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The Japanese in Hawaii (simply Japanese or “Local Japanese”, rarely Kepanī) are the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii. At their height in 1920, they constituted 43% of Hawaii's population. They now number about 16.7% of the islands' population, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The U.S. Census separately categorizes mixed-race individuals, so the proportion of people with some Japanese ancestry is likely much larger.
The first known arrival of Japanese to Hawaii came on May 5, 1806, involving survivors of the ill-fated ship Inawaka-maru who had been adrift aboard their disabled ship for more than seventy days.
The Inawaka-maru, a small cargo ship built in 1798 in Osaka, was owned by Mansuke Motoya. The Inawaka-maru started its final voyage from Hiroshima to Edo (modern Tokyo) on November 7, 1805. The ship had been chartered by the Kikkawa clan to deliver mats, horse feed, and two passengers, Kikkawa officials. Her crew consisted of Captain Niinaya Ginzo, Master Ichiko Sadagoro, Sailors Hirahara Zenmatsu, Akazaki Matsujiro, Yumori Kasoji, and Wasazo, a total of eight aboard. The Inawaka-maru had to turn back, and restarted her journey on November 27. She arrived in Edo on December 21, started back to her home port stopping in Kanagawa, Uraga, and Shimoda, and left on her final leg - from Shimoda across the Enshunada Sea - on January 6, 1806. . The Inawaka-maru was caught by a snowstorm that turned to rain and winds battered the ship eastward into the Pacific Ocean. On January 7 the crew cut down the mast because of the strong winds. On January 11 two rocky islands were sighted but no attempt was made toward them. These would be the last land before the Hawaiian Islands. On January 20 the water stores were empty, but the men collected rain water to survive. On February 28 the rice provisions ran out. On March 15 a flying fish landed in the ship and the men fished to sustain themselves. On March 20 the Tabour, an American ship Captained by Cornelius Sole, rescued the men of the Inawaka-maru. He found them begging for food by gesturing to their stomachs, mouths and bowing, found the galley empty, and understood their ordeal. He had the possessions of the survivors brought aboard his ship and salvaged parts and items aboard Inawaka-maru. Captain Sole had the survivors fed, over a span of five days, small portions to a progression to three normal meals a day, the remedy for starvation. On May 5, 1806 the Tabour docked in Oahu, Hawaii. Captain Sole left the eight Japanese in the care of King Kamehameha I. Captain Sole also left the anchor of the Inawaka-maru, 40 axes, and other items as payment for the Kingdom’s hospitality.
The King delegated the responsibility for the Japanese to Kalanimoku who had 50 men construct a house on May 6 for the Japanese. It took four days to build and a cook and two guards assigned to the house, which attracted crowds to these men of a different ethnicity. On August 17 the Japanese left Hawaii aboard the Perseverance to Macau on October 17. From there they took a Chinese ship to Jakarta on December 25. In Jakarta they fell ill and five died there or on the voyage to Nagasaki where they arrived on June 17, 1807 where another died. At the time of the Sakoku it was illegal to leave Japan and the remaining two survivors were jailed and interrogated. One committed suicide and the remaining survivor Hirahara Zenmatsu eventually made it home November 29, 1807 but was summoned by Asano Narikata, The Daimyō of Hiroshima, to recount his odyssey of an experience titled Iban Hyoryu Kikokuroku Zenmatsu. Hirahara Zenmatsu died six months later.
Between 1869 and 1885 Japan barred emigration to Hawaii in fear that Japanese laborers would be degrading to the reputation of the Japanese race, as had occurred with the Chinese according to the point of view of the Japanese government. In 1881 King David Kalākaua visited Japan to strengthen relations between the two nations. Kalākaua offered not to request extraterritoriality of Japan, an act that departed from the norm of western nations. On March 10 Kalakaua met Meiji to propose a marriage between Princess Victoria Kaiulani and Prince Higashifushimi Yorihito. A few days later the proposal was denied, but the ban on immigration was eventually lifted in 1885. The first 153 Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii on February 8, 1885 as contract laborers for the sugarcane and pineapple plantations.
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The political environment shifted with the onset of a new era known as the Hawaiian Revolutions. In 1887 the settlers ended absolute rule by the king by forcing him to accept the Bayonet Constitution and agreeing to constitutional government with a powerful parliament. The new constitution gave voting rights only for Hawaiians, Americans, and Europeans, and thus denied rights for Japanese and other Asians. The Japanese commissioner worked to pressure the Kingdom to restore the rights of Japanese by amending the constitution. In 1893 the Hawaiian Monarchy was overthrown, Tokyo responded by appointing Captain Tōgō Heihachirō to command the Japanese naval activities in Hawaii. The HIJMS Naniwa was sent immediately to Hawaii to rendezvous with the HIJMS Kongō which had been on a training mission.
Captain Tōgō had previously been a guest of Kalākaua, and returned to Hawaii to denounce the overthrow of Queen Lydia Liliʻuokalani, sister and successor to the late king and conduct “gunboat diplomacy”. Tōgō refused to salute the Provisional Government by not flying the flag of the Republic. He refused to recognize the new regime, encouraged the British ship HMS Garnet to do the same and protested the overthrow. The Japanese commissioner eventually stopped Tōgō from continuing his protest, believing it would undo his work at restoring rights to Japanese. Katō Kanji wrote in hindsight that he had regretted they had not protested harder and should have recruited the British in the protest.
The continued presence of the Japanese Navy and Japan’s opposition to the overthrow led to a concern that Japan might use military force to restore Liliʻuokalani to her throne as a Japanese puppet. Anti-Japanese sentiment heightened.
After April 30, 1900, all children born in Hawaii were American citizens at birth. (8 U.S.C. § 1405) Most of the Japanese children had dual citizenship after their parents registered them. The Japanese settlers set up the first Japanese schools in the United States. By 1920, 98% of all Japanese children in Hawaii attended Japanese schools. Statistics for 1934 showed 183 schools taught a total of 41,192 students. Today, Japanese schools in Hawaii operate as supplementary education (usually on Friday nights or Saturday mornings) which is on top of the compulsory education required by the state.
Today, where Nikkei are about one-fifth of the whole population, Japanese is a major language, spoken and studied by many of the state's residents across ethnicities. It is taught in private Japanese-language schools as early as the second grade. As a courtesy to the large number of Japanese tourists (from Japan), Japanese subtexts are provided on place signs, public transportation, and civic facilities. The Hawaii media market has a few locally produced Japanese-language newspapers and magazines; however, these are on the verge of dying out, due to a lack of interest on the part of the local (Hawaii-born) Japanese population. Stores that cater to the tourist industry often have Japanese-speaking personnel. To show their allegiance to the U.S., many Nisei and Sansei intentionally avoided learning Japanese.
The Hawaii Japanese School - Rainbow Gakuen (ハワイレインボー学園 Hawai Reinbō Gakuen), a supplementary weekend Japanese school, holds its classes in Kaimuki Middle School in Honolulu and has its offices in another building in Honolulu.
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