The immigration of Japanese laborers to the United States was repeatedly the source of dispute in the relationship between these two states. Anti-Japanese sentiments began to spread throughout the West Coast soon after the arrival of the first settlers and were rapidly growing stronger at the end of the 19th century. In consequence, California government reacted by a series of restrictive laws aimed against immigration and the rights of Japanese Americans which was completed by Franklin D. Roosevelt´s Executive Order 9066 in 1942. This order then triggered the relocation of over 100,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast into relocation centers and later into internment camps. Controversial nature of the issue attracted attention of many scholars who examined the internment from various angles and in their works then questioned its legitimacy, listed the reasons that led people to either agree or disagree with the decision or described its impact on the Japanese American community. Consequently, the whole history of Japanese immigration to the United States gained more attention as well.
Works focused on the Japanese American experience rarely fail to reflect on the racism prevalent on the West Coast in the prewar era which influenced lives of the immigrants so heavily. For instance, Roger Daniels in his book The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California, and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion claims that “nowhere north of the Mason-Dixon line did any single group encounter the sustained nativist assault that was directed against California´s Japanese” (106). Similarly, Greg Robinson in his monograph By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans notes that president Roosevelt himself in the prewar years seemed to expect only the worst from Japanese Americans while paying much less attention to other potentially dangerous minorities. Although Americans of German or Italian ancestry could have been considered fifth columnists just as Japanese immigrants were, the way these communities were treated was quite different (59). Apparently, it is held that racism was the main force behind the anti-Japanese propaganda and legislature on the West Coast.
While such observations are absolutely correct, they can at the same time lead to a distorted view of the attitude toward Japanese Americans before the war such as the one expressed in Technology and the Logic of American Racism: A Cultural History of the Body as Evidence. Its author Sarah Chinn claims that the internment was “simply
an intensification of anti-Japanese racism that plagued Japanese American communities throughout the west coast” (132) but the reality was in fact much more complicated.
In fact, examining the relocation decision and anti-Japanese sentiments that led to it exclusively in terms of racial prejudice is simply incorrect. While it is true that racism played an essential part in the formation of anti-immigration and pro-exclusion movements, it was not always their main motivation. This position was on many occasions reserved for jealousy stemming from economic successes of the immigrants and subsequent anxiety over the impact that they could have on the living standard of white laborers. Furthermore, the fact that Japanese Americans maintained close ties with Japan through customs and contacts with relatives left behind in the mother country helped little in the fight against prejudice.
As previous research has shown, the Japanese government was quite concerned about the treatment of its subjects abroad and its engagement in ensuring their safety and rights brought it at the brink of war with the United States several times in the 19th and 20th century. Consequently, the ties of Japanese Americans with Japan and their relatives there seemed suspicious to the white American population, especially in the last decade before the World War II when Japan was by many considered a threat. Although the literature focused on the Japanese American experience correctly associates anti-Japanese sentiments in the United States with racial prejudice and economic successes of the immigrants, it tends to overlook the influence of the way Japan and its expansion were perceived and the links between these perceptions and the attitude toward Japanese American community.
The aim of this thesis is to fill the gap by examining the history of Japanese immigration to the United States in the context of the relationship with Japan. The first chapter of the thesis therefore describes the development of the relationship from its beginning in the 19th century until the ultimate clash of the two parties in the 1940s with a focus on the immigration and conflicts that it triggered. The second chapter then studies the experience of immigrants in their new home with a focus on the hostile environment they found themselves in. It argues that anti-Japanese sentiments on the West Coast drew strength mainly from economic successes of the immigrants and subsequent fear of strong competition in the work market. As Japan gradually transformed into an expansive empire threatening American interests in Asia and the Pacific, anxiety caused by the growing number of Japanese residing on the West Coast grew stronger. Selected literary works are then also examined because they also influenced the public opinion in the respective period. At the same time, the chapter argues that racism, rather than being the source that the anti-immigration propaganda grew from, was a useful tool that enabled its promoters to gain support for their cause.