Hawaii was the first U.S. possession to become a major destination for immigrants from Japan, and it was profoundly transformed by the Japanese presence.
In the 1880s, Hawaii was still decades away from becoming a state, and would not officially become a U.S. territory until 1900. However, much of its economy and the daily life of its residents were controlled by powerful U.S.-based businesses, many of them large fruit and sugar plantations. Unlike in the mainland U.S., in Hawaii business owners actively recruited Japanese immigrants, often sending agents to Japan to sign long-term contracts with young men whod never before laid eyes on a stalk of sugar cane. The influx of Japanese workers, along with the Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, and African American laborers that the plantation owners recruited, permanently changed the face of Hawaii. In 1853, indigenous Hawaiians made up 97% of the islands population. By 1923, their numbers had dwindled to 16%, and the largest percentage of Hawaiis population was Japanese.