THE ISSEI COMMUNITY IN MARICOPA COUNTY: Development and Persistence in the Valley of the Sun, 1900-1940
by Eric Walz 
The Journal of Arizona History
volume 38, Spring 1997, p. 1-22.

In 1918, Kajuro Kishiyama left Japan to join his father working for the railroad in California. Two years later, he sailed back to Japan, where he married. Returning to America with his wife, Sumi, Kajuro soon traded the railroad work he disliked for the farm life he enjoyed. Sumi wanted to get her husband away from the gambling that pervaded California's rough railroad environment. 1

Following an invitation from a friend, Takeshi Tadano, that included a promise of work, the Kishiyamas moved to Arizona in 1928. Kishivama managed to lease twenty acres, on which he raised tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, and watermelons. With hard work, inventive marketing, and good luck, he soon acquired a local reputation as the "Tomato King."

During the depression, Kishiyama's landlord became jealous of his renter's success. Taking advantage of Kishiyama's tenuous legal standing on the land, he evicted the immigrant farmer and confiscated his growing crops. Undaunted, Kishiyama moved his family onto another farm, near the base of South Mountain, and started again. He initially relied on vegetable sales, locally and as far away as Los Angeles, to stay above water financially. Over time, however, Kishiyama experimented with flower growing. Before long, he became a successful floriculturist, shipping flowers by bus, train, and air freight to markets in Arizona and throughout the nation. Kishiyama's story, like those of other immigrant farmers who settled in Maricopa County, was one of hardship, determination -- and success. 2

Hachiro Onuki, the first Japanese immigrant to Maricopa County left Japan in 1876 aboard an American naval vessel loaded with Japanese artifacts for display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. After serving briefly as an interpreter at the exposition, Onuki set out overland for San Francisco on his return trip to Japan. Along the way he stopped in Arizona, where he mined silver in Tombstone until 1885, established Phoenix's first gas and electric company during the following year, and in 1900 began a truck gardening operation that he called Garden City Farms. 3

Following the pattern established by Onuki, many of the earliest Japanese immigrants to Maricopa County came individually and, for the most part, worked as cooks and domestic servants. Others arrived in large groups and worked in the fields on contract labor crews. In 1897, 100 Japanese laborers began harvesting wild canaigre root along the Agua Fria River for the Anglo-American Canaigre Company. The company hoped to use the harvest -- employed in the production of tannic acid -- as seed for an operation that would eventually encompass more than 1,000 acres. Almost immediately, however, the owners realized that not even free seed and cheap imported labor could offset poor yields and failing demand -- the enterprise failed and the workers returned to California. 4

In 1905, a group of 120 Japanese sugar-beet laborers arrived in the Salt River Valley to work for the Southwest Sugar and Land Company of Grand junction, Colorado. The company had recently purchased 8,500 acres of land and constructed a factory in Glendale. Like canaigre root, however, sugar beets failed in Maricopa County. Harvest time came in the hottest part of the year, when the intense heat spoiled the beets and killed the horses and mules used as draft animals. To compound the problem, the government imposed a 160-acre limit for withdrawing water from federal irrigation projects and a state deferment on corporate income taxes expired. These actions undermined potential profits and forced the company to sell most of its land. As a result, many of the Japanese sugar-beet laborers abandoned Arizona by 1915. 5

The first permanent Japanese settlers arrived in Maricopa County as early as 1906 when an Issei (Japanese-born) immigrant by the name of Goto started a chicken farm near Tempe. Over the next twenty-five years, other Japanese, who engaged primarily in truck farming, joined Goto. One of them, Frank Nakagaki, and his wife, Yoshi, were parents of the first recorded Nisei (American-born) child in Arizona. 6

Manuscript census schedules clearly show the two stages of immigration and the importance of agriculture in creating a stable Japanese community in the Salt River Valley. In 1900 seven Issei resided in Maricopa County -- all were males and none were engaged in agriculture. Frank Nakagaki appears in the 1910 census, along with 113 other adult males -- sixty-seven were involved in agriculture (nine of them are recorded as "employers" or as farming on their "own account"). By 1920, 246 Japanese were living in Maricopa County -- 118 were males, fifty-five of whom were living with their wives. Together, these fifty-five families included seventy-four children, sixty-one of them born in Arizona. Of the 117 Japanese who listed an occupation in 1920, 105 were involved in agriculture, with fifty-nine farming on their "own account." These census records reveal that the number of Japanese in the county increased from 1910 to 1920, and the improved ratio of males to females and the growing number of families suggest that the Japanese immigrants were establishing roots. 7

