IMR: Extras: Scraps: The Japanese Language Press in Hawai`i
Dr. Tom Brislin, University of Hawai`i Department of Journalism
[ Brislin ]Personal notes from an informal presentation by Dr. Tom Brislin given on Thursday, Feb. 12, 1998, in Dr. Helen G. Chapin's Journalism 360 class. Accuracy cannot be guaranteed; consult official references for research purposes.


The ethnic press exists across the mainland and serves the purpose of keeping first-generation immigrants in touch with what's happening in the home country and also to help assimilate them into America. Often, however, by the third generation there's very little interest at all -- the assimilation is almost complete. Thus ethnic papers have a relatively short life span. An exception are Hispanic papers, because the language is being maintained. Others last about a generation.

The Japanese press in Hawai`i is the oldest foreign language press and Japanese press in America. It also has a history similar to that the African American press of the late 1800s early 1900s in that it was an activist press -- it didn't just exist for the purpose of assimilating its readers or nostalgia.

The Japanese School Wars of the 1920s

This played out in the press, both mainstream and ethnic. There was a split in the Japanese community -- assimilation vs. accommodation.

The Japanese press in Hawai`i had its beginnings in 1892. The first wave of Japanese field and mill laborers was brought in the 1880s on six-year contracts. The Meiji Restoration wanted to convert the country from agricultural to industrial, and that put a lot of farm workers out of work. So the emperor and the king of Hawai`i agreed to import workers, and at the end of the contracts, they had an option to return. Many decided not to return, because there was no agrarian base for them back in Japan; they liked the weather; the wages were higher; the living standard eventually became higher.

Later, the U.S. exclusion laws excluded all new Asian immigration to the U.S. (1920s). So at first settling here was voluntary, but later plantation owners worked to keep workers in Hawai`i.

First newspapers used complicated wooden type. The Shuhou evolved to The Nippu Jiji. By 1910, it was the leading Japanese newspaper in Hawai`i. One function was to keep readers up to date with language in the home country; even today, the Hawai`i Hochi has a section dedicated to language.

The editors of the Nippu Jiji -- "the Jim Dooleys and Walter Wrights of their age" -- found Japanese workers housing was substandard, wages were lower, etc. They did an investigative piece. They started the Higher Wage Association. They asked K. Makino -- a hapa son of a British merchant marine and Japanese mother who grew up bilingual in Japan -- to join. Makino was very articulate and a forceful speaker, and was the HWA's de facto spokesman.

The plantation owners and mainstream press considered the HWA (Makino, Soga, Negoro, Tasaka et. al.) a union, which was illegal. They were called strike leaders and thrown in jail. They were convicted of attempting to rob the sugar companies of their profits. Editorial cartoons characterized them as crybabies, people getting rich off the workers, etc.

In the end, though, the propaganda effort cost the so much there was a slowdown and some lost revenues. They decided if they gave the workers what they wanted, it would've been cheaper. They upgraded facilities and improved wages, and Makino and Soga were seen as heroes. The ordeal, however, led to a split between the two. Soga, acknowledging the importance of agriculture and its role in Japanese immigration, advocated assimilation. Makino -- "the scrapper" -- saw there were more battles to fight. He eventually started his own newspaper, The Hawai`i Hochi (1912).

The first edition carried a front-page editorial in English, making clear the intended readership was wider than the local Japanese. Battles won included citizenship for Japanese World War I veterans, visas for Japanese language teachers, etc.

But there was a concern among the government and plantations that while issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants) could not become U.S. citizens, the nisei (second generation) were citizens by virtue of their birth on American soil. "By the time these kids are adults, they'll be the majority of the population, and they'll be voting. We're never going to become a state if we're viewed as a Japanese island. We have to Americanize the Japanese."

One of the ways to do this would be to control the Japanese language schools. (Even thought these schools had baseball teams and other American sports.) They were not replacement for public school; they were a pre-school and post-school. It was a "culture and language opportunity."

