Meiji Era of Japanese History
In 1868, political power in Japan underwent a significant shift. For centuries before that, control over Japanese affairs rested in the hands of a central military leader known as a shogun who in turn controlled a feudal-style samurai class of local warrior rulers. The revolution that began in the 1860s became known as the Meiji Restoration because it restored power that emperors had lost to shoguns centuries before. Emperor Meiji, who ruled until his death in 1912, undertook direct imperial rule that allowed him to institute trends toward industrialization and Westernization that had been resisted by previous military regimes. The Meiji Era became the era of modernization.
Such reforms affected the lives of young people dramatically. Some young men of the samurai class supported the Meiji Restoration because they saw a new approach to industry, education, and world affairs as crucial for the nation’s survival, even though such reforms ended prior samurai class privileges. Meiji Era efforts to industrialize Japan did, in fact, make the nation a much stronger player in world affairs. For young Japanese women of this era, like Hana Omiya, Meiji reforms meant the introduction of Western-style approaches to female education. These efforts did not, however, encourage the individualistic development of women. Rather, this ‘‘modern’’ approach to education stressed the idea that well-educated, professionally trained women would create stronger families and better-educated children, thus benefiting modern Japan as a whole.
Asian American Immigration History
Immigrants to the United States from Asia played a crucial role in developing the agricultural and industrial economies of the western United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Pioneers from places such as China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and India worked as sugar harvesters in Hawaii, miners in California, railroad builders in Utah, and as farmers and farm laborers throughout the region. These laborers worked hard to take advantage of the same American dream that attracted immigrants from Europe to the United States. But immigrants from Asia, a group historian Ronald Takaki has collectively referred to as ‘‘strangers from a different shore,’’ did not always find the United States to be a welcoming home.
States passed laws restricting the rights of these immigrants, barring them from testifying in court and owning land. Even though such a trade was unheard of in China, many Chinese immigrants started laundries to earn a living, simply because these establishments offered a way to have a business that did not require land or much inventory. Asian American workers were paid less than their European American counterparts for equal work, and were then blamed, during hard times, for being willing to work for less money. In 1882, after a period of economic uncertainty, the U.S. government passed a law that specifically barred Chinese laborers from entering the country.
When the U.S. government began to consider limiting the immigration of Japanese immigrants, the Japanese government secured a policy that would allow women to continue to come to the United States, as family members. This agreement—known as the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907—offered one way of responding to the loneliness and prejudice faced by Japanese-born men living in America. It also gave rise to the picture bride system by which women came tothe United States from Japan without everseeing the men whom they had promised to marry. According to Ronald Takaki’s Strangers From a Different Shore , in 1905, women made up only 7 percent of the Japanese American population on the U.S. mainland. By 1920, that number had risen to 34.5 percent. Though arranged marriages were common in Japan, Americans found the practice objectionable and pressured Japan to stop allowing such emigration in a 1921 diplomatic arrangement known as the ‘‘Ladies’ Agreement.’’
American immigration policy for Asians became increasingly restrictive in the 1920s. In 1922, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for citizenship made by a Japanese-born man, Takao Ozawa, on the grounds that only ‘‘whites’’ could be U.S. citizens. Two years later, the Immigration Act of 1924 ordered that the only people who were allowed to immigrate to the United States were ones who could eventually become eligible for citizenship. Because they were not white, and thus could not become citizens, the Act essentially prevented all Asians from coming to the United States. Those already living in the United States could only hope that their children would be born in the country and become citizens that way.
The hostilities they faced did not fade easily and even worsened in the coming decades. Mistreatment of Japanese and Japanese Americans reached its zenith during World War II, when the U.S. government forced Japanese Americans living on the West Coast to evacuate their homes and live in remote internment camps (despite the fact that the United States proclaimed it was fighting a war for freedom. Though the internment ended in 1945, it was not until the 1960s that the U.S. government developed immigration policies that allowed Asians to come to the country in greater numbers.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Yoshiko Uchida, Published by Gale Group, 2010