For most of the recent arrivals, Arizona represented the second or third stop in their journey to America. They farmed wherever land was available and often moved more than once before settling permanently. Takeshi Tadano left Japan relatively late, in 1911. Because direct immigration to the United States was restricted after 1907, he sailed first to South America and then walked north. Tadano later told his children that he and a handful of companions traveled at night to avoid the heat. During the day, they rested in whatever shade they could find and spent their time plucking cactus thorns from one another's clothes. Tadano was arrested twice while trying to cross the border into the United States: the first time, authorities returned him to Mexico; the second time, they loaded him aboard a freighter bound for Japan. Tadano, however, jumped ship before it got fully underway and swam back to shore. He worked as a farm laborer in California before coming to Arizona in 1913. 8

Hitoshi Yamamoto left Japan in 1900. Sailing first to San Francisco and later making his way to Los Angeles, he worked mostly as a seasonal farm laborer wherever and whenever he could. In 1915, he migrated to Arizona, where he began raising vegetables on contract for the S. A. Gerrard Company. The company provided seed, fertilizer, operating money, and land for Yamamoto, who managed the farm, supervised irrigation, and arranged for seasonal labor. In 1928, Hitoshi convinced his brother Suyeto, who was farming in Gardena, California, to join him. Sueyto also farmed for the Gerrard Company. 9

Detractors later accused the Japanese of taking up the best land, farming it for three years, and then moving on before soil depletion reduced crop yields. While this might have made good managerial sense, other factors accounted for the early immigrants' frequent moves. The Kishiyamas, for example, experimented on several pieces of land, looking for a particular type of soil and climate, before finally settling in an area sheltered from frost near the base of South Mountain. Other farmers moved from place to place simply because laws that prohibited Japanese from purchasing land discouraged permanence. Eventually, however, three predominantly Japanese communities congealed within the county: one about fifteen miles east of Phoenix, in the Mesa-Lehi area; another near Kishivama's South Mountain farm; and the third, with the largest population, in Glendale, west of Phoenix. 10

Unlike the early immigrants who had provided the labor that enabled large corporations to attempt new enterprises like canaigre and sugar-beet production, these later and more permanent settlers directly influenced the development of local agriculture. Although Japanese farm operators in the 1930s made up only "three percent of the total farm operators" in Maricopa County, they farmed "six percent of the aggregate acreage." Their Nisei descendants assert that Issei farmers raised the first lettuce, strawberries, and cantaloupe shipped out-of-state. Glendale Avenue became known affectionately as "Strawberry Alley" because of the number of Issei who grew strawberries there. Issei floriculturists like Kajuro Kishiyama developed a virtual trademark in flower production in Maricopa Countv when they established the Japanese Flower Gardens near South Mountain. By the 1950s these growers were shipping 250 boxes of flowers a day to nationwide destinations; the flower gardens became a prominent Phoenix area tourist attraction. 11

As Japanese farmers became known throughout the valley for the abundance and quality of their specialty crops, the local media used their success to encourage other growers to undertake similar enterprises. One newspaper glowingly touted Japanese strawberries as "unsurpassed [in] size, quality and flavor," while another published the names of Japanese award winners for vegetable production at a local produce fair. 12

Non Japanese agriculturalists noticed when their Issei neighbors did something remarkable or when Japanese-grown crops seemed unusually productive. One Mesa farmer observed his Japanese neighbor, early in the growing season, covering rows of young vegetables with a lean-to made out of newspapers. The structure reflected the sun's warmth onto the plants, while at the same time protecting tender shoots from frost. In the days before commercial herbicides, another Japanese farmer found by accident that spraying rows of green onions with fuel oil killed weeds without harming the onions. His discovery reduced labor, allowing one farmer to raise more rows of onions. Before long a state agricultural agent came by in search of the secret, and soon more farmers were taking up the practice. 13

The Japanese community's effect on local agriculture can be measured in at least two ways. Farming a proportionately larger number of acres than their population size would indicate, being the first to grow and ship certain important crops, and developing innovative farm practices are concrete measures of the community's relative importance. A possibly more significant method of assessing the impact of Japanese farmers on local agriculture is to examine how Caucasians perceived their Issei neighbors. Their perceptions -- positive and negative -- grew out of such seemingly insignificant observations as that of a Japanese farmer's receiving a blue ribbon for outstanding produce at a local fair, a Japanese name on a roadside vegetable and fruit stand, or a new car parked in an Issei's driveway.

