Tôyama Kyûzô is considered the father (or grandfather) of Okinawan immigration.
Born in 1868 the eldest son of a peasant family in Kin Village in northern Okinawa, Tôyama lost his father at the age of seven, and grew up in relatively impoverished conditions. As an adult, he worked for a time as the principal (主席教員) of the local elementary school and as a member of local Kin government (総代), overseeing the establishment of the elementary school, the expansion of lands under cultivation, and the abolition of certain old customs and practices.
He later resigned from these public positions in protest against the policies and politics of Okinawa prefectural Governor Narahara Shigeru, and lived in seclusion for a short time before, at the age of 31, traveling to Tokyo to study. While traveling, he is said to have obtained a book called Shokumin ron (Colonization Theory) which inspired him to think about various demographic and economic problems in Okinawa, and about the possibility that emigration could be a part of the solution.
In light of the severe economic problems in Okinawa ever since the overthrow of the Ryûkyû Kingdom, Tôyama petitioned the Japanese government to allow Okinawans to emigrate to Hawaii and to the Americas as contract laborers. This would allow people to seek a better life, and also to earn money they could send home to Okinawa as remittances to help their families and the prefecture's economy. Though initially blocked by Narahara's government, after considerable negotiations both with the government and with skeptical peasants, Tôyama won out.
Kyûzô and his younger brother Tôyama Matasuke, along with 30 others, departed Okinawa in December 1899 and arrived in Honolulu the following month, becoming the first Okinawans in Hawaii. Tôyama then accompanied the second group, which arrived in Hawaii in 1903. He settled at Honouliuli, near Ewa, and worked on the plantation himself, as well as surveying work conditions at other sites. He studied English and gave encouraging lectures to the Okinawan workers for about six months, before returning to Okinawa, where he once again joined local Kin government.
In 1909, Okinawa prefecture held its first elections for prefectural representatives to the Imperial Diet; Tôyama received more votes than any other candidate, but he died shortly afterward on Sept 17, 1910, in Yonabaru. A statue of him was erected in Kin in 1961; another statue of Toyama stands outside the Hawaii Okinawa Center in Waipahu, Hawaii.
- Mitsugu Sakihara, "Okinawans in Hawaii: An Overview of the Past 80 Years," in Uchinanchu, University of Hawaii (1981), 106.
- Gallery labels, Tôyama Kyûzô Memorial Hall, Kin Town.
- In the 1940s, Honouliuli would become the site of a Japanese internment camp.