City of Tokio

From SamuraiWiki
Jump to navigationJump to search

The City of Tokio was the first ship to carry Japanese contract laborers to Hawaii.

The ship was built in 1874 by Roach and Son of Chester, PA, and was owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Co., with which Robert Walker Irwin had previously been employed. Irwin was Hawaiian minister to Japan and special agent of the Hawaiian Bureau of Immigration, and had played a key role in the negotiations allowing Japanese immigration to take place. The ship was 408 feet long and 47 wide, weighing just over 5000 tons, and boasted a single screw, a top speed of 15 knots, compound engines, four masts, and two funnels.

Captained by John Maury, it arrived in Honolulu around 9 o'clock in the morning, on February 8, 1885, carrying 944 Japanese immigrants, having left Yokohama roughly two weeks earlier. They included 311 men, 67 women, and 42 children from Yamaguchi prefecture, and 140 men, 43 women, and 39 children from Hiroshima prefecture, and 99 people from Tokyo, with the remainder originating from Kanagawa, Okayama, and Wakayama prefectures.[1] These people came to be known as the ikkaisen ("first ship"), in contrast to the gannenmono who arrived in Hawaii in 1868, or to those who came in later years.

Also arriving in Hawaii aboard the ship were Irwin, his wife and daughter, and Nakamura Jirô, Japan's first consul to the Kingdom of Hawaii, accompanied by his wife, and Viscount Torii Tadafumi, who was to work at the consulate as well. Another of the ship's passengers, Nakayama Jôji, was to go on to become the inspector-in-chief of the Japanese section of the Hawaiian Bureau of Immigration.

The journey from Yokohama is said to have been relatively uneventful, and all 944 immigrants made it to Hawaii healthy, with a minimum of illnesses or problems during the voyage, with the exception of one woman who suffered a miscarriage during the trip, but arrived herself in good health. In addition, an infant was discovered on board after the ship departed Yokohama, who does not seem to have belonged to any of the adults on board. Upon arrival, the immigrants signed labor contracts with individual plantation companies, underwent medical examinations, and spent ten days in quarantine on Sand Island in Honolulu Harbor before being able to enter Honolulu proper.

The ship was wrecked in Tokyo Bay on June 24, later that same year.

This first group of Japanese immigrants were initially housed temporarily in a large barracks-like structure which they called sennin goya ("house for 1000 people"). Three days after their arrival, the group, led by Irwin and Nakamura, hosted a formal reception for King Kalakaua and a group of Hawaiian officials, including the US Minister and his wife. The reception featured Japanese food and drink (large tubs of saké brought over from Japan), and a number of demonstrations and competitions, including kendô and sumo. Some days later, the immigrants were shipped off to their various worksites, with many traveling to other islands (chiefly Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island of Hawaii; on Oahu and Lanai, there was only one plantation on each island which took Japanese at this time). The vast majority were put to work on sugar plantations on those islands, though ten went to work as servants or cooks in private households, and two were employed in the royal palaces.


  • Franklin Odo and Kazuko Sinoto, A Pictorial History of the Japanese in Hawaii 1885-1924, Bishop Museum (1985), 39.
  1. These statistics, as well as tables of the ages of the passengers, and the number who were couples, families, or single individuals, can be found in Odo and Sinoto, 39-40.