Positive responses created market loyalties. For example, every other Saturday Governor George W. P. Hunt's butler traveled to Glendale to buy strawberries from a Japanese farmer. Similarly, produce managers at local grocery stores often stocked their shelves with Issei-raised vegetables. But Issei successes and notoriety generated negative responses as well, arousing competition and jealousy among non-Japanese farmers. 14

Following California's lead, Arizona passed its first Alien Land Law in 1913. It forbade members of racial groups that were ineligible for citizenship (i.e., Asians) from purchasing land in the state. However, it specifically permitted them to enter into leasing arrangements. In 1921, legislators tried to close loopholes in the earlier law by prohibiting aliens ineligible for citizenship from acquiring, possessing, enjoying, transmitting, or inheriting real property. This sweeping language not only restricted Japanese land ownership, it made leasing difficult as well.

Still, there were ways of getting around the law. Some Issei farmers bought and leased land in the names of their American-born children. In other cases, a landlord was willing to circumvent the law in order to lease land to Japanese tenants, or a sympathetic neighbor would act as a front man in land purchases.

Almost from the beginning, non-Japanese farmers in Maricopa County resented competition from Japanese immigrants like Kajuro Kishiyama. They accused the Japanese of using unfair labor practices (Japanese wives and children worked in the fields), of paying too much in rent, and of taking up the best farmland in the valley. These complaints became more than idle gossip among individual farmers when, on December 5, 1923, the president of the Maricopa County Farm Bureau forwarded to Governor George Hunt a resolution that proclaimed the bureau's opposition "to creating within this county or State, a Japanese colony, which might expand in time and prove to be undesirable residents." The Farm Bureau further asserted that there was "no place in Maricopa County for a group belonging to an alien race and we wish to go on record. . . requesting a strict enforcement of the Arizona Statute, which forbids the selling to or leasing of, farming lands [in] this state." In a strongly worded reply, Governor Hunt expressed his confidence "that any attempt to lease lands in Arizona to Asiatics will result in the forfeiture of the land to the state," and promised that he would urge "the Attorney General and ... the County Attorneys ... to take such action as may be necessary to enforce the law." 15

Despite the strident rhetoric, the local Farm Bureau, the governor, the legislature, and the state judiciary each lacked sufficient political muscle to prohibit Japanese immigration and land tenure. Even by 1923, the local Issei community was cohesive enough to defend itself. Early efforts to legislate discrimination may have slowed Japanese immigration to Arizona but because Japanese farmers often were able to circumvent legislative restrictions, the number of Japanese farm operators in Arizona increased from sixty-nine in 1920 to 121 in 1930. 16

While legislation failed to end Japanese immigration to Arizona, two circumstances in the early 1930s reduced the profitability of farming and increased ethnic animosity. The first, the Great Depression, represented a general farm problem; the second, windfall profits from the production of cantaloupes, represented a dilemma unique to Arizona and the Salt River Valley. Together, they eventually reduced the number of Japanese farmers in Maricopa County.

Beginning in 1929, the Great Depression created a nationwide surplus and reduced the market value of agricultural products. Because cotton was especially hard hit, cotton growers in Maricopa County suffered disproportionately to the Japanese truck farmers who relied more on garden produce and local markets. A cantaloupe blight in 1933 ruined local production and enhanced the Japanese farmers' economic advantage. Fearing another disaster, the following year most large farmers, for whom cantaloupes were a sideline to cotton and alfalfa, reduced their cantaloupe acreage. When the cantaloupe blight failed to reappear, and with fewer acres planted, cantaloupe prices skyrocketed in 1934. Valley farmers who had continued their normal cantaloupe rotation, most noticeably the Japanese who worked small plots and relied on crop diversity for their income, found themselves in the enviable-and conspicuous-position of having produced a bumper crop with very little market competition. 17

