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date: 18 April 2024

Japanese Immigrants and the History of Rice in Californialocked

Japanese Immigrants and the History of Rice in Californialocked

  • Yu TokunagaYu TokunagaGraduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Kyoto University

Summary

The cultivation of California rice began in 1909 when a Japanese agricultural engineer succeeded in growing short-grain Japonica rice varieties in Butte County. With commercial cultivation starting in 1912, rice fields rapidly expanded across Northern California. Japanese immigrants, however, continued to eat short-grain rice imported from Japan with a strong sense of affection. This situation dramatically changed in 1918, at around the end of World War I. The war led to an expansion of demand for food worldwide and a serious shortage of rice in Japan, resulting in the steep rise of rice prices and the Kome Sōdō (Rice Riots). The Japanese government decided to ban Japanese rice exports to prevent further inflation and solve the food shortage problem in Japan. This policy marked a turning point from which Japanese immigrants in the mainland United States began to mainly eat California rice. It also sparked serious debates among the Japanese who had heavily relied on Japanese-grown rice for their daily diet, forcing them to redefine their permanent residence in the United States not simply as a place to live but also as the land that provided them with their major source of nutrients. In the 1920s, California rice became a staple for ethnic Japanese residents and an export item to their homeland. This series of changes marked an important period in a history in which the Japanese immigrant experience intersected with the development of US agriculture and the circulation of food around the Pacific Ocean. The history of California rice from the 1900s to the 1930s reveals the shifting US-Japan trade relations as well as the transnational process in which food kept Japanese immigrants culturally connected to the homeland while further rooting them to life in the United States as permanent residents and consumers of California rice.

Subjects

  • 20th Century: Pre-1945
  • Asian American History
  • Western History

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