Monday, September 16, 2019

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G. Japanese Immigration and Picture Brides

After the 1882 law restricting Chinese immigration was enacted, the national focus turned to the next largest group of Asian immigrants in the United States--the Japanese. Most Americans viewed Japanese and Chinese as interchangeable and categorized them together as Oriental. Resentment toward the Japanese, just like against the Chinese, grew as their numbers did.

The first immigrants from Japan arrived in San Francisco in May of 1869. Between 1869 and 1885, only about 600 Japanese immigrated to the United States. Because of their relatively small number, there was little open hostility directed at Japanese immigrants during this time.

However, the number of Japanese immigrants in the United States soon grew. Between 1885 and1890, after the Japanese government allowed laboring classes to emigrate, 2,270 Japanese immigrants came to the United States. By 1901, there were 12,000 Japanese immigrants living in the United States.

As with Chinese immigrants, at first Japanese men came alone. Between 1880 and 1890 only a small number of Japanese women came to the United States. However, within a few decades, many Japanese men began bringing wives with them. Japanese women continued to immigrate to the United States until the 1920s, when the Japanese government stopped their emigration. In 1900, there were 985 Japanese women in the United States. By 1910, the number of Japanese women increased to 9,087 and by 1920 there were 38,303 Japanese women in the United States.

Americans used the Japanese custom of importing picture brides to point out the differences between Japanese and dominant white culture. This custom also led to the mistaken belief that many of the women immigrating as picture brides were actually prostitutes. From 1910 to 1921, more than one-third of Japanese marriages were picture bride marriages, in which the prospective bride in Japan and groom in America exchanged photos before agreeing to marry. Picture brides grew out of traditionally family-arranged marriages prevalent in Japan, but the practice was adapted to the needs of the immigrant society. After the marriage was registered on the husband's family record in Japan, brides were given passports to join their husbands in the United States. In 1921, Japan stopped this practice because the United States government raised concerns over this method of immigration.

Just as with Chinese immigrants, growing opposition to Japanese immigration focused on the problem of Japanese prostitution in the United States, and the practice of picture brides further fueled anti-Japanese sentiment. The anti-Japanese movement viewed picture brides as an immoral custom in opposition to American Christian ideals. This mirrored the earlier rhetoric linking Chinese prostitution to corruption and slavery, and thus a threat to American values of monogamous marriage based on consent and ideals of democracy and freedom.

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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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