The depression and the cantaloupe blight, combined with the long-standing tensions between Caucasian and Japanese farmers that produced the anti-alien land laws of 1913 and 1921, created an explosive situation. On August 16, 1934, 600 Caucasian farmers met in Glendale to decide how torid the valley of their Japanese competitors. At a rally the following day, more than 150 cars paraded through town. One carried a banner that read:


Over the next few weeks nativists and their minions flooded Japanese farms, bombed Japanese homes, pushed pick-ups owned by Japanese farmers into irrigation canals, and fired shots at Japanese farmers who tried to protect their growing crops. Only the intervention of local religious and educational leaders, lobbying efforts by the Arizona Japanese Association, and an appeal to the Japanese consulate eventually diffused the situation. 18

The most effective defense of the Issei farmers showed how, by discriminating against the Japanese, the envious Caucasian farmers were jeopardizing their own economic future. The Mitsu-Mitsubishi Company, a large contract buyer of southwestern cotton, notified growers from Texas to Arizona that anti-Japanese activities in Arizona were putting their contracts at risk. At the same time, the national media reminded Arizona farmers that any embarrassment the U.S. government might suffer in the international community as a result of Arizona's racial attitudes would reflect unfavorably on the state's efforts to acquire federal water projects. The New York Times predicted that "Arizonans will be reluctant ... to jeopardize the Boulder Dam and Colorado River water over any petty irritation that may arise over Japanese farmers." In the end, these economic arguments forced opponents to reconsider their plan to drive the Japanese from Maricopa County. While few Japanese farmers actually left the valley as a direct result of violence, discrimination and the depression reduced their numbers in Arizona from 121 in 1930 to 52 by 1940. 19

Although Maricopa County's Japanese had proven their strength and cohesiveness in the face of outside pressure, marshaling their resources and drawing local and international support, the larger community nonetheless influenced the cultural attitudes of its Japanese residents. Because of their limited numbers, Issei immigrants were hard-pressed to avoid some form of economic, social, and religious accommodation, as, for example, when George Rogers in Mesa approached his neighbors, the Ishikawas. Rogers offered to purchase, in the name of the couple's oldest son, the land they were farming and act as guardian until their son came of age. 20

Issei farmers also depended on Caucasians who bought their crops and produce. The S. A. Gerrard Company not only furnished the Yamamotos with seed and fertilizer but also provided a guaranteed market for their produce. The Ishikawas and Ikedas in Mesa and the Tanitas and Tadanos in Glendale, along with many of their Issei neighbors, made daily trips with a wagon or an old truck loaded with vegetables to the Phoenix market. These business transactions, as well as direct sales to local grocery stores and roadside markets, involved cross-cultural contact and regular use of the English language. Over time, Issei farmers learned to speak English through their daily business transactions.

The Issei in Maricopa County had a difficult time maintaining their traditional religious and social customs. Unlike in Japan, no ancestral shrines graced the paths that led from home to field and no Buddhist temples overlooked the village. The idea of a state church, especially a non-Christian church that taught the divinity of the Japanese emperor, was unacceptable in America. In the early 1930s local Issei organized Buddhist congregations in both Glendale and Mesa, but the services did not include emperor worship. Several Japanese converted to Christianity and, with the support of Caucasian missionaries and Protestant church members, organized the Japanese Free Methodist Church in Glendale and the Okuda Memorial Methodist Church in Mesa.

Socially, the familiar extended family connections failed to function in America as they had in Japan. After marriage, Issei couples did not live with the husband's parents in the ancestral home, nor did they inherit the family's land or status in the local village. In America, Issei wives were free of mother-in-law domination and Issei husbands did not have to be the first-born son in order to control the family farm. In such ways, Arizona's Japanese community adjusted to its new environment.

Although the cultural differences between the United States and Japan dictated some accommodation, American culture was less dominant than it might at first appear. In Maricopa County, several factors averted direct one-on-one cultural conflict between Issei immigrants and their Caucasian neighbors. Early on, Russian sugar-beet workers filled the same labor niche as the Japanese; by the 1930s, Hindu farmers were marketing their fruits and vegetables alongside the Issei; and, finally, Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans played significant roles in the local cultural milieu. These and other ethnic groups not only diluted whatever cultural dominance Caucasians might otherwise have enjoyed, they also provided opportunities for the Issei to pick and choose among cultural options. Issei farmers consistently hired Mexican laborers so that Spanish, rather than English, replaced Japanese as the spoken language in the workplace.

