New York Japanese Americans
by Cyril Nishimoto

History: When Chinese immigration was prohibited by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese laborers were recruited to replace Chinese workers. They began immigrating to Hawaii and the West Coast in large numbers in the early 1900s. Some of them made their way east to New York where their population prior to 1924 grew to between 1,100 and 3,100.

Unlike immigrants to the West Coast, the ones who came to New York came as travelers, seamen, students, laborers, businessmen, and traders, rather than as farm, railroad, or mine workers.. In the west, Japanese labor bosses would supply American agricultural or transportation company employers with Japanese workers, and would arrange accommodations and sometimes board for the workers. In contrast, in New York, Japanese immigrants came as individuals who had to seek employment and housing on their own initiative.

In the 1920s, about 75% of New York at that time were employed in domestic work. Others did ship construction work. Some served under American naval officers at the Brooklyn Naval Yard.

Population: The Quota Immigration Act of 1924 legally prohibited immigration of anyone of Japanese ancestry, and kept the Japanese population in New York at about 4,000 before World War II. Following the war, however, Japanese Americans from the West Coast migrated east from the concentration camps where they had been wrongly incarcerated during the war. Those who came to New York City were aided by the Japanese churches to resettle mainly around the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Although New York Japanese Americans were not imprisoned during the war, Japanese community and religious leaders were picked up and detained for questioning.

The Japanese in New York today are dispersed throughout the five boroughs and are comprised of several generations of Japanese descendants, and Japanese nationals who are primarily businessmen. According to the 1980 Census, people of Japanese ancestry numbered 13,730 in New York City.

It is unclear how many of the Japanese counted were nationals living temporarily in the U.S., and how many were American citizens and permanent residents. It is believed also that the Japanese business community alone numbers over 50,000, so if the above figure includes members of this community, it is an undercount.

Organizations: Community groups offer Japanese in New York a sense of belonging to this scattered community. For the religious, The Japanese American United Church and the New York Buddhist Church give a segment of the community a weekly opportunity to meet. The Japanese American Association offers the community such activities as monthly luncheons for the elderly. Those interested in national issues can join the New York Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

Japanese in need can contact Japanese American Social Services, Inc. for social service problems, the Asian American Mental Health Services, Japanese Unit for counseling, and Japanese wives of businessmen can call Westchester Women in Self-Help for telephone counseling.

Unlike other Asian communities in New York, the Japanese community is growing slowly. The Japanese American community is slowly shrinking as those belonging to the second and third generation move to suburban areas and other parts of the country.

Today's Japanese immigrants are arriving in New York in small numbers and are mainly restaurant workers, small business entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, and professionals who came to the U.S. as students. They are becoming part of the ever-changing New York Japanese American community.


Mr. Cyril Nishimoto is the Director of Japanese American Social Services, Inc.