Convention of Japanese Immigration

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The Convention of Japanese Immigration, also known as the Convention of 1886, established certain procedures and protections for Japanese immigration to Hawaii.

The convention came about as part of a lengthy series of negotiations between the governments of Japan and Hawaii seeking to organize formal procedures for allowing Japanese to travel to Hawaii as contract laborers. It was signed on Jan 28, 1886, and was made retroactive, to include Japanese who arrived in Hawaii the previous year. The agreement arranged for Yokohama and Honolulu to be the only official points of departure and arrival for these contract laborers, and for the governor (kenrei) of Kanagawa prefecture, and Robert Walker Irwin as Special Agent of the Hawaiian Bureau of Immigration, to act as the chief representatives of their respective governments in managing the relevant matters. Labor contracts were to be approved by the governor of Kanagawa, and steerage passage to Hawaii was to be provided (free of charge to the emigrants). The Hawaiian government was to provide a sufficient number of inspectors, interpreters, and Japanese doctors to work with the laborers in Hawaii. The two sides also agreed, outside of the points stipulated in the Convention, that Hawaii would provide sufficient hospitals and burial grounds, and that 30% of immigrants would be women.

The Convention also provided for Japanese living in Hawaii to be able to naturalize as Hawaiian citizens, and to earn the right to vote. These rights, however, were nullified by the 1887 Bayonet Constitution forced upon the Hawaiian monarchy by a small group of white businessmen, severely weakening the monarchy and abrogating political power and freedoms for non-whites in the islands.

The Convention was revised in 1887, and later revised again, to require laborers to pay significant portions of their meager incomes to the Hawaiian government, to help cover the costs of their transportation, medical treatment, etc.

Notes and References

  • Franklin Odo and Kazuko Sinoto, A Pictorial History of the Japanese in Hawaii 1885-1924, Bishop Museum (1985), 22-23.
  • The text of the Convention can be found in Odo and Sinoto, 24-25.