Names the Issei used for themselves and gave to their children reflected this cultural interplay. In many cases, Issei Americanized their first names in order to facilitate communication with Caucasians who had difficulty pronouncing Japanese words -- Masayoshi was shortened to Mas, and Matsuki became Matt. Issei parents also commonly gave their children a traditional American name, or a Japanese first name and an American middle name. The Fujimotos, for example, named their youngest son Tadashi Andrew, calling him Tadashi at home while he answered to Andy at school. In another case, Issei parents named their son George; at work he was called Jorge. Frequently during the 1930s' persecution and World War II Japanese names were dropped entirely.

Although the Japanese had to acculturate in some areas, daily work, community social activities, marriage, and the education of Issei children allowed immigrants to retain some of their cultural traditions and gave them the opportunity to choose their methods of assimilation. Even as the Japanese community adapted and modified local farming practices, Japanese immigrants also carried over some of their traditional farming methods. The small truck farm so common among Issei farmers in Arizona resembled the paddy fields they had left behind in Japan. Working all day with hand tools; counting progress in the number of rows, rather than acres cultivated; and guiding irrigation water through common ditches to individual rows of lettuce and green onions were familiar practices to the Japanese.

When Issei farmers took up truck gardening in Arizona, they did so not only because it filled an available niche, or because they were familiar with the practice from stopovers in Hawaii and California, or because they could not obtain cotton allotments, but because in many ways it more closely resembled farm culture in Japan than did cotton or alfalfa production. In deference to local conditions, Japanese farmers may have raised strawberries and green onions instead of rice and mulberry trees, but the technology they employed and the size of the fields they planted were more similar to what they had left behind in Japan than they were different. 21

The Issei's willingness to rent the land they farmed is another example of the influence of Japanese rural life on the immigrants' American farm experience. Prior to World War II, as many as 45 percent of farmers in Japan leased land under a multitude of contractual arrangements. While tenancy often conjures up visions of oppressive sharecropping, in most cases newly arrived Japanese immigrants to the United States lacked the capital to purchase land. Consequently, they rented until they had saved up a sufficient nest egg. By then, they often had either found a non-Japanese friend to buy land for them or could purchase it in the names of their American-born children. Lack of capital, racist land laws, and long-standing familiarity with leasing all combined to make renting an acceptable option.22

Settlement patterns in the Salt River Valley illustrate the Japanese desire to maintain ethnic connections. According to their Nisei children, Issei immigrants immediately sought out fellow travelers from Japan -- even to the point of looking for other immigrants who had come from the same region of their homeland. Although by 1920 most Maricopa County precincts reported Japanese residents, the majority resided in one of the three well-defined communities (South Mountain, Glendale, and Mesa/Lehi), where they maintained connections with other family members in the valley, former associates on the Coast, and family and friends in Japan. While the enclaves may have been far enough apart from one another to limit frequent contact between the three groups of settlers, Japanese farmers from all three areas regularly congregated at the Phoenix Produce Market.

Social and religious institutions also connected the Japanese settlements to one another. Organized in 1910, the Arizona Japanese Association helped immigrants sustain ties to Japan and, at the same time, served as a clearinghouse for local concerns. The association sponsored visits to Arizona by Japanese dignitaries, like the tour of the mayor of Miyazaki (on the Island of Kyushu) in 1932. In all probability, it also arranged the 1934 visit by a member of the royal family. At the same time, the Japanese Association lobbied effectively for Issei rights. On September 21, 1934, a delegation from the association obtained Governor Benjamin Moeur's promise to use the Arizona National Guard, if necessary, to protect Japanese life and property in the Salt River Valley. 23

The local Buddhist and Japanese Free Methodist churches also played a role in strengthening community identification and preserving cultural values. In 1933, Reverend Hozen Seki arrived as a missionary from Los Angeles and began teaching Buddhism in a large, abandoned, two-story house on the Hitoshi Yamamoto farm. Yamamoto helped Seki establish a sanctuary in 1936. Members of the local community hand-carved the altar. The church helped organize a Buddhist Women's Association, a junior Young Buddhist Association, and even a branch congregation in the Mesa area. 24

