The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924

Ethnic Studies Review, April 3, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924


Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama, translated by Frederik L. Schodt. (Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1998). 152 pp., $12.95 paper.

This historically important document is a translation of a humorous comic book published in 1931 based on the experiences of the author, Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama, as he immigrated to the United States. Kiyama crossed the ocean from Japan to study art in San Francisco in 1904, at the age of nineteen. Upon his arrival he worked as a house servant during the day and went to school at night. It is not well known here, but until the Second World War a large number of Japanese immigrants came to mainland America with student visas rather than work permits; many of these students became "school-boys" (that is, household help) and did not really go to school (though Kiyama did actually attend art college). Even eighty years later some of these assumptions are still prevalent, at least in Japan; when I was about to leave Japan to attend graduate school in America my father was worried that I would become a servant and never be able to actually go to school. Kiyama met many of these young Japanese students who had no real intention to study, who simply wandered around the city from house to house doing odd jobs. He also met farm immigrants -- characterized as Japanese-Hawaiians in this book, who had been laborers on the islands' sugar plantations. Kiyama successfully presents his readers with the different experiences and inner thoughts of young adventurous Japanese men in America. He creates four different character-types, based on his friends, to be the heroes of his stories. First, there is Charlie, who symbolizes the majority of school-boys, who drifts around with his dreams of becoming rich without any hard work. Frank, another type of schoolboy, desires some day to become a successful merchant. Fred, a farm immigrant, eventually becomes rich during the booming days of early California agriculture. Then there is Henry, who is Kiyama himself, who is in America to study art and saves his money to study in France until he loses it all in 1909 when the Japanese-immigrant owned banks failed. Henry's passion for studying is seen as fanatical by the other Japanese students. …

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