Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 39/The Settlement of the Japanese in Oregon

Oregon Historical Quarterly, Volume 39
The Settlement of the Japanese in Oregon by Marjorie R. Stearns

Source: Oregon Historical Quarterly , Sep., 1938, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 1938), pp. 262-269

3845536Oregon Historical Quarterly, Volume 39 — The Settlement of the Japanese in OregonMarjorie R. Stearns


It was a little more than one hundred years ago that the first Japanese arrived in Oregon. In 1834 a Japanese junk was washed ashore near Cape Flattery.1 At the direction of Dr. McLoughlin, the three Japanese were rescued from the natives and brought to Fort Vancouver where they were cared for and instructed. They were later taken to England and from there to China. Only a few articles saved from the wreck remained as reminders of that early visitation.

About fifty years later the first Japanese woman arrived here to make her permanent home. In 1880 a Captain Smith, re turning from a voyage to Japan, brought with him to Portland a Japanese girl, Miyo Iwakoshi.2 Six years later L. Takagi came to Portland from San Francisco and married this woman. Mr. Takagi started a restaurant business here, thus marking the be ginning of Japanese business enterprise in Oregon.3 Four years later there were 25 Japanese in Oregon, twenty of whom were in Multnomah County.4

In the nineties the increase in population was rapid. A few Japanese had been employed as section hands about 1889, but it was in 1892 that large numbers were brought in for railroad labor. A Mr. Dunbar, representing the railroad company, and Mr. S. Ban, representing the Japanese interests, worked together in bringing into both Oregon and Idaho large numbers of laborers from Japan, under contract to work on the railroads being built.5 By 1900 there were 2,501 Japanese in Oregon, with more than 1,300 listed in Portland and the rest scattered about the state largely according to the railroad needs.6 IR. C. Clark, editorial note "Wreck of a Japanese Junk," The Ore gon Historical Quarterly, 28, (June, 1937), pp. 161-163.

2Statement of Mr. Kozo Miyako, Secretary of the Japanese Association of Oregon.

zibid. ^United States Census, 1890. 5Mr. Miyako's statement. He also said that most of these men re mained in this state. ^United tates Census, 1900. About 1904 there began a movement of the Japanese towards employment on farms. The Japanese, however, were never an important element in agricultural labor supply, for they early began to operate farms of their own or to work on farms operated by fellow Japanese.7 In 1905, 35% of the Japanese were farmers, 26 % were still employed on the railroads, 10 % were cooks and houseservants, with the remainder working in canneries, or employed as woodchoppers, merchants, and stu dents. At that time only 4%o of the Japanese population were women and children.8

Between 1900 and 1910 the population increase was less than one thousand9 but the areas where this additional population was settling were indicative of a new trend in their interests. Less than half of the Japanese population was as yet rural in 1910, but the increasing tendency towards settlement in agri cultural districts was unmistakable.10

It was between 1910 and 1920 that large numbers of Japanese women arrived in Oregon. Under the system of immigration which permitted the bringing of "picture brides," during these ten years the number of women between 20 and 44 increased from 201 to 769." Within that decade there was a rapid increase in the number of Japanese children in this state, so rapid an increase that, together with other causes, there was considerable agitation directed against the Japanese. The gov ernor asked Mr. Frank Davey to make a survey of the Japanese situation in Oregon. His report, made in 1920, gave the Japanese population of Portland as about 1,800, comprising merchants, lodging house keepers, hotel and eating house owners,

TH. A. Millis, The Japanese Problem in the United States (New York, 1913), p. 31. However, in 1920 there were 734 Japanese railroad employees in the state. Hood River Glacier, August 13, 1920, p. 3.

^Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1905, p. 74. ^Compared with immigration to Washington and California,, our num ber of Japanese immigrants seems small. For example, with more than 2,400 going to each of Washington and California in 1902, only 130 came to Oregon. i?Hood River County and the eastern part of Multnomah County especially. Urban, 1,861; rural, 1,557. ii U. S. Census : 15.7 per cent of the males were married in 1900 ; 60.7 per cent in 1930. tailors, shoemakers, dyers, cleaners, factory, and farm hands.'2 In Portland proper about 90 per cent of the small hotels and lodging houses were reported in the hands of the Japanese, who were gradually extending their operations into various new branches of trade. As taxpayers they had not figured very heavily, but since 1915 their holdings had increased preceptibly. Sheriff Hurlburt stated that his office was not bothered to any extent by breaches of the criminal laws by the Japanese; they seemed to be a peaceable, law-abiding people.13

