Japanese “Entrepreneur” on the Fraser River: Oikawa Jinsaburo and the Illegal Immigrants of the Suian Maru

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2023-03-16

Authors

Sulz, David Kenneth Allan

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Abstract

Oikawa Jinsaburo, Japanese entrepreneur, re-located to Canada from 1896 to 1917 and engaged in business enterprises, utopian communities on the Fraser River (Sunbury, Lion Island, Don Island), and immigration ventures. This thesis introduces Oikawa through an English summary of Nitta Jiro’s historical novel, Mikkôsen Suian Maru, and presents historical evidence to verify, extend, and complicate this version. Substantial detail is added to the 1906 Suian Maru incident and the simplistic explanation of a deal to grant these illegal immigrants entry in exchange for a year of railway labour is problematised in the historical context of anti-Asian sentiment in British Columbia. A favourable (and unusual) confluence of several factors - the absence of pertinent immigration legislation, international obligations, official Japan’s attitudes towards emigration, the lack of public outrage, and influential personal connections - enabled Yoshie Saburo to negotiate entry on behalf of Oikawa and the Suian Maru passengers.

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