In 1929, Mr. and Mrs. Kiichi Sagawa organized the first Japanese Christian Sunday School in Tolleson. Caucasian missionaries and the Phoenix First Free Methodist Church assisted the fiedgling organization, until the Sagawas donated land for a building. The church was dedicated in 1932 when the Reverend and Mrs. J. A. Kashitani arrived from conference headquarters of the Japanese Free Methodist Church in California. The Buddhists and Methodists were both recognized as legitimate representatives of the Japanese community, and both sponsored social and religious events that helped the Japanese maintain connections within their community. 25

To preserve their traditional culture, the Issei made a conscious effort to provide their children with a Japanese education. Japanese language schools appeared in Issei communities throughout the West. At least two were established in Maricopa County -- a larger one near the Glendale/Phoenix boundary and a smaller one in the East Valley area of Mesa. According to one Nisei student, over 300 children attended the Glendale school in 1930. 26

Unlike the conflict that developed in California over Nisei access to public education, school authorities in Arizona seldom practiced overt discrimination, although Japanese students were excluded from some school activities because of their race. Otherwise, most Nisei youth attended American public school during the week and Japanese language school on weekends. This arrangement suggests that in Arizona, local Japanese language schools were created not to provide primary education but to give Nisei children a background in Japanese language and culture.

Several Issei, however, believed it was important that their children receive the "same education they had received." Therefore, they sent their children to school in Japan. More than one of these Kibei (children born in America but educated in Japan) ended up stranded in Japan during the war. By the time they returned to America, they spoke hardly any English at all. Min Takiguchi recalls that all Issei parents who could afford it wanted to send their children to school in Japan. By contrast, Susie Sato remembers that her parents considered educating her in Japan until friends dissuaded them. Considering the strain of family separation, schooling children in Japan strongly demonstrates the Issei's active desire to preserve their culture. 27

Annual community-sponsored social events likewise strengthened community and preserved Japanese culture. For example, the Maricopa County Japanese continued to hold their traditional New Year's celebrations. just before the end of the year, families came together, usually at the two local churches, and prepared Mochi to be served as part of the traditional New Year's meal. The men steamed a particularly sticky variety of rice and then pounded it with large wooden mallets until it acquired the consistency of very sticky bread dough. The women formed the rice dough into soft balls for later use in a traditional soup called Ozoni, or to be stuffed with a sweet bean paste to make a traditional confection. On New Year's day, women prepared large meals while the men traveled from home to home, eating and drinking traditional fare ("served by the women," as one Nisei woman remembers). The emperor's birthday, another recognized social event, was celebrated with traditional dance presentations, flower festivals, and several toasts to the emperor's health-including shouts of Banzai with each drink. 28

Occasionally, Japanese films toured the valley. One Nisei remembers that a narrator dressed in traditional Japanese attire and playing traditional instruments accompanied a movie that made the rounds in the days before "talkies." The narrator provided the movie's soundtrack in as completely a Japanese fashion as could be reproduced in an American context. 29

Some of the Issei's cultural inheritance surfaced in normal everyday activities or in what seemed to be the natural order of things. Many of Maricopa County's Japanese families constructed traditional baths, consisting of a metal tank with a firebox underneath to heat the water. Not a conscious effort to remind children of their Japanese heritage, the bath was simply a personal luxury that immigrants could re-create anywhere. Several Nisei remember fondly the bath experience, including the traditional order of bathing with father first, followed by the eldest son. They recall with less enthusiasm chopping and stacking wood to heat the bath. 30

Marriage also played an important role in reacculturating male Issei who had been away from Japan for several years. While many Issei men married picture brides who came directly from Japan and infused the immigrant community with a fresh dose of cultural tradition, others returned to Japan to meet and retrieve their arranged partners. Tom Ikeda tells how his father returned to Arizona after his marriage in Japan. Ikeda's mother followed a month later. She was seasick during most of the thirty-day voyage and, by the time she arrived in San Francisco, was too weak to proceed to Arizona. She found a place where she could recuperate, and then proceeded by rail to Los Angeles and on to Phoenix. Unable to speak a word of English, she was totally isolated during the trip. The temperature was well over 100 degrees when she finally arrived in Maricopa County. Her husband took her to the tent he called home and she began to set up house. Ikeda's mother later told her children that she felt as if she had left Japan and "gone to Hell." Only memories of seasickness kept her from getting back on a ship to Japan.. 31

