Gift of Asae Okamura, Japanese American National Museum [97.297.1])

Part 24 >>

1. See Series by Seizo Oka, “Biography of Kyutaro Abiko; Issei Pioneer with a Dream,” Hokubei Mainichi, September 3, 4, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 23, 24, 25, October 2, 8, 10, 18, 22, 24, 29, November 1, 1980.
2. For further information on Yamato Colony, refer to Kesa Noda, Yamato Colony: 1906-1960 (Livingston-Merced, 1981).
3. Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau with Eve Pell, To Serve The Devil; Volume 2: Colonials and Sojourners, p. 213.
4. In Roland Kotani, The Japanese in Hawaii: A Century of Struggle, p. 54.

Issei Pioneers: Hawai‘i and the Mainland, 1885-1924 is the catalogue accompanying the National Museum’s inaugural exhibition. Using artifacts from the National Museum’s collection to tell the story of the courageous “Issei Pioneers,” the catalogue focuses on the early immigration and settlement years. To order the catalogue >>

© 1992 Japanese American National Museum

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