Great numbers of Japanese immigrants came to America, especially California, during the period between 1898 and 1907. By 1910, Japanese were the largest minority group in the state of Washington.
As more Japanese arrived, discrimination and ill feelings toward the new immigrants increased. Many Americans harshly criticized Japanese immigrants willing to work hard for low wages since they were afraid the Japanese would take away jobs from American citizens. Other Americans, notably farmers, resented the bountiful crops raised by Japanese farmers.
The founding of the Asiatic Exclusion League in San Francisco in 1905 marks the official beginning of the anti-Japanese movement. California labor leaders held the leadership positions in this new organization. In 1906, Japanese school children were segregated from white students by the San Francisco school board.
In response to the growing anti-Japanese prejudice, President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated the "Gentlemen's Agreement" with Japan in 1907. The government of Japan agreed to stop issuing passports to laborers, thus slowing Japanese immigration to the US. Enforcement of the agreement by both nations effectively slowed Japanese immigration, and some 70,000 Japanese returned home between 1910 and 1920.
The California legislature passed the Alien Land Law in 1913, which prevented non-citizens from owning property in California. In 1922, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the ban against naturalization of Japanese immigrants.
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, which concluded World War I, Japan requested that a racial equality clause be inserted in the League of Nations Covenant. This clause would state "that the principle of equality of nations and the just treatment of their nationals . . . [shall be] a fundamental basis of future international relations in the new world organization." The Anglo-American powers, fearful of its implications as to immigration, abstained from voting on the proposal, which was equivalent to voting against it. For the Japanese delegation, which included a number of future prime ministers and foreign ministers, this rejection was interpreted as another painful reminder that they were still not accepted by the Western world.
President Calvin Coolidge signed the Immigration Act of 1924, which effectively ended Japanese immigration to the US.
Hostility from the majority population forced most Japanese to live in social isolation. They formed their own organizations and built their own schools and temples. In 1925, the US Supreme Court stripped a Japanese man of his US citizenship, granted in 1921 after his service in World War I.
Dr. Sidney Gulick believed that lack of understanding between Japanese and Americans was the primary cause of the antagonism between the two countries. He sought to create a program that would allow citizens of the two nations to better understand each other's culture and society. His idea was to begin with children, who would be less likely as adults to exhibit discrimination against foreigners and to go to war if they became friends at an early age.
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