Tôyama Kyûzô is considered the father (or grandfather) of Okinawan immigration.
Born into 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 of the local elementary school, but later resigned in protest against the policies and politics of Okinawa prefectural Governor Narahara Shigeru. He then joined the Freedom and People's Rights Movement (Jiyû minken undô) pioneered by Jahana Noboru.
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.
- Mitsugu Sakihara, "Okinawans in Hawaii: An Overview of the Past 80 Years," in Uchinanchu, University of Hawaii (1981), 106.
- In the 1940s, Honouliuli would become the site of a Japanese internment camp.