Despite the fresh infusion of Japanese culture, Issei households differed significantly from traditional Japanese extended family units. Issei males immediately became heads of households without having to wait for their fathers to step down. Similarly, Issei females did not experience oppression from a Japanese mother-in-law. These circumstances changed, however, for the Nisei generation. Nisei couples commonly lived with or near the husband's parents, Nisei brides endured the domination of their mothers-in-law, and couples practiced adoption to maintain family lines in cases where no male heir was born. Clearly, some cultural practices survived without active efforts to preserve them. In fact, some ingrained attitudes in the Japanese community persisted on their own for at least two generations. 32

The Issei community wielded considerable power in determining its own destiny in Maricopa County. Family, social, and political connections with the West Coast and Japan provided support and were actively maintained. And yet, these larger associations were only one among many strategies the Issei used to preserve their cultural heritage and forge a community. These newcomers to the Salt River Valley did not submit quickly to the demands of the non-Japanese majority, but instead used their influential position in local agriculture and their strong community ties to one another to resist expulsion and preserve their cultural traditions. Similar strategies would enable the Japanese community in Maricopa County to survive the challenges of internment and persecution that followed the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


1. George Kishiyama, interview with Eric Walz, February 27, 1995, author's files.

2. Masakazu Iwata, Planted in Good Soil: A History of the Issei in United States Agriculture (New York: Peter Lang, 1992), pp. 682-84.

3. On Hachiro Onukki, see the Arizona Republic (Phoenix), February 5, 1967; Pacific Citizen (Salt Lake City), December 18, 1953.

4. Phoenix Daily Herald, March 20, 1897. Alfred J. McClatchie, "Relation of Weather to Crops," Agricultural Experimental Station Bulletin 48 (Tucson: University of Arizona, June 10, 1904).

5. On sugar-beet laborers, see Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, p. 674. On the Glendale sugarbeet factory, see Ralph Murphy, "When Arizona Was Growing Up," Arizona Collection (AC), Arizona State University), Library, Tempe. [this work is now available in ASU's Hayden Library circulating collection. SJG 10 May 2010]

6. Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, p. 675.

7. U.S. Bureau of the Census, "1900 Manuscript Census: Maricopa County, Arizona," Film #1240045-12400046, Family History Library, Mesa; ibid., 1910, #1374053; ibid., 1920, #1820048-1820050.

8. Michiko Tadano, interview with Eric Walz, March 22, 1995, author's files. For Arizona's response to the 1907 gentlemen's agreement that limited Japanese immigration to the United States, see Sentinel (Yuma), October 16, 1907.

9. Masatsuki Yamamoto, interview with Eric Walz, March 1, 1995, author's files.

10. Kishivama and Yamamoto, interviews; Tom Ikeda, interview with Eric Waiz, March 8, 1995; and Susie Sato, interview with Eric Walz, March 15, 1995, all in author's files.

11. On sugar-beet production and Japanese labor in the West, see Leonard J. Arrington, Beet Sugar in the West (Seattle: University, of Washington Press, 1966), p. 133; Arrington, "Science, Government, and Enterprise in Economic Development: The Western Beet Sugar Industry," Agricultural History, vol. 41 (January 1967), p. 9; and Paul S. Taylor,. "Hand Laborers in the Western Sugar Beet Industry," Agricultural History, vol. 41 January 1967), P. 22. On the influence of Japanese agriculture in Arizona, see Iwata, Planted in Good Soil,, pp. 679-84; Yoshiju Kimura, Arizona.Sunset (1980), AC. See also Min Takiguchi, interview with Eric Walz, March 1, 1995; Dilworth Brinton, interview with Eric Walz, February 15, 1995; and Yamamoto, interview, all in author's files.

12. Arizona: The New State Magazine, vol. 3 (December 1912), p. 8.

13. Takiguchi, interview; Leon Jones, interview with Eric Walz, February 17, 1995, author's files; Ikeda, Yamamoto, and Tandano, interviews. For the contributions of Asian immigrant groups to American agriculture, see Robert P. Swierenga, "Ethnicity and American Agriculture," Ohio History, vol. 89 (Summer 1980), p. 328; Theodore Saloutos, "The Immigrant Contribution to American Agriculture," Agricultural History, vol. 50 (January 1976), pp. 47, 67; Alan Bogue, "An Agricultural Empire," in Clyde Milner 11, Carol O'Connor, and Martha Sandweiss, eds., The Oxford History of the American West (New York- Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 32l; Gail Nomura, "Significant Lives: Asia and Asian Americans in the History of' the U.S. West," Western Historical Quarterly, vol. 25 (Spring 1995), pp. 69-88.