In the eastern part of Multnomah County the Japanese had established themselves in the farming industry. Beginning in 1906 the Japanese began near Russellville the culture of straw berries. In 1911 almost one-half of the farming lands around Russellville were under their control, their efforts having been extended to the raising of all kinds of fruits and vegetables. They had to pay a good price for the rental of the land, usually $15 an acre, but they took the best lands so that every acre would be productive.'4 "It is said that those who have rented their farms out to the Japanese are realizing more money each year than they did when running their farms themselves," says a feature article in The Oregonian. "One farmer, at least, says he is receiving $2,000 a year for 120 acres . . . As far out as Pleasant Home, 22 miles away from Portland, there are four farms rented to the little brown men and their owners are taking life easy and getting as much money as if they worked and worried themselves." The dairy, hay, grain, and potato in dustries at this time were not attempted by the Japanese, who found the vegetable and small fruit production so much more profitable on land for which high rentals must be paid.'5 In 1920 Mr. Davey reported that in the Gresham community, where the soil is so well adapted to berry culture and truck gardening, the Japanese had a strong foothold. Fifty per cent i2Frank Davey, Report of the Japanese Situation in Oregon, investigated for Governor Ben W. Olcott, Salem: State Printing Department, 1920.

MI bid., p. 5. i4Eugene L. Thorpe, "Multnomah Sees Yellow Peril," The Oregonian, November 26, 1911. 15 Ibid. of the acreage of raspberries, 90 per cent of the strawberries, 30 to 40 per cent of loganberries, and 60 per cent of the vegetable gardening were handled by the Japanese, with some inroads being made into the potato and dairying business." The Japanese held the land under lease of three to six years, usually picking the very best land. "The majority of those who rent to them are city owners. Some resident farmers rent to them, but many refuse to deal with them . . . The Japanese crops the ground intensively and robs it of its fertility by the time his lease expires . . . There has been but one purchase of land by a Japanese in the Gresham neighborhood, and that was a sale by a German who was inclined to spite his neighbors."17

Through their two associations, the Gresham-Troutdale Farmers' Association and a simlar one at Russellville, they were buying and selling collectively, the secretary handling the details of the business, finding buyers for the products, purchasing boxes and other supplies. In the eastern section of Multnomah County there were reported nearly three hundred Japanese, "a good many having families, the crop of children being numerous and regular."S8

In Clatsop County, Mr. Davey reported 450 Japanese, mostly laborers in the lumber mills or in the canneries.i9 They had made no ventures into the farming, fruit, or berry industries, nor had they bought or settled on any lands in the country. The number of women and children was small, forty women and forty children. Some of the Japanese in Astoria operated soft drink places, cheap eating houses and lodgings. Unobstrusive and little noticed, they lived for the most part in boarding houses kept by their fellow countrymen. Picture brides were brought to Seattle where they were met by the men waiting for them, were married there, and then brought to Astoria or other Ore gon towns. "These movements," said Mr. Davey, "take place so quietly that the general public knows nothing about it; con sequently there is much surprise all at once in such communities

isDavey Report, p. 12 itIbid. ^Ibid. m bid., p. 3. when Japanese women and babies begin to appear on the streets."20

It was in the Hood River valley that there was the greatest interest in the question. In 1920 the Japanese population there was about 362.21 The Japanese residents avoided the making of colonies but had scattered out in an attempt to mingle with their white neighbors.22 Mr. Yasui, a Japanese merchant and or chardist who had been in Hood River for thirteen years and was well respected by all the residents, white as well as yellow, maintained that there were fewer Japanese in Hood River than formerly because a large number of laborers employed in clearing land had moved away and no new adults were coming in.23 However, since the resident farming Japanese were mostly married, there was much concern about the birthrate. The married Japanese population was about one and one-half per cent of the total for the county, while the birth rate was from 10 to 20 per cent.24

