Large-scale Japanese immigration to the United States began in the late 19th century. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed, agricultural and industrial employers began hiring immigrants from Japan and the Philippines instead. The number of Japanese immigrants soon exceeded the number of Chinese, leading to increased anti-Japanese sentiment, especially in California. The Federal government negotiated with Japan to reduce the number of passports it issued for travel to the United States. Despite these difficulties, the Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson administrations viewed Japan as an ally and cultivated strong diplomatic relations.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated even before the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, with disastrous consequences for Japanese Americans. Japan invaded China in 1937, and media coverage of atrocities committed at Nanjing hardened U.S. public opinion against Japan. When Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in 1941, then, there was little opposition to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s executive order for the forcible internment of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Japan’s strong economic recovery after World War II, combined with the knowledge that Japanese Americans had been treated badly during the war, made for limited immigration from Japan even after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated racial quotas on entry to the U.S.

United States-Japan Treaty stamp featuring the Washington Monument and a cherry blossoms on a branch
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5¢ Opening of Japan single, 1953 and
4¢ United States-Japan Treaty single, 1960

In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry negotiated the Kanagawa Treaty, which opened Japan's ports to U.S. ships and permitted the Americans to open a consulate there. Five years later, the Treaty of Amity and Commerce established commercial trade between the U.S. and Japan. The 1960 stamp commemorating 100 years since ratification of the treaty was designed by Gyo Fujikawa (1908-1998), making it the first U.S. stamp illustrated by a Japanese American artist.

Opening of Japan stamp portraying Perry’s arrival in Tokyo Bay with Mt. Fuji in the background
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Cherry Blossom Centennial stamps with cherry blossoms, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial
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Forever Cherry Blossom Centennial setenant pair, 2012

sheet of 12 Cherry Blossom Centennial stamps with cherry blossoms, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial
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Forever Gifts of Friendship souvenir sheet of 12, 2015

Numerous stamps have celebrated Japan’s 1912 gift of thousands of Yoshino cherry trees to the United States as a gesture of peace and friendship. A joint stamp issue with Japan in 2015 highlighted the U.S.’s reciprocal gift of flowering dogwood trees in 1915.

Camp Rohwer letter envelope
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McGehee, Arkansas relocation camp mail, 1943

Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, the U.S. military forcibly relocated tens of thousands of Japanese Americans, many of whom were nisei, or second-generation U.S. citizens, to remote camps across America. An internee in the Rohwer War Relocation Center in McGehee, Arkansas, one of the smallest of these relocation camps, posted this cover to a friend in the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

postcard picturing Heart Mountain, Wyoming relocation camp
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Heart Mountain, Wyoming relocation camp mail, 1943

The Japanese American relocation camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming is pictured on this postcard mailed by an internee there in 1943. It is addressed to Oakland, California, perhaps to a former neighbor of the writer, who describes Heart Mountain as “windy, bleak, sage brush country.”

Isamu Noguchi stamp featuring an Akari lamp
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37¢ “Akari 25N” by Isamu Noguchi single, 2004

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was born in Los Angeles, California. Strongly influenced by surrealism and other abstract art, he was well-known for his sculptures and furniture designs. He traveled many times to Japan, where he found inspiration for his work in Japanese gardens as well as from the materials of wood, stone, bamboo and water. This stamp, one of five in a set commemorating the centenary of Noguchi’s birth, features an Akari lamp. Constructed of mulberry paper, bamboo and wires, Akari lamps are based on the lanterns used by fishermen of Gifu on the coast of Japan.

See also:
37¢ Figure single
37¢ Mother and Child single
37¢ Margaret La Farge Osborn single
37¢ Black Sun single

refer to caption
Five 37-cent Isamu Noguchi commemorative stamps. The stamps feature different works by Noguchi, left to right: "Figure," 1945; "Mother and Child," 1944-1947; "Margaret La Farge Osborn," 1937; "Akari 25N," circa 1968; and "Black Sun", 1960-1963.
Medal of Honor World War II stamp sheet
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Forever Medal of Honor: World War II prestige folio of 20, 2013

This sheet honoring the Medal of Honor recipients from World War II features their names on the reverse and twelve selected photographs in the sheet border. At left, second from the top, is Captain Daniel K. Inouye (1924-2012), a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions against the German army in northern Italy in April 1945. Inouye became the first U.S. Representative from the new state of Hawaii in 1959 and was elected senator in 1963. At right, third from the top, is Private George T. Sakato (1921-2015), also of the 442nd, who received his medal for heroic conduct in France during 1944.

Medal of Honor stamp sheet
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Forever Medal of Honor: Korean War prestige folio of 20, 2014

Corporal Hiroshi Miyamura (1925-2022) joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team near the end of World War II, but was demobilized before being sent overseas. Recalled to active duty at the start of the Korean War, he received the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in action in April 1951. His photograph appears in the sheet border at bottom center.

Bonsai stamp featuring a Sierra Juniper
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Forever Bonsai, 2012

Japanese bonsai trees were first brought to the U.S. in large numbers by soldiers returning from Japan after World War II. They soon became popular with gardeners, and bonsai clubs formed. By the 1980s, numerous American arboretums had established bonsai collections, leading to wider public interest in and appreciation of the art form.

See also:
Forever Bonsai: Black pine single
Forever Bonsai: Banyan single
Forever Bonsai: Trident maple single
Forever Bonsai: Azalea single

A sheet of twenty stamps featuring Ruth Asawas wire sculptures and a photo of the artist Ruth Asawa
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Forever Ruth Asawa, 2020

Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was a groundbreaking Japanese American artist from California, primarily recognized for her beautiful and intricate wire sculptures. However, she was also a passionate arts educator. Asawa strongly believed everyone should be empowered to create and experience art in their own lives. The USPS released commemorative Ruth Asawa Forever stamps depicting several of Asawa’s sculptures in 2020.

Go For Broke stamp featuring a Japanese Americans Soldiers of World War II
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Forever “Go For Broke” Japanese Americans Soldiers of World War II single, 2021

The gambling term “go for broke” became the motto of the U.S. Army’s segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Composed mostly of second-generation Japanese American volunteers, it symbolized their determination to “risk everything” in their country’s service, despite the hostility and imprisonment they and they families were facing on the home front. The 442nd RCT went on to become one of the most-decorated Army units in World War II.