14. Sato and Yamamoto, interviews; "Lehi Community Dav Winners," Mesa Tribune, November 9, 1934.

15. J. J. Gould to George W. P. Hunt, December 5, 1923; Hunt to Gould, December 6, 1923, Box 2A, Folder 1, Governor's files. Arizona Department of Library, Archives, and Public Records, Phoenix.

16. On the 1913 law, see Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, pp. 676-77. For the 1921 law, see Alien Land Act," Revised Code of Arizona (1928), pp. 647-48. See also U.S. Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940: Agriculture. . . .Second Series, Arizona, p. 12. (There is a discrepancy. The Sixteenth Census lists sixty-nine Japanese farm operators in 1920; the 1920 manuscript census records only fifty-nine.)

17. Jack August, Jr., "The Anti-Japanese Crusade in Arizona's Salt River Valley, 1934-35, Arizona and the West, vol. 21 (Summer 1979), p. 116.

18. Ibid., pp. I 1 C-18. Tadano and Sato, interviews. Numerous articles describe this period of violence. See, for example, August, "Anti-Japanese Crusade," pp. 113-36; Susie Sato, "Before Pearl Harbor: Early Japanese Settlers in Arizona," Journal of Arizona History, vol. 14 (Winter 1973), pp. 317-34; Valerie Matsumoto, "Japanese Women in Central Arizona" (Honors thesis, Arizona State University, Tempe, 1978); Mary N. Norton, "From Racism to Terrorism: The Anti-Alien Crusade in Maricopa County, 1934-1935" (Honors thesis, Arizona State University, Tempe, 1984); and Dean Smith, "Bombs in the Night," Arizona Trend (September 1989), pp. 70-73.

19. Mesa Tribune, November 16, December 5, 1934. August, "Anti-Japanese Crusade," p. 117; and Norton, "From Racism to Terrorism," pp. 11-32. New York Times, February 15, 1935. Sixteenth Census, Supplement, p. 12.

20. Sato, interview.

21. On the role of culture in agricultural development, see Terry Jordan, German Seed in Texas Soil. Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth Century Texas (Austin: University of' Texas Press, 1966), pp. 194-203. For the role of irrigation in the Japanese community, see Andrew J. Grad, Land and Peasant in Japan: An Introductory Survey (New York: Institute Of Pacific Relations, 1952), p. 97. The Russian sugar-beet workers later turned to dairy farming rather than truck farming.

22. On the traditional nature of tenancy, see Grad, Land and Peasant in Japan, p. 48; and Ann Waswo, Japanese Landlords: The Decline of a Rural Elite (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), pp. 23-26.

23. Iwata, Planted in Good Soil, pp. 697, 699; Mesa Tribune, October 19, 19-14.

24. Buddhist Churches of America: Volume 1, 75-Year History, 1899-1974 (Chicago: Nobart, 1974), pp. 353-54.

25. "History of the Japanese Free Methodist Church in Phoenix," unpublished, Japanese Free Methodist Church, Phoenix.

26. Takiguchi, interview.

27. Ibid.; Sato, Yamamoto, and Kishiyama, interviews.

28. Tadano and Sato, interviews. On celebrations and the retention of cultural heritage, see Valerie J. Matsumoto, Farming the Home Place: A Japanese American Community in California, 1919-1982 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. III.

29. Jimmie Komatsu, interview with Eric Walz, March 20, 1995, author's files.

30. Kishiyama and Sato, interviews.

31. Ikeda, interview.

32. On marriage and family relations, see Tadano, Yamamoto, and Sato, interviews. As they existed in Japan, see Grad, Land and Peasant in Japan, p. 107.

Permission to present this electronic version of The Issei Community in Maricopa County was granted by the author and the Arizona Historical Society

Eric Walz wrote this article while a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State Univeristy, where he was teaching and writing a dissertation investigating Japanese immigration, community development, and wartime experience in the Intermountain West from 1890 to 1946. Dr. Walz is now at the Brigham Young University, Idaho, and receives email at

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