About seventy Japanese farmers owned in aggregate about 1200 acres, of which a considerable part was still in timber or rough land, and they leased on a share basis with owners about 8 5 0 acres.25 Japanese holdings in Hood River were comparative ly larger than those in other parts off the state, explained Mr. Davey, because originally the Japanese were invited to come there by American land owners who were eager to see their land cleared, and as the result in many cases the Japanese were given the tracts they now held in exchange for their labor. In


zilbid. Estimates vary from 800 to 362, depending upon the definition of the valley. Mr. Davey accepted 362 as sufficiently accurate, p. 9. 22This was done at the advice of Mr. Yasui, the local Japanese leader. Colonies in California had complicated the problem. zWavey Report, p. 9. 2?Hood River Glacier, August 13, 1920. Report made to the Con gressional committee by T. Abe, President of the Japanese Asso ciation of Oregon. The birthrate for Japanese was high through out the state. There were 2631 men averaging 39 years of age and 862 women averaging 28 years. There were 100 births in 1916 and 190 in 1919. A high birthrate was predicted for the next ten years, p. 3. 25Japanese were willing to pay high prices for land lease rental? $6 to $40 as compared with $4 to $15 before the Japanese came. Millis, op. cit., p. 97. certain districts in the valley the Japanese went first into the parts where very few farms existed. The lands were mostly either logged off or brush lands, and it was only after years of incessant toil that they succeeded in clearing these tracts and produced many farms on which white farmers later settled and in 1920 outnumbered the Japanese remaining on the farms so developed. Orchards were rapidly planted, with strawberries between the trees to yield crops until the trees came into bear ing. Nine-tenths of the land cultivated at this time, 1920, was devo;ted to vegetables and berries. These crops require a stooping posture on the part of the workers, and the Japanese are particularly suited to such work on account of their short stature, as well as because of their capacity for long and intensive hours of labor. Nearly all of the Japanese in the valley were members of the Hood River Apple Growers' Association and disposed of their fruit through it. At least 25 of the growers owned automobiles and trucks and as a general thing all stood well with the stores and banks.26

The taxable improvements listed amounted to only $2,800,27 indicating that there was no home building comparable to that on American holdings. The dwellings occupied by the Japanese farmers were in many instances poor and unsightly. The blame for such conditions could not be placed entirely on the Japanese, however, because especially in the case of leased lands they had to take as dwellings those that had been built by the landlord. Mr. Davey felt that there was a desire to improve their condi tions of living as far as circumstances would allow and that there was a great difference between the conditions existing in 1910 and those in 1920. It must be remembered also that most of the Japanese farmers in Oregon were still young in their ventures. The orchards were well kept and in a condition better, on an average, than those of white owners.28

A Japanese venture in wheat farming in Wasco County had

2?Davey Report, pp. 14 and 9.

27This figure was the estimate of the Anti-Asiatic Association of Hood River, whose population estimates had been obviously preju diced. z^Davey Report, and Hood River Glacier, August 5, 1920. Report of T. Abe, President of Japanese Association of Oregon, p. 14. proved a failure in 1919,29 so the white farmers of that region had Japanese competition only in the production of vegetables, tomatoes particularly. In Baker County, the two hundred Japanese were engaged largely in labor not desired by the white residents. A hundred were employed by the railroads, thirty were employed in restaurants, and the rest worked in stores or as house servants.30 In other central Oregon communities agricultural ventures had been discouraged by the white resi dents to such an extent that practically no Japanese had settled there.31

In the Willamette Valley there were scattered groups of Japanese farmers and gardeners. Near Salem there were fifteen farms run by Japanese. In Polk County there were thirty Japanese residents, although the hop-growing industry attracted seasonal workers, two hundred or more.32

There have been no marked changes. in the Oriental situation since the extended report of 1920. With the passage of the anti alien land law, the amount of land under lease increased for a time. A large part of the lands, whether owned or leased, is still used for truck gardening, especially in the Willamette Valley, and for fruit production, especially in the Hood River district. The increase in Japanese population has been relatively small in these seventeen years. Between 1920 and 1930 the Japanese population increased from about 4,000 to almost 5,000,33 but in October, 1935, the total had dropped to a little over 4,300, of whom 2,000 belong to the first generation. Of the second generation, only 273 are over twenty-one.34

As the older Japanese leave the scene of activity in Oregon and the younger American born and American educated young people come into the foreground of activity, many phases of the problem will be changed. Next in this story of the Japanese people in Oregon will be considered the relations be tween them and the Americans in Oregon, what has been the

^Davey Report, p. 9. mbid, p. 9. si Ibid, p. 10. zzibid, p. 12. zzUnited States Census. 34Statement of Secretary of Japanese Association of Oregon. nature of the legislation directed against them, and what are some of the activities of the Japanese which may help them to solve the problems confronting them.