Academic journal article Migration Letters

Sea of Opportunity: The Japanese Pioneers of the Fishing Industry in Hawaii

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Sea of Opportunity: The Japanese Pioneers of the Fishing Industry in Hawaii

Article excerpt

Sea of Opportunity: The Japanese Pioneers of the Fishing Industry in Hawaii. Ogawa, Manako. Honolulu, USA: University of Hawai'i Press, (2015, ISBN: 978-0-8248-3961-1).

Manako Ogawa's Sea of Opportunity is an excellent study of the history of the Japanese fishing communities of Hawai'i from the late nineteenth century to the recent past. The book locates the history of Japanese fishermen and their families in the context of the wider expansion into the Pacific of fishing and whaling in general and emphasizes the maritime nature of Japanese history; the ocean having long provided Japan with both economic and cultural sustenance. Ogawa asserts that the Japanese fishermen of Hawai'i should not be regarded as merely transplanted communities, like their agricultural compatriots, but seen as the result of a natural, ongoing expansion. Japanese fishermen had long ventured beyond the shores of Japan itself and the scale of this increased following the opening of Japan's doors with the end of isolationism. Making fishermen central to the study, she moves away from the agricentric bias of much of the literature on Japanese communities overseas that has regarded the ocean as an obstacle to be overcome, rather than as a central factor in facilitating migration.

In her opening chapter, Ogawa clearly establishes that Japanese fishing communities had always been highly mobile. The end of isolation and the emergence of modern Japan, heralded by the Meiji era beginning in 1868, prompted the emigration of many, particularly those whose livelihood depended on the sea and were able to respond with relative ease to the promise of better returns elsewhere.

The second chapter considers the initial contact between Japanese fishermen and native Hawaiians, the triumph of Japanese fishing methods over those of their Hawaiian rivals, and the establishment of the Japanese fishing industry in the face of hostile white elites. From the arrival of the first Japanese fishermen in 1889, there were incidents of friction and violence between the new arrivals and the native population. Nevertheless, by 1900 there were 50,000 Japanese in Hawai'i constituting 40 per cent of the population. The growth of the industry saw fishermen recruited from Japan and from those Japanese already resident in Hawai'i working in the sugar cane fields. Ogawa reveals that Japanese immigrants successfully established their own companies in contrast to their contemporaries in Canada and mainland USA.

The third chapter outlines the dominance of Japanese fishing during its golden age in the 1920s and 30s, including a detailed account of the actual process of fishing. Ogawa notes that there was a failure to transmit fishing skills intergenerationally and this, by the 1930s, had resulted in an aging workforce. This reflected a desire among the second generation for white-collar and professional jobs in less hazardous, higher status and more lucrative occupations. Ogawa also provides a consideration of the female contribution to the industry, mostly in processing work in the canneries but often in the business of selling and bartering or even in the actual process of fishing itself. Japanese women were also involved in company operations at the decision making level, particularly in family owned businesses. She gives a brief account of Japanese religious practices but does not elaborate on the cultural activities of the community.

The fourth chapter looks at the trials faced during the years of heightened suspicion of a maritime community seen as representative of an expansionist Japan. The suspicion of Japan and its sea going people, specifically operating in Hawaiian waters, saw the suppression of the industry through the introduction of a variety of fishing regulations and prosecution for violations of those regulations. Furthermore, fears of espionage led to bans on Japanese fishing boats for reasons of national security. Pearl Harbor and war meant the complete cessation of all fishing activity by people of Japanese ancestry. …

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