America was expanding westward and still needed cheap labor. The Civil War was over and slave labor was no longer available. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, enacted because American politicians reacted to the outcry that the Chinese were taking all the good jobs, created a shortage of labor. Especially, workers for railroad and mining were still needed and the Japanese were willing to work hard for cheap. The average $1 (whites earned $2.75) a 10-hour day in America compared to 16 - 25 cents a day earned in Japan.
Japan was experiencing over population, economic problems and climate related farm crop failures. My Grandpa, K Tsukamaki, explains, “In my farming village (Hiroshima, Japan), every other household had someone who had come to America. They would come back to Japan in their fancy western clothes and brag about all the money they made. My father saw no future for his three sons in Japan. My father was 47-years-old (average life expectancy was age 50) when he came to Seattle in 1897 as a railroad worker. He made three trips to America.
I was 19-years old when I immigrated in 1905. Since I was the oldest son I didn’t have to worry, but many of the young men in the village left Japan so they wouldn’t be conscripted into the Japanese army in the fight against Russia.”
Japanese emigration to the United States for the 30 plus years from 1890 to 1924 totaled 275,000. In only one year, 1913, there was 283,000 Italians who entered the U.S. The 1924 Immigration Act and Asian Exclusion act stopped all immigration from Japan, for the same political reasons the Chinese were excluded 40 years before.
Tsukamaki’s father was clearly aware of the politics on both sides of the Pacific ocean, reading newpapers and books like AMERICA BOUND. He arranged for his three sons to emigrate. The second son sneaked into the United States in 1923, using an underground network. The third son, Ted, was brought as a 15-year-old minor on the last boat in the spring, before the exclusion July 1, 1924.
Ted joined the class at the Orillia, WA, grade school and quickly advanced. Ted is remembered in the community as a baseball all-star catcher on the White River Valley team.