There were fears, though, that because these kids were going to be the bulk of the population, that there would be another strike. That the Japanese would rule our industries. Even the editor of the liberal Star-Bulletin wrote a report on education and race problems in Hawai`i advocating the Americanization of Japanese students. Laws were passed restricting the number of hours kids could attend language schools, mandating that they couldn't attend until the 3rd grade, and limiting what could be taught to those with American themes; tests for teachers, etc.

Soga, on the textbook review committee, worried that if the community fought this, they'd lose more than they gain. The sword over their heads was a threat to take land ownership rights away from Japanese. He wrote "Weeping into Silence," a pivotal newspaper editorial. The general gist was, "We don't like it, it's humiliating, but we have to accept it or worse things might come along."

Makino approached the issue from the opposite direction. He said "If we're supposed to be Americanized, then we have the same rights under the Constitution as everyone else." The Japanese language and culture had to be accommodated. He got eight language school principles together and they filed a civil rights suit. Editorial cartoons in Makino's paper also often had a caricature of Soga as a man in collusion with the Territorial forces. Editorials and cartoons in the mainstream papers were condescending to Makino and the movement.

Meanwhile, Japanese language school textbook supplements with English definitions, mandated by law, were published. Chapters like, "Why I Love the Amerian Flag."

It was discovered that the Star-Bulletin (Farrington) and the Jiji had come together before the lawsuit. The Jiji had profited from the printing of the new textbooks, as did some Japanese language school teachers who'd been paid as consultants. They were expecting the territorial courts to side with them, while Makino expected the federal government to make a higher ruling. It did.

The Supreme Court said Japanese parents have the same right as any parent to determine the education of their children. A precedent for the nation -- some German language schools were closed after World War I. Makino then offered to make peace. The Advertiser said yes, the Star-Bulletin remained contentious.

Interestingly enough, when World War II came along, even though Makino challenged the system, it was Soga who was interned in a concentration camp. Both papers were allowed to continue printing under American names (Japan Times for the Jiji, Hawai`i Herald for the Hochi).

Just a year before Makino died (1877-1953), the U.S. Congress repealed the law banning citizenship for Japanese immigrants. Eventually, Japanese Americans did become the dominant political force in the islands.

The Hochi today has remained bilingual. For the sansei and yonsei (third and fourth generation), the Hochi also publishes Hawai`i Herald, which has remained very committed to the Makino legacy of being activist.

Post-Presentation Comments

The Hochi has had a remarkable lifespan. There has always been an issei generation of Japanese business people who come to Hawai`i and subscribe to the Hochi. Even though successive generations lose literacy, there is always a new first generation of readers.

What really saved the Hochi was the Macintosh. They introduced software that facilitated the use of Japanese characters. Instead of relying on the Kyoto News Service, they could use AP copy and translate it back to kanji. The Hochi also has the most efficient and best-looking offset press system in the state, kept alive in part because it also prints the Fil-Am Courier, the Catholic newspaper, the Vietnamese newspaper. It is the 'job printing' center for Hawai`i. It's also now owned by a regional newspaper in Japan.

Question: Was Makino Anti-Semetic?

In Japan in general, it's considered a benign Anti-Semitism. There's only about 1,000 Jews in Japan. There was a heavy subscription to the Zionist conspiracy theories -- that there's an international Zionist cartel that controls the world's economy. It began in the Sino-Soviet War (1905) before World War I, because a Jewish banker underwrote the building of the Japanese navy. I would imagine that Makino came out of that same tradition. Yet, among the Ainu, there's an identification with Jews as the underdogs, the victims of history. As for any specific anti-Semitism on Makino's part... I don't know if it was a personally felt one or just a reflection of his generation. Recently, a Japanese magazine was shut down after it ran a piece questioning the Holocost. The Weisenzahl Center in San Francisco wrote to advertisers and urged them to pull their ads. It was the first time a Japanese publisher had ever faced an advertising boycott.

"He is the world's authority on the subject."
-- Dr. Helen G. Chapin

"Dr. Chapin and I are charter members of a mutual admiration society, so things may get a little sticky or gooey as the afternoon goes on. For a lot of my original research in Hawai`i journalism, I literally robbed, gutted the work of Dr. Chapin."
-- Dr. Tom Brislin


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 12 February 1998 · Last Modified: 12 April 1998