Arnold Toynbee has suggested that the most important figures of history are those who bridge two or more civilizations. If this is true then everyone who has lived in Hawaii is an important figure in history, for all have been planks in the bridging of civilizations. It would seem that those who came to Hawaii early, those who became the first planks in the bridge, were proportionally the most important, for they established the direction of the bridging.
Of course, Hawaii has seen the melting together of many different population groups. And while this account of the Japanese expansion to the Islands is focused on the interaction of the two dominant groups, the Japanese and the American, the background milieu of Hawaiians, Portuguese, Chinese, and others is never forgotten. Harold Bradley has described Hawaii as an American frontier, which it was indeed. But it was also a Japanese frontier, and the Hawaii of the late nineteenth century provides a fascinating tale of frontier competition, of a kid- gloved rather than a flaming-gun sort, yet none the less fierce and determined. To the people of pre-annexation Hawaii Japan loomed quite as large as did the United States. And whereas American interests in the Islands had the advantage of prior establishment and institutional development, as well as great wealth, the Japanese had ever increasing strength in numbers and remarkable facility in building economic prosperity and social cohesion, in spite of the political cards that were stacked against them.
It is significant that while the contest was on, while the political future of Hawaii remained undetermined, the tension rose to feverish proportions. But once the contest was decided, as it happened in the American favor, the tension subsided, and the way was cleared for a milder and more understanding adjustment -- if gradual and imperfect -- of relations between the people of the East and the West.
The student of diplomatic history will be especially interested to observe that the line of direction of Japanese policy toward Hawaii, perhaps more than any other single factor, prevented more serious international complications and perhaps even bloodshed in the Islands. The first concern of Japanese policy makers was to gain for Japan a full-fledged and respected place in the Western state system. They were determined not to accept discrimination against Japanese anywhere, knowing it would lead to disrespect for Japan as